In the past month, there have been two high profile meetings of international leaders in which climate change has been discussed. The world saw the G20 summit held in London on 2 April the UN conference in Bonn, from March 29 to April 8.

G20 Summit

The main focus of the G20 Summit in London was to tackle the economic crisis the world is currently facing. It is clear from the resulting communiqué that commitment to creating more jobs and increasing global economic health through sustainable fiscal policy is strong. Within this target, the words 'climate change' were also mentioned, albeit briefly. Prior to the G20 summit, there was hope surrounding the role of the summit and green, sustainable economic growth. However, despite previous promises from Gordon Brown and Silvio Berlusconi towards 'low carbon growth', the only mention of climate change is at paragraphs 27 and 28 of the 29 paragraph communiqué:

"We agreed to make the best possible use of investment funded by fiscal stimulus programmes towards the goal of building a resilient, sustainable, and green recovery. We will make the transition towards clean, innovative, resource efficient, low carbon technologies and infrastructure. We encourage the MDBs to contribute fully to the achievement of this objective. We will identify and work together on further measures to build sustainable economies. We reaffirm our commitment to address the threat of irreversible climate change, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, and to reach agreement at the UN Climate Change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009."

The statement is non-specific and also transfers the emphasis for all agreements to be made at the Copenhagen conference, rather than making an active statement as a result of the summit.

There is little more than this statement in relation to climate change discussion following the G20. Critics argue that the absence of definite actions or objectives is insufficient for what could reasonably have been expected from the summit. An alternative view, however, is that it is positive that world leaders have made a firm commitment to the Copenhagen conference which is directly aimed at climate control and energy.

Commentary following the summit

The outcome has been regarded as disappointing by many, including Professor Robert Watson, chief scientific adviser for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:

"I think it [low-carbon recovery] deserves a higher profile. Everybody seems to be focusing on short-term recovery and getting long-term regulation of the banks right. I haven't heard anything that suggests the green recovery and climate change are a major part of the [G20] agenda."

Further criticisms focus on the generality of any mention to green policy and climate change. Steve Howard, CEO of The Climate Group, which works with major businesses and governments to promote a low-carbon economy, said:

"What is lacking from the statement as a whole is timetables, targets and amounts. It lacks specifics on anything."

UN Conference on Climate Change in Bonn

At the UN Conference on Climate Change, there was heavy focus on what the US position would be. Obama faced his first test in a global setting regarding how his administration is prepared to act in relation to climate change. Having made a big verbal commitment to the principle of sustainable green energy and cutting carbon emissions, the eyes of the world were on Obama.

The US also referred to China's involvement as key in the lead up to the meeting in Copenhagen. China and the US together generate 40% of the world's emissions. Therefore, without the support of both nations, there is little hope for real progression.

The Climate Change Conference is scheduled for 18 December in Copenhagen where the members will agree an international response to climate change, with specific objectives and actions. Several conferences are taking place in the interim to reach agreement of certain issues prior to Copenhagen. The overall aim is to agree a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012.

Outcomes from the conference

Following the conference in Bonn, it was reported that strong progress was made. There was broad support for ambitious emissions cuts by 2050. However, according to UN Climate Chief, Yvo de Boer, the numbers discussed so far for industrialised countries fall well below the target necessary to effect real change.

Developing countries showed support to mitigate emissions. However, for most countries this is on the basis that financial and technical support is given. The UN said that 'one per cent of global GDP should be invested to revive and green the world's flagging economy'.

With the US on side, and clearly taking their commitment to climate change more seriously than ever before, there is a positive approach to the looming Copenhagen conference and interim negotiations. Todd Stern, the US climate negotiator, commented with caution that:

"I don't think anybody should be thinking that the US can ride in on a white horse and make it all work"

Despite this scepticism, there is a definite, positive focus on the support from the Obama administration, which is unprecedented since Clinton signed, but failed to ratify, the Kyoto Protocol.


UN Conference on Climate Change

There are four meetings planned before Copenhagen. The next meeting will be from 1-12 June in Bonn, followed by an informal meeting in Bonn from 10 – 14 August. 28 September until 9 October will see a meeting in Bangkok with a final meeting being held from 2 to 6 November (location unconfirmed).


The chair will pass from the UK to South Korea in autumn 2009.

Prior to this, there will be a GB Environment Ministers' meeting on Countering Climate Change and preservation of biodiversity from 22-24 April, followed by the World Business Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen from 24-26 May. There has been positive commentary for the future conferences. An article in the Guardian following the London summit stated:  

"…one crucial outcome of this week is that the G20 is now the world's number-one decision-making forum, the place where serious horse trading can happen and lead to results. It has superseded the mainly white rich nations' club of the G7. The G20 may not be a perfect group, but its ascent marks a new chapter in the era of capitalist globalisation."