G20 Summit Nov 2014

For someone who has been involved in drafting of Communiqués for international meetings perhaps the principal virtues of the G20 one are its brevity  –only about 3 pages excluding an index of attachments (see below) – and generalisations. As expected, the signature nations  agreed on pursuing policies to improve economic growth and a range of other desirable objectives. But there does not appear to be any promotion of or commitment to government interventionism, such as measures to reduce “austerity” or the obverse. Nor are there are  commitments to implement policies or achieve objectives by a certain date.

Despite the publicity given to the climate change, the issue does not appear in the communiqué until para 19 of the 21 paras, viz

“19. We support strong and effective action to address climate change. Consistent with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its agreed outcomes, our actions will support sustainable development, economic growth, and certainty for business and investment. We will work together to adopt successfully a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the UNFCCC that is applicable to all parties at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in 2015. We encourage parties that are ready to communicate their intended nationally determined contributions well in advance of COP21 (by the first quarter of 2015 for those parties ready to do so). We reaffirm our support for mobilising finance for adaptation and mitigation, such as the Green Climate Fund.”

There are also two paras which address energy issues and which are relevant to the climate change issue. Para 17 wants countries to “work to improve the functioning of gas markets”, which is relevant to restrictions on fracking in Australia and to restrictions on gas exports by some countries, such as the US. Para 18 says countries have agreed on a voluntary collaboration plan on improving energy efficiency, including on “emissions performance of vehicles” (Obama is hoping to increase US regulations on this), and to “phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”.

It is difficult to see that these paras put pressure on Australia to take any additional action to reduce emissions now or even in the future. The support for “strong and effective action to address climate change” is open to interpretation but it includes that “our actions will support sustainable development, economic growth, and certainty for business and investment”. In short, there is room here to argue that individual countries can decide where to strike the balance between action to reduce emissions and action to support economic growth.

All told, the meeting seemed to be well managed and, with the exceptions of Obama’s speech at Queensland University (which earned him no marks) and Putin’s failure to offer any apology for downing the Malaysian airplane, controversies were largely avoided. It can certainly be said that Abbott has had another foreign policy success, albeit of little substance in itself, in his handling the leaders of major countries in the world.

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