Expectations for the development of a ‘green stimulus’ to help revive the global economy have been downplayed in the past few days. Indeed, the London summit’s draft statement leaked at the weekend makes only the smallest reference to climate change, and appears to be vague on the subject of how green the £1.4tn stimulus package agreed by world leaders should be. (Guardian 31/03/09) Despite UN environment officials’ call for the London summit to link tackling financial crisis to combating climate change, many observers argue that it would be too complicated to discuss the environmental issue at length at the G20 meeting and that the G20 is not the right circle.
Yet the UK had made quite clear its intention to send signals that there is no contradiction between addressing the financial crisis and addressing climate change. Prime Minister Gordon Brown had stated his commitment to this agenda, saying in a speech at Davos that “we must use the imperative of building a low carbon economy as a route to creating jobs and growth, the path that will see us through the current downturn”. However, British ministerial sources indicated yesterday that there will be no mention in the communique of what proportion of the new jobs stimulated by the economic recovery package will be low-carbon roles, as it might be seen as a form of covert protectionism by some members of the G20. (The Guardian 31/03/09). Besides, the date of the launch of the Low-Carbon Prosperity Task Force at a press conference two days ago had not been randomly chosen. The existence of this Task Force, which will work with government and UN officials to develop a set of practical projects and policy proposals around the world, might channel world leaders’ attention to other matters at today’s summit. Low-carbon growth may then simply be reduced to agreement on attempting to ‘mainstream’ some environmental considerations in any new infrastructure.
This situation has led many stakeholders to try to increase the pressure on decision-makers. Lord Stern, the government’s former climate change adviser, yesterday tried to influence the G20 by arguing that the worst recession since the 1930s gave the world the opportunity to lay the foundations for growth over several decades, based on low-carbon technology and energy efficiency. A YouTube podcast presents his arguments. Professor Robert Watson, chief scientific adviser for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, also voiced concern about the limited commitment to a low-carbon economy: “I think it [low-carbon recovery] deserves a higher profile. Everybody seems to be focusing on short-term recovery and getting long-term regulation of the banks right. I haven’t heard anything that suggests the green recovery and climate change are a major part of the [G20] agenda.”( The Guardian 31/03/09) His concerns were shared by Climate Camp protesters who pitched their tents in the City yesterday, and called for G20 leaders to address climate change issues and stop carbon trading. (BBC news 01/04/09) Finally, the chief executives of 52 companies (banks, airlines, utilities, oil companies and car manufacturers) called on the leaders of the Group of 20 industrialized and developing nations to put low-carbon growth at the heart of economic stimulus measures and commit 20% of their economic stimulus packages on low carbon growth.
As the Danish Prime minister said in February, green talks at the G20 summit might just be about trying to facilitate the process towards Copenhagen in December (Reuters 18/02/09). In particular, following the G20 meeting of environment and energy officials which took place mid-March in Japan, concern has been raised about the acknowledgement of “common and differentiated responsibilities” among Western and developing countries. Therefore, today’s outcome might be an important factor in determining China’s stance on climate change commitments as argued in this blog. As the Guardian points out, green talks during today’s summit will essentially ensure that developing countries and above all China gets a clear message from countries such as South Africa, Mexico, France, Germany, Britain and the US that they are all committed to tackling climate change and that China will not be put at a disadvantage if it shapes a low-carbon recovery.