By Arshia Alguneh, Diana Cantini, Isabel Lobo and Allison Walsh
Members of the G20 currently stand at a critical juncture in climate change politics. These countries, which are a coalition of the world’s most influential economies, produce 80% of the world’s emissions and are fundamental players in the fulfillment of the Paris Climate Accords.
The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP 26, which wrapped up last week, reviewed the progress achieved in the past five years by the conference’s constituents, and revealed the updated climate action plan for G20 countries.
Both individual countries’ national targets and their varying levels of success must be closely examined in order to determine the future of climate change action at the international and multilateral level.
For GPI’s COP26 series, we selected a few critical countries to analyze, including Canada, Russia, Germany and Argentina — all of which reveal a unique feature of that countries’ climate targets.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the G20 summit in Rome on October 30th and then attended COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. In accordance with the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, Canada’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) were established to reduce their emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.
However, Canada recently released its new NDC, which will reduce 40% to 45% of emissions below 2005 levels by 2030. In a statement released by Trudeau’s administration, Canada explained a few of its goals going into COP26, including building coalitions and taking on a position of leadership in the fight against the climate crisis.
Canada encouraged countries to meet their 2016 Paris accord targets and to have stronger NDCs, while it also looked to embrace Canada’s leadership regarding climate change action, passing legislation to ensure net-zero emissions by 2050 and continuing to aid the economies of all countries transitioning towards sustainability.
Trudeau has made it evident that his administration believes in combating the crisis through many tools, such as natural and nature-based innovations. Solutions such as increasing the amount of trees to extract C02 and revamping agricultural practices to be more sustainable, have been touted by Canadian climate strategists and negotiators as part of the effort to solve the climate crisis. Additionally, Canada claimed that it will double its financing towards developing nations’ climate change mitigation efforts, from $2.65 billion in 2015 to $5.3 billion over the next five years.
However, it is also important to note that Canada has faced global public scrutiny over its policies and actions that continue to promote fossil fuel use, especially through the creation of pipelines, both domestically and transnationally.
In May, Politico reported on these controversies. When President Joe Biden rejected the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline in his first day in office, citing climate concerns, Alberta, Canada ramped up efforts to keep the line operating.
The greatest danger Russia poses to climate change is methane gas leaks. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has determined that through catastrophic leaks from aging pipelines, Russia was the largest emitter of methane in 2020. Although the United States and over 100 other countries signed the Global Methane Pledge in Sept. 2021 to reduce emissions by a third by 2030, Russia has not.
But as the largest producer of methane and the second-largest producer of natural gas, Russia has pledged to reach carbon neutrality by 2060, to shift to nuclear and hydroelectric energy and to utilize reforestation to reach its COP26 emissions goals. For Russia, these goals include energy giants Lukoil and Rosneft cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2030, investing $127 million into the hydrogen industry and committing to clean natural gas delivery of NordStream 2.
However, pushback against ambitious climate change goals are rooted in Russia’s fossil fuel-based economy. As the world’s largest exporter of natural gas, Russia’s government has resisted ambitious COP26 goals, citing rising energy prices and inflation as its reasoning for not lowering emissions. Rising prices would also have a ripple effect throughout Europe, as Russia dominates gas exports through Eastern and Central Europe with markets as far west as the United Kingdom.
Notably, President Vladimir Putin was absent at COP26 deliberations, citing COVID-19 health and safety concerns. But symbolically, his absence may also signal a greater disengagement with Western countries because of their enactment of sanctions on Russian state-owned enterprises, including the gas company Gazprom and VEB, Russia’s largest investment company. According to Russian climate envoy Ruslan Edelgeriyev, Putin said that these sanctions will damage Russia’s green transition by barring access to green technology for its pipelines as well as by hindering the bank’s efforts to create sustainable development projects.
At COP26, Putin appeared virtually to address forest management, pledging to “take the strongest and most vigorous measures to conserve” woodlands and signing a promise to end deforestation by 2030. Russia sent a 270 person delegation to COP26, including envoy Ruslan Edelgeriyev and Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk. They demanded the recognition of nuclear power as clean energy and focused on forest capabilities in slashing emissions.
As a member of the European Union, Germany adheres to the EU’s NDC, rather than offering its own specific goals. The EU seeks to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, meaning that their economies will not contribute any further to global climate change through the production of greenhouse gasses.
While the German government had a strong showing at COP26, with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Environment Minister Svenja Schulze and State Secretary Jochen Flasbarth in attendance, representing the country, German citizens and companies also played a large role in the lead-up to the conference. In 2021, a record number of voters pushed the German Green Party to become the third most popular party in the country, granting it significantly more power and sway over the government than ever before.
