G20 Missed Its Chance to Take Action on Climate Change

Just about every country in the G20 has passed the buck when it comes to taking action on solving the climate crisis. China told the United States to make stronger commitments on global warning in the form of money and pollution cuts. The United States said it wouldn’t provide financial support until emerging economies take on legal obligations to reduce their greenhouse gases. Meanwhile Japan and Canada refuse to renew the Kyoto Protocol — the only existing international climate treaty — because the United States and China won’t sign on.

Following their pattern of hemming and hawing, this week leaders of the world’s largest economies once again missed an opportunity to actually do something on climate change. Instead, they released a weak statement on “pursuing the fight against climate change” as part of the conclusion of the G20 Summit in Cannes, France. The best they could must was a call for “progress” at the upcoming UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa.

In spite of citing “financing the fight against climate change” as one of their “main priorities,” countries failed to agree to a single concrete source of money. Sure, they said they “stand ready” to make operational the Green Climate Fund created at least year’s climate summit in Mexico. But what’s the good of getting the bank ready for business if there’s no money in the vault?

Even after being presented with a raft of specific innovative ideas by financial titans like Bill Gates, leaders simply reiterated what they had already agreed to last year in Mexico: “a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including innovative sources of finance.”

In other words, nothing is crossed off the menu, but nothing is on the table, either.

The one flicker of hope came from explicit mention in the final communiqué of a financial transaction tax (a.k.a “Robin Hood” tax) — a tiny tax on stock, bond, derivative, and other financial trades that could raise hundreds of billions of dollars each year in new money for climate change and development aid for developing countries.

The G20 acknowledged the growing number of countries initiating a “coalition of the willing” to work toward implementing the tax on speculation. Even the United States, who up to the final day of the summit had been actively blocking European efforts to agree to their own regional scheme, backed off.

For the environment, development, and faith groups that sent a letter to President Obama and his administration urging the United States to back down from its staunch opposition to a financial transaction tax, this was a small but important victory.