Impulses for a Global Energy Transition: Study Analyses Trends in G20 Countries

The group of twenty leading industrialised and emerging economies (G20) is responsible for 82 per cent of worldwide energy-related CO2 emissions. Decisions and measures adopted by the G20 to support the development of low-carbon energy systems could therefore contribute significantly to efforts to protect the global climate. In a new IASS Study titled Sustainable Energy in the G20: Prospects for a Global Energy Transition, researchers analyse energy sector developments across fourteen G20 member states. The selected case studies highlight trends and political initiatives in Argentina, Brazil, China, the EU, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, and the USA. Each of the studies identifies developments that could strengthen international cooperation to advance a global energy transition.

Renewables gaining ground

“The case studies were specifically selected to illustrate the heterogeneity of the G20. They include both industrialised and emerging economies, energy transition frontrunners and major producers of fossil fuels as well as key donors in the field of international energy cooperation and countries affected by energy poverty,” explains IASS researcher and co-editor of the study, Sybille Röhrkasten. The study covers the most important trends in the expansion of renewables, improvements in energy efficiency, and international energy cooperation.

Among its findings, this new study shows that energy systems in all of the G20 members covered are still dependent on fossil fuels to a large degree. All of these countries have however signed up to the Paris Climate Agreement and adopted renewable energy targets. The last decade has also seen energy generation from renewable sources gaining ground across all of the case studies, albeit from very different starting points.

Climate protection secondary to other goals

While all of the G20 countries examined in the study have declared their intention to improve energy efficiency, progress has been comparatively slow. “There is plenty of room for improvement in this area,” said IASS researcher and co-editor of the study, Rainer Quitzow. The G20 appears to be divided on the nuclear question. Whereas Germany is phasing out nuclear power, and even France, which derives much of its electricity from nuclear power, wants to reduce its share of the energy mix, several emerging economies are looking to grow their nuclear energy capacities.

In most of the countries covered by this study, concerns about climate change are not a key driver of progress on energy efficiency and renewable energy generation. Instead, policy is being shaped by a range of factors, including the wish to play a leading role in the renewables industry, to meet the growing demand for energy with a more diverse energy mix, to improve competitiveness, and to deliver benefits at the local scale such as improved air quality and water security. The influence of powerful interest groups associated with the fossil fuel and nuclear industries as well as challenges in infrastructure development are among the barriers to progress identified in the study.

G20 urged to ramp up efforts

The editors of the study emphasise the need for coordinated action on the part of the G20 countries. With its initiatives to address such urgent issues as energy access, the expansion of renewable energy capacities and energy efficiency, and the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies, the G20 has already taken several important steps towards implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement. “But this merely marks a beginning. The G20 must strengthen its efforts across all of these areas in order to foster the development of a sustainable, low-carbon energy system,” stressed IASS researcher and co-editor Sonja Thielges.

Röhrkasten, S., Thielges, S., Quitzow, R. (eds.) (2016): Sustainable Energy in the G20: Prospects for a Global Energy Transition. - IASS Study, December 2016.