Argentina prepares G20 climate agenda

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Dialogo Chino, Bonn

While the implementation of the Paris Agreement topped the agenda for most parties the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP23) in the German city of Bonn recently, Argentina has another priority. The South American country will soon assume the presidency of the G20 group of economies, and the question of where climate will feature on the agenda under its stewardship was a hot topic during the two-week UN-sponsored climate talks.

Argentina will seek to create a climate sustainability group within the G20, decoupling climate and energy from the working group formed by current G20 president Germany. The group will focus on climate change under the talks’ main banner of sustainable development.

“The G20 agenda title will be sustainable development. The ratification of the commitments of the Paris Agreement, along with trends and clarity in the reduction of emissions are going to be key areas of our presidency,” Sergio Bergman, Argentina’s minister of environment and sustainable development told Diálogo Chino.

In addition to prioritising climate by establishing a specific group, Argentina plans to employ the consensus method of decision-making among the 20 countries of the group to advance the sustainability agenda. The fact that the group includes the US, the only country to reject the Paris Agreement, would seem to be a big obstacle. Under Germany’s leadership, there was no consensus and 19 countries in the group agreed to move forward on climate action.

However, Bergman believes progress on climate is also achievable outside the UN framework and will seek a solution that includes President Donald Trump’s government:

“We are not going to clash with the US’ position on leaving the Agreement. The US has rejected the goals, but not the reduction of emissions, and this must be continued. It is one more voice for climate sustainability. Argentina’s focus is on consensus and dialogue,” Bergman said.

Bergman’s optimism is shared by Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Espinosa said that she wants Argentina to continue Germany’s climate leadership in the G20.

“We hope and want Argentina to take the lead on climate in the G20 in order to keep the issue on the group’s agenda. I am optimistic and convinced that it is possible,” she told Diálogo Chino.

However, civil society organisations reject the consensus formula promoted by Argentina, and want more clarity on the agenda that climate change will have in the G20.

In its COP23 daily bulletin ECO, Climate Action Network (CAN), a global coalition of environmental organisations, released a strong statement criticising the “uncertainty” of the role that climate change will play in the G20 agenda under Argentina’s presidency.

For CAN, Argentina is in a “very good position” to boost climate on the G20 agenda but green groups worry it is “just another issue among many others”.

“No one is clear what Argentina’s climate agenda will be like in the G20, as they are avoiding the subject,” Enrique Maurtua Konstantinidis, director of climate change at the Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (FARN), told Diálogo Chino. “Consensus will be sought among all countries and that is not good for the matter of climate, considering the position of the US. They will end up removing certain issues from the agenda to meet Trump’s whims,” he added.

Fossil fuels

In 2009, the G20 agreed to the eliminate subsidies for oil and other fossil fuels in the “medium term”. It does not establish a specific timeframe for the goal. For environmental organisations, the goal should be achieved by 2020, or 2025 at the latest.

However, little progress has been made so far. According to a report by Oil Change International, G20 countries allocate four times more public funding to fossil fuels than to renewable energies. Argentina is no exception, subsidising not only generation, but also consumption.

According to Bergman, Argentina will seek to make progress in achieving the 2009 goal and has already taken steps in the right direction. For example, the government recently set the price of fuels according to international prices and promoted the development of renewable energies”.

However, there is still a long way to go. Hydrocarbon companies have received numerous tax cuts and subsidies from the government to invest in Argentina, especially in shale gas and shale oil in fields such as Vaca Muerta, which will require investments of up to US$90 billion in the coming years.

“We hope to then have a substantive discussion on fossil fuels. Nobody with any sense wishes to stimulate that discussion. Fossil fuels carry a high cost. At some point, it will no longer be profitable and we have to help to make it even less profitable,” Bergman said.

 

As president of the G20, Argentina’s own action towards reducing emissions – “insufficient” according to Climate Action Tracker, an organisation which evaluates countries’ commitments – will come into sharper focus.

In 2016, Argentina revised its roundly criticised 2015 climate plan, or Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), and undertook to reduce its emissions by 18% unconditionally, and by 37% conditional on receiving international finance.

Bergman argued that Argentina currently “mitigates against everything it emits” and stressed that all the NDC measures have been validated. At the same time, he said his management of the environment portfolio in Argentina followed “years without an environmental policy” during the administration of former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Prior to current president Mauricio Macri taking office in 2016, Argentina did not have a ministry dedicated to the environment.

However, Konstantinidis argued that Argentina “can do more” and should increase expectations on climate: “It is not impossible for us to revisit the NDC, since with the ongoing work, we could set more ambitious goals.”