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G-20 Vague On Environmental Sustainability

By Ted Nelson
September 28, 2009
File under: Alternative Energy, Carbon Emission Reduction, Clean Energy, Economy, Global Initiatives


The Group of 20 (G-20) meeting in Pittsburgh has yielded promise on the environmental sustainability front… but not quantifiable, time-specific progress.

Developing nations–including the member states of the African Union–and international leaders–including former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan–have been vocal about what they want from December’s international climate change meeting in Copenhagen: a well defined plan for how developed countries will help support environmentally sustainable development in the developing world.

The G-20, a club for the heads of state of powerful  countries, acknowledged that they want to take action on this issue. They did not, however, define how much action they want to take.

They have left this task to their finance ministers, setting a November due date for a “range of possible options.”

Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies is an absolutely necessary step. Pushing renewables while continuing to artificially power the price of the fossil fuels against which they are competing makes little sense economically or environmentally.

Eradicating these subsidies will make renewables most cost competitive and lower demand for dirty fossil fuels. Fossil fuels provide not only the vast majority of transport fuel in the US, but also the majority of electrical power.

G-20 leaders agreed to phase out subsidies for fossil fuels over “the medium term.” However, no specific time table was set. While some countries–including the United States–favor the phase out, others–such as Russia–are not sold on the measure. This led to the vague language of the agreement.

This week’s meetings in Pittsburgh were thought of as a key indicator of how much progress will be made in Copenhagen. An agenda and some level of shared understanding and will to act may have been established in Pittsburgh.

However, an overall aversion to come together and act in a concrete way is a negative sign leading up to Copenhagen, where the primary goal is crafting an agreement set to supplement and hopefully exceed the Kyoto Protocol.

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