The Green Party in Germany believes in a focus on environmental improvement, social justice and a further shift into the digital age. This is important for the country, which is particularly known for renewable energy and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the fight against climate change. Since 1990, Germany has reduced its emissions by over 40%, and aims to continue to decrease that figure.
But German companies also play a hand in climate crisis mitigation. According to the U.S. News and World Report, a coalition of 69 German companies have come together to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The country is home to the chemical engineering and automotive industries, whose dedication to reforms is crucial given their enormous sway over the German economy.
In the five years since the 2016 conference on the Paris Climate Accords, Germany has achieved only moderate progress towards its ambitious 2030 goals. Climate Action Tracker stated that Germany is off track for achieving climate neutrality by 2045, and criticized Germany for not more quickly phasing out coal-dependency in order to be in line with the 1.5 degree climate targets.
Further, Germany’s work at COP 26 has garnered mixed reactions from politicians and NGOs alike. While progress was made in terms of ending foreign fossil fuel funding in South Africa, it is overshadowed by Germany’s greater failure to phase out the combustion engine by 2040. The representatives present at COP 26, such as Environment Minister Svenja Schulze, believe the conference to have been a success due to Germany’s commitment to the coal phase-out plan.
However, NGO leaders were left disappointed with the achievements of the conference. Jan Kowalzig, the head of Oxfam Germany, warns against “the illusion that we are going home with a real success.” Climate advocates in Germany are optimistic about the recent change in leadership granting the Green Party more influential political power in Germany, but remain dissatisfied with the exceedingly moderate work accomplished at COP 26.
Since Argentina is one of the top 30 countries leading the production of greenhouse gas emissions, President Alberto Fernandez proposed an expansive plan regarding Argentina’s climate goals. During the COP 26 summit, Fernandez elaborated on the new plan by increasing Argentina’s carbon reduction target to an overall reduction of 27.7%, a 2% jump from the original 2016 NDC goal of 25.7%. He also pledged to adopt the National Adaptation Plan and Mitigation agenda that includes a 30% spike in renewable energy production. Although Argentina’s proposals are slightly behind the current energy target of 20%, these increases demonstrate Argentina’s drive in reducing its carbon emissions.
Argentina is the one of the highest greenhouse gas emitters in Latin America with almost half used to solely produce energy leading to its effects on the climate becoming detrimental to the economic influence of environmental disasters targeting the economy leading to increases in poverty. The consequences of floods and severe droughts create a yearly loss of $500 million and $1.4 billion. As the carbon emissions rise, the economic loss will increase and also contribute to the country’s poverty rate. According to the Impact of Climate Crisis on Poverty, Argentina’s floods result in a 0.14% increase in poverty and can exceed to 1.5% depending on the severity. With these worrisome ramifications, Argentina’s climate goal must take drastic measures to prevent any further damage caused by climate change.
At COP 26 Fernandez also revealed a collaboration with Australian mining billionaire Andrew Forrest for an $8.4 billion green hydrogen investment plan to combat climate change. Forrest aims to build green hydrogen plants near Argentina’s Río Negro province and to make it the center of green hydrogen exportation and carbon neutral by 2030. The process includes the conversion made by electrolysis using the renewable power to break water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. The plan further details that $1.2 billion of its budget will be used to produce 35,000 tons of green hydrogen within the span of the years 2022 to 2024.
While his business with Forrest will create thousands of jobs for the Argentine economy and will bring more green energy to the country’s population, Fernandez still faces criticism for his contradicting actions with Vaca Muerta, a shale gas and oil project company which produces high emissions from fossil fuel use and has the potential to severely contaminate local water.
Although Fernandez’s updated climate emission goals escalate Argentina’s original plan, it is still behind the Paris Agreement’s aims. The environmental and economic impact motivates His proposal along with the investment contribution by billionaire Andrew Forrest, guides the country in the right direction. However, Fernanzdez’s questionable alliance with Vaca Muerta challenges whether or not he will continue his plans of preserving the climate and environment.
Although some countries have greater climate change responsibilities than others, joint cooperation is critical in order for all players to commit to the greater cause of reversing the man-made effects of climate change.
G20 countries have an especially important role in the COP26 conference due to their influence on the world’s economy and markets, factors which can make or break environmental policy in the coming decades.
Canada, Russia, Germany, and Argentina all have varying levels of commitment to environmentalism within the G20, but it is clear that all four countries must back their claims of a greater commitment to combating rising global temperatures with substantial economic change, rather than superficial adjustments.
Most importantly, leaders will need to approach climate issues with a greater community lens, free from politicization, lobbying and other economic factors that could derail our focus for a greener and brighter future.