The Highlights and Implications of the G20 Energy and Environment Ministerial Meetings in Japan
Energy Fact & Opinion
June 24, 2019
- The G20 Ministerial Meeting on Energy Transitions and Global Environment for Sustainable Growth of the Group of Twenty (G20) took place on June 15-16 in Karuizawa, Japan.
- The ministers stressed the importance of international cooperation and private finance in strengthening research, development, and deployment of innovative technologies and approaches for a clean energy transition and issued the G20 Karuizawa Innovation Action Plan on Energy Transitions and Global Environment for Sustainable Growth.
- Also, the joint energy and environment communique noted the importance of continued commitment to implementing the Paris climate agreement.
- The key environment-related deliverable was the agreement to establish a new international framework that aims to reduce marine plastic litter.
- Against the backdrop of attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz only a few days before the G20 Karuizawa meetings, the ministers also stressed the importance of reliable energy infrastructure as well as supply diversification as means to enhance global energy security.
Opinion:As Japan tried to navigate the divergent views and approaches of its fellow G20 member countries on the issue of climate change and the role of fossil fuels, innovation emerged as a safe and effective focal point for the Karuizawa discussion. Reflecting such divergence in views as well as the diverse profiles in natural resource endowment of the G20 member nations, the G20 Karuizawa Energy Innovation Action Plan took an “all of the above” approach, calling for cooperative and concrete innovation activities on a whole host of energy resources and technologies to facilitate the clean energy transition.
In particular, hydrogen was the focal point of the G20 energy innovation commitment, reflecting Japan’s strong interest in hydrogen as a key solution to its energy security concern as well as the nation’s desire to lead the world in realizing a hydrogen economy. On the occasion of the G20 energy ministerial meeting, the International Energy Agency released the Future of Hydrogen, a report on the current status of hydrogen development as well as guidance on its future efforts. The Japanese government, per the Basic Hydrogen Strategy released in 2017, strives to achieve the cost parity of hydrogen with completing fuels and has launched a few major projects to unlock the potential of hydrogen in the power, transportation, and industrial sectors. The funding for 9 key hydrogen related projects for Japan’s FY2018 amounted to be about 60 billion yen (or $600 million) according to the 2019 edition of Japan’s Energy White Paper.
Given the differing views on climate change between the United States and most other G20 members, the ministerial meetings lacked extensive discussion of climate change issues. Yet the joint communique managed to note the importance of implementing national pledges under the Paris climate agreement—with a caveat that such efforts concern those nations that supported the climate language at the G20 Buenos Aires Summit in 2018, effectively providing the Trump administration with cover not to rehash those points of contention.
The main deliverable of the G20 environment ministerial discussions was the agreement to double down on reducing marine plastic litter. Plastic waste has serious health, environment, and economic impacts. For example, plastic litter costs the Asia-Pacific region’s “tourism, fishing, and shipping industries $1.3 billion per year,” and the world’s marine ecosystem at least $13 billion per year according to a United Nations report. While not legally binding, the G20 Implementation Framework for Actions on Marine Plastic Litter aims to elevate the sense of urgency and calls for greater efforts by the G20 member countries by facilitating the implementation of the G20 Action Plan on Marine Litter, which was launched at the G20 Hamburg Summit in 2017. Under the framework, G20 members are to introduce and implement voluntary national actions as well as exchange information on their policies, plans, and measures to identify the best practices. While it falls short of addressing plastic consumption itself, instead placing more emphasis on waste management, it buttresses various related efforts underway such as a UN effort to phase out single-use plastic and the Basel Convention effort to track and limit the trade of mixed and contaminated plastics. Both Japan and the United States stood out for refusing to join the fellow members of the G7 last year in endorsing a goal of 100 percent recyclability by 2030 under the proposed Charlevoix Ocean Plastics Charter.
As underscored by the attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz a few days before the G20 energy ministerial meetings, the diversification of energy sources and technology innovation are ever more salient goals, as the key global economies seek a sustainable global economic growth. The G20 Summit in Osaka on June 28-29 could benefit from the sense of urgency for the energy transition as suggested not only by the energy and environmental ministerial meetings in Karuizawa but also by the reminder of continued security challenges to energy supply chains in the Middle East.