High-level energy ministers from G20 countries met for the first time ever last Friday, and if fossil fuel stakeholders were hoping for a show of support from that historic event, they got bupkus. While the fossil sector has been holding out cheap fossil products as the only way to relieve “energy poverty” in developing countries, at the meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, G20 ministers officially adopted a renewable energy toolkit that leads off with a program for reducing renewable energy costs among G20 countries and sharing low-cost technology around the globe.
For those of you new to the topic, G20 (Group of 20) is a UN-supported organization that includes the 20 leading economies in the world, which together account for more than 75% of global trade: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union.
G20 was formed in 1999 to respond to the financial meltdown in Asia, and the organization still has its hands full dealing with the aftermath of the 2008 debacle:
In 2015, the global economy continues to produce far less than it would have if the crisis had not occurred; there are tens of millions fewer jobs and global trade growth is still too slow. While always remaining vigilant to risks and vulnerabilities, the G20 is now more focused on improving the future of the global economy.
Energy Poverty & Fossil Fuels
Combined with an exploding global population, slow economic growth brings us right around to the “energy poverty” case that fossil stakeholders have been promoting. Here’s ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson promoting the role of fossil fuels in bringing electricity to underserved communities:
These large-scale trends remind us all that energy demand is directly related to economic growth and opportunity. They help emphasize the critical importance of society finding ways to increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions. And they are a reminder that there is a humanitarian dimension and a moral imperative to expanding energy supplies for the sake of future generations.
In fact, our mission to expand supplies safely, securely, and responsibly is even more pressing when we consider the facts of “energy poverty” today.
Not for nothing, but Pope Francis also recently weighed in on the energy poverty case for fossil fuels and reached the opposite conclusion, so there’s that.
First-Ever G20 Renewable Energy Toolkit
The new G20 renewable energy toolkit is a voluntary one — its full title is “Toolkit of Voluntary Options for Renewable Energy Deployment.”
However, baby steps. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) emphasizes that the G20 meeting in Turkey marks the first time that renewable energy has ever been on the G20 agenda.
IRENA, which developed the toolkit, also notes that the stakes are high. According to IRENA, G20 countries account for 75% of global renewable energy deployment potential, so progress among G20 countries will have a significant impact.
You can check out a synopsis of the full toolkit here, but for those of you on the go, it anticipates that among G20 countries, about 40% of their total final renewable energy use by 2030 will consist of power generation, and about 60% will go to transportation and household use including heating and cooling.
As for developing countries, the toolkit envisions that the cost of renewable energy will continue to fall as G20 countries ramp up collaboration on technology and strategy. That will level what is now an uneven playing field for renewable energy costs within G20. Technology collaboration is also vital if renewable energy is to compete with fossil fuels in developing countries:
…G20 countries, based on their individual national circumstance, could expand the use and enhance investments in renewable energy technologies significantly, and share their good practices with developing countries.
…It needs to be ensured that innovations in such technologies become available to the developing world. In the absence of these technologies, renewable energy may not be considered as a solution to improve access to energy.
G20 Has More Bad News For Fossil Fuels
G20 countries still have an enormous stake in the global fossil fuel market, and the organization recently launched an investigation into the financial impacts of stranding fossil fuel assets as a consequence of greenhouse gas action. However, the consequences of inaction are already becoming apparent, and it looks like G20 has decided that the financial risks involved in shutting down the fossil fuel sector are quite manageable compared to coping with catastrophic climate change.
The new toolkit is just one part of the G20 energy ministers official Communiqué. The introduction to the Communiqué makes it clear that the world’s leading economies are engaged in steering a transition out of fossil fuels while addressing “energy poverty:”
…We welcome the progress made under the Turkish Presidency in addressing the Principles through the consideration of energy access, energy efficiency, renewable energy, market transparency, and the rationalization and phase – out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption, recognizing the need to support the poor.
To be clear, the Communiqué leaves plenty of wiggle room for fossil fuel development during this transitional period. However, this document aligns G20 countries with the goal of improving energy access while preventing the fossil sector from increasing its share of developing markets. G20’s priority region is sub-Saharan Africa, where the organization plans to work with the Africa Hub of the United Nations renewable energy initiative, SE4All (Sustainable Energy for All).
SE4All was launched in 2011 by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with a twin goal of reducing carbon emissions in developed countries, while introducing sustainable alternatives to common fuels used for heating and cooking in undeveloped countries, namely wood, coal, charcoal, and animal waste.
It’s also worth noting that companies and nonprofits are eyeing the home solar lighting market in Africa, as low-cost solar technology has begun to encroach on territory formerly held by kerosene.
The G20 ministers also endorsed the African Union Summit’s African led Renewable Energy Initiative as an effective strategy for reducing “energy poverty,” so right back at you, Rex.
Photo via irena.org.