The G20 has the potential and responsibility to lead the world in developing more sustainable economic systems and life styles. Today’s patterns of consumption and waste generation are unsustainable. They contribute to social inequalities and the environmental degradation that is polluting our oceans, heating up the planet, threatening species survival, and contributing to the spread of disease. Economic, agricultural and energy systems will need to be transformed in the coming decades if we are to leave our children and future generations with the opportunity to lead healthy and prosperous lives.
Climate Change: Aiming at Carbon Neutrality
There is basic consensus that climate change is a real and serious threat to human societies and ecological systems. The burning of fossil fuels and deforestation for agricultural and development purposes are major causes of global warming. Global average temperatures are already around one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels and current policies and measures are insufficient to prevent a temperature increase of 1.5 degrees C, or 2 degrees C as negotiated in the Paris Agreement. Due to the size of their economies, the G20 is responsible for about two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions currently emitted globally. This puts a large responsibility on its members to take the lead in decarbonizing energy systems, as is being demanded by more and more young people around the world.
Investing in Renewable Energy Development and Deployment
There are clearly still differences within the G20 regarding where climate action stands on national agendas, yet there are positive signs. Most visible is the growing interest in the development of renewable energies. Many G20 members have set renewable energy targets for 2030. This is important as it sends signals to industry and financial institutions regarding investment priorities. Furthering the development and deployment of renewable energies will not only help the environment, it can help regions of the world that still have limited or no access to electricity whatsoever. More decentralized energy systems can promote greater prosperity and citizen involvement in sustainable economic development.
Enhancing Energy Efficiency
Energy efficiency improvements are another area where much potential exists. There is still tremendous waste in how energy is produced, transported, and consumed. By using energy more efficiently, costs can be reduced leaving more money available for other purposes. There are large potentials for energy savings not only in industries but also in the building and transport sectors. This will, however, also require cooperative financial, technical, and educational mechanisms to assist developing countries in making energy efficiency improvements. Putting a price on carbon can contribute to the promotion of energy efficiency as can the introduction of technical and process standards. Making greater use of digitalization and artificial intelligence to enhance efficiency can generate many co-benefits.
Developing Circular Economies: Using Resources Wisely
Although recycling has become more common, the world is swimming in plastic and electronic waste and all too often toxic and other hazardous wastes are still dealt with inadequately. There is also the problem that valuable natural resources are being lost. The G20 should strengthen their resolve to alter wasteful consumption patterns and promote the development of circular economies. This will involve educating populations about how to consume more wisely, but also at times introducing regulatory measures, such as the banning of the use of one-way plastics. It means cutting down waste, such as unnecessary packaging of products and food waste from supermarkets and restaurants. It involves developing systems for the reuse of construction materials and enhancing the use of recycled materials in the production of products. A circular economy strives at near-zero waste. If products can be produced in such a way that they can be more easily recycled at the end of their product life, waste can be minimized, saving natural resources and money at the same time.
Shifting Investments in Sustainable Directions
Governments through their purchasing power and financial institutions (banks, pension funds) and through their investments have very large environmental footprints. Currently, purchasing practices are often based on lowest cost bids, which do not take long-term environmental and energy costs into consideration. Shifting accounting practices to promote green development that favors energy and resource efficiency can be a win both for the environment and for government budgets. Similarly, green investment should be promoted. Pension funds, for example, should be required to invest in sustainable development programs and projects rather than in industries which are polluting or in other ways damaging the environment and long-term growth potential.
Providing Opportunities for Rural Communities through Sustainable Development
In many countries, rural communities are experiencing population loss and the aging of populations. Economic chances are dwindling and there is a push towards greater urbanization. Renewable energy projects, organic farming, and small-scale production of sustainably produced goods are just some of the ways that a shift toward more decentralized energy systems and sustainable production can help provide greater opportunities for rural regions.
Building Resilient and Prosperous Communities
Climate change, biodiversity loss, and resource depletion threaten human health and survival. Greater investments will be needed to strengthen the ability of communities, and especially those in developing countries, to take preventive measures to minimize threats from extreme events and preparatory measures to deal with disasters when they do occur. Communities need to be given the tools to themselves develop programs fitting to their situations. This will require greater investments in capacity building through knowledge exchange and technological cooperation. Partnerships will be crucial.