G20 summit to confront climate change

  • Published : Oct 26, 2010 - 19:36
  • Updated : Oct 26, 2010 - 19:36
As the premier forum for global economic coordination, the Group of 20 has focused on overcoming the financial crisis and promoting balanced growth.

The finance chiefs’ meeting over the weekend added credentials to the gathering of the world’s biggest economies with agreement to prevent a currency war and reform the International Monetary Fund.

Preoccupied with those pressing issues, the G20 meeting sidelined other critical challenges from climate change to resources, and to human security.

But Seoul officials expect that as the G20 expands its role as a principle coordination panel of global powerhouses, its agenda will broaden further to embrace the most important issues that mankind faces.

They hope the Seoul summit slated for Nov. 11-12 will lay the foundations for a transformation by putting green growth high on the agenda and preaching cooperation with international organizations to tackle poverty, resource development and other pressing issues.

In Gyeongju, the finance ministers and central bank chiefs agreed to advance the agenda of green growth at the Seoul summit.

“We noted the progress made on rationalizing and phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and promoting energy market transparency and stability and agreed to monitor and assess progress towards this commitment at the Seoul summit,” the statement said.

The communiqu also reaffirmed their commitment to greater assistance to developing countries.

“We look forward to the multi-year action plan of the G20 Working Group on Development to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth and resilience in developing countries,” it said.

They promised to reinforce their efforts to meet the U.N. Millennium Development Goals by 2015 including through development aid. It also supported scaling up agriculture assistance in several developing countries.

Though non-economic mandates are unlikely to figure prominently, the upcoming summit is expected to raise the need for the G20’s active involvement.

The G20 summit which was first held in 2008 when the global financial crisis triggered by the subprime mortgage in the United States hit has been more successful than expected in forging international cooperation to move out of the crisis promptly.

The G20 is now regarded as the premier forum on global economic issues as it accounts for 85 percent of global GDP, 80 percent of global trade and two-thirds of the world’s population.

The meeting, which has now taken a global governance role, is setting up a new agenda to respond to new challenges.

Following the Pittsburgh summit in 2009, the G20 is now seeking a long-term growth strategy instead of short-term responses to the global financial crisis.

However, previous G20 meetings the non-financial issues have hardly been dealt with despite their growing significance in the global economy. Recent floods and bush fires have increased worry about the effects of climate change.
A large placard promoting the G20 Seoul summit hangs on the building of the government office in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul. (Yonhap News)

The Toronto and the Pittsburgh summits which were held in June and last September, respectively, did not establish much agreement among the member nations regarding non-financial issues.

United Nation’s secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has urged Canada to play a key role in having the climate change issue at the “front and center” of the Toronto summit.

But Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismissed Ban’s proposal, keeping the summit’s focus strictly on the global economic recovery, saying that the issue was too sensitive a matter to be dealt with at the time.

Previous U.N. Climate Change Conferences have shown a similar trend as far as slow talk progress on climate change issues is concerned. The latest one in Copenhagen last December was criticized for being a “failure,” particularly due to the weak agreement it resulted in.

The document did not legally bind or contain any legally binding commitments for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and thus did not win many countries’ support.

The task is now shifted to the next U.N. climate change conference which will be held in Cancun, Mexico Nov.29-Dec. 10, following the G20 Seoul summit and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders’ Meeting Japan.

If the Seoul summit can initiate meaningful discussions on climate change among the leaders from 20 advanced and emerging economies, the event will have more significance.

The summit would be able to affect other upcoming global meetings including the Yokohama APEC Economic Leaders’ meeting as well as the Cancun Climate Change Meeting.

Green growth is expected to be tackled in-depth both by the G20 leaders as well as those from the private sector during the Seoul summit.

Seoul is seeking to make green growth a main agenda for the summit.

Green growth has recently emerged as a major buzzword in the global economy. The term refers to boosting economical growth while pursuing low carbon emissions and promoting green industries.

Nations that have focused on growth based on manufacturing have shifted their direction to reducing green gas emissions and promoting high-tech, environment-friendly industries, realizing the seriousness of the global climate change problem.

The Seoul summit will not only aggregate opinions of national leaders but also chiefs of prominent global firms.

The G20 Business Summit, slated for Nov. 10 and 11, will be attended by 100 chief executives of leading global enterprises from both inside and outside the G20. They will discuss their points-of-view regarding building a “green” global economy that seeks a strong, sustainable and balanced growth.

The business summit, first adopted by Korea, intends to include the private sector in the G20 summit which has so far been an inter-country dialogue.

Under the green growth agenda, business leaders will mainly discuss ways for which they can obtain energy efficiency, boost the use of renewable energy and create more green jobs.

The sessions for the first topic will be convened by Lakshmi Mittal, chairman and CEO of ArcelorMittal based in Luxembourg, while the second and third will be hosted by SK Group chairman Chey Tae-won and Ditlev Engel, CEO of Vertas Wind Systems based in Denmark.

Another major goal for the Seoul summit would be bridging the gap between developed economies and underdeveloped ones. Korea is projected to especially play a key role in doing so for it is the first time that an emerging economy is hosting and chairing a G20 summit.

By effectively initiating active discussions on the Doha Development Agenda, the current trade-negotiation round of the World Trade Organization which commenced in 2001, the Korean summit could contribute largely to realizing the completion of the DDA within this year as planned.

The DDA whose objective is to lower trade barriers around the world to allow more trade is speculated to largely benefit developing and underdeveloped economies such as India, China and Brazil.

Yet as developed and developing economies started putting forward conflicting views on some issues, including trade of services and agriculture, the meeting has become sluggish, as the 2009 Geneva conference has revealed, despite efforts of members to revitalize it.

Korea will have to make a clear stance on the DDA issue as a country that stands in between developing and developed nations and thus come up with its own strategy to deal with pressures to further open-up.

The Seoul summit also has to discuss other ways through which developed countries can help those in underdeveloped parts of the world which suffer from famine and water shortages.

In addition, the Seoul summit is likely to also play a pivotal role in initiating active discussions on the global rare earth shortage issue.

Leading producers of high-tech information technology devices including Germany, Japan and the United States have declared they will press China in Seoul, over its monopoly and unreasonable international policies regarding rare earths.

Rare earth elements, a collection of 17 metals, are a small but essential input for production of such technology-intensive products as semiconductors, rechargeable batteries for automobiles, computers and LEDs. The global demand for them has soared in recent years.

In spite of the abundant reserves of rare earths worldwide, the trickiness and dangerousness in processing them has left most developed countries reluctant to explore them.

China currently produces over 97 percent of the total global rare earths supply with around 120,000 tons annually. The country has recently started to control the prices of rare earth elements, taking advantage of its virtual monopoly of their production and supply. It also put a quota on their domestic use and an export tax for Chinese businesses.

As a result, the prices of cerium, neodymium and dysprosium have risen 383 percent, 139 percent and 133 percent, respectively, compared to early this year.

China had recently temporarily stopped the supply of these elements to Japan in retaliation for the latter’s refusal to release the captain of a Chinese fishing boat, demonstrating that it could use its monopolistic supply of the materials as a diplomatic weapon.

By Koh Young-aah (