Trevor Houser has a new working paper out that takes a careful look at what the G20 can and should do on climate change. He argues that the G20 is the wrong place to try and resolve the tough issues in the UN negotiations, at least right now. In particular, he writes, “ there is significant risk that marrying climate change and the G-20 will end up introducing the acrimony of the UN negotiations into G-20 discussions rather than bringing the civility of the G-20 to climate change diplomacy.” That sounds about right to me. I’d add that while many in the climate world seem to believe that the G20 has been a spectacular success, many folks in the international economics world don’t quite seem to see things the same way. Without the firm institutional foundation that climate experts mistakenly think already exists, though, it’s far from clear that the G20 is ready to tackle thorny issues like those blocking the climate talks.
But Trevor also emphasizes the potential for the G20 to move forward on a host of concrete agenda items that are directly relevant to greenhouse gas emissions, including fossil fuel subsidies, development bank reform, exit paths as “green stimulus” ends, open markets for environmental goods and services, and global rebalancing. I can nitpick about some of the details – I’d have liked to see more on oil in the context of global rebalancing (though I’ll admit that the analytical foundation for working through that issue is poor), and I’m skeptical that the G20 is the right place to be hashing out how the World Bank should handle climate-friendly development – but overall, it’s a great piece of work. Everyone thinking about how we move forward internationally on climate change should check it out.