The G-20 Summit: Green Progress or Missed Opportunity?

g20 summit green photo

Photo via the NY Times

The Group of 20 summit just concluded in London. World leaders gathered to discuss and implement economic strategies to combat the global recession. And while many had hopes that the environment would play a larger role in the agenda, green groups around the world are already calling the event a "missed opportunity" to meaningfully tackle climate change.The G-20 communiqué ended with $1.1 trillion in loan pledges--$750 billion will go to the International Monetary Fund, $250 billion will go to financing trade, and motions made for stricter global regulations on hedge funds and banks. But what about the green?

G-20 for a Greener Economy?
Well, it was there, just not exactly on the forefront. Gordon Brown discussed the need to build a green economy. He said, according to the LA Times:

"We are undertaking an unprecedented and concerted fiscal expansion, which will save or create millions of jobs which would otherwise have been destroyed, and that will, by the end of next year, amount to $5 trillion, raise output by 4% and accelerate the transition to a green economy."

But groups hoping that climate change would be a central consideration of a global stimulus were left disappointed (here are a few that were in town protesting) —they believed that much more of participating countries' gross domestic product should be directed towards green initiatives like renewable energy. From the Telegraph:
"The countries giving highest priority to green measures were the US and Germany, but their investment totalled only around 0.5 per cent of GDP, compared to the 1-3 per cent thought necessary to keep global temperature rises below two degrees Celsius, said the report."

G-20's Slow Green Progress
However, despite the fact that more concrete green provisions weren't included in the stimulus plan, important progress may have been made in the fight against climate change nonetheless. And that's the simple gaining of momentum for the issue itself, and the fact that countries once reluctant to acknowledge the issue seemed to be coming around. Britain's climate and energy secretary Ed Milliband said, according to In the News:
"What the G20 summit shows is there is an understanding among world leaders that the economic crisis and the environmental crisis can be tackled together. The very fact this has been part of the discussion will give us what I think is the most important commodity – momentum."
Mr Miliband said he expected countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia, which have been hesitant to commit to low-carbon economies in the past, would attach importance to renewables.

So while it's less tangible progress, it's progress nonetheless—or it could be. It remains to be revealed whether low carbon recovery plans were included in the final language of the international stimulus plans, and how exactly the plan will lead to more green jobs, as Mr. Brown envisioned. Certainly, far more pointed efforts will need to be made if real progress on the climate front is to be made. But at least environmental issues were a palpable force this go 'round—unlike the last meeting in DC where green got nary a nod. This time the need to lower carbon was at least on the agenda.
"The notion of low-carbon as a way out of recession has gone from being marginal to being mainstream," he added. "I think the world is changing very significantly."

I hope he's right--but it'll take more than saying "greener economy" aloud to make it so.

More on Green Economy:
Five New Jobs in the Growing Green Economy
Book Review: The Green Collar Economy by Van Jones
Focus on Green Economic Development in Developing Countries

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