Fossil fuel subsidies from G20 countries risk 3.2C of global heating

According to research on progress towards the goals and deadlines of the Paris Climate Agreement, the emissions of 15 G20 nations have increased since last year. The Brown to Green Report, published by Climate Transparency, is the world’s most comprehensive review of G20 climate action. It shows that climate action is deeply lacking in all but one of the world’s largest economies.

Within these 15 countries, energy produced by coal, oil, and gas, still makes up 82% of all energy consumed. These industries have relied heavily on subsidies within the last 10 years, in a last ditch effort to compete with the increasingly cheaper and cleaner renewable energy sources.

The Paris Climate Agreement stipulated that countries would agree to work towards the goals set, phasing out fossil fuels, and yet their net contributions in the form of subsidies to those industries spent £114bn on subsidies in 2016, with current trends showing that the global temperatures will rise by 3.2C, in contrast to the 1.5C lower threshold set by the Paris Agreement.

The 1.5C threshold represents that line by which coral reefs will be able to survive, a threshold that will limit the damage to Arctic ecosystems, and hopefully prevent the displacement of hundreds of millions of people at risk of increased drought, flooding, forest fires, or dangerous summer temperatures. While a 1.7C gap does not seem very big, this actually represents countless changes to the way our modern societies function.

The Brown To Green Report allows you to compare and contrast the goals, policies, and actions of different countries. India is the only country within the G20 to be on course with staying below the upper limit threshold of 2C set by the Paris Climate Agreement. Other countries such as Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia are on track with taking the world well past 4C of warming.

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The first page of the report on the United Kingdom’s Paris Agreement progress. You can see that while the energy intensity of the UK is well below the G20 average, the UK government has also cancelled several emission-reducing policies.

Indonesia, Brazil and Argentina have promised to cut deforestation but the destruction rate of forests shows no sign of reversing.

The UK has made the fastest transition amongst G20 countries, seeing a 7.7% decline in fossil fuel use between 2012 and 2015, yet both looming Brexit uncertainties and the cutting of several energy efficiency and zero-carbon home policies makes it likely that this progress could stall in the coming years.

The world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases, China, reduced its dependency on coal, which stabilised its carbon emissions for a number of years, but this trend was broken as it increased its coal consumption during 2017. Deforestation has also been a key topic for some countries such as Argentina, Brazil, and Indonesia, as forests are a major instrument in the sequestration of carbon. These countries promised to cut deforestation, but rates show no signs of dropping, and in fact, in Brazil research shows a 52% increase in deforestation rates from 2012 to 2017.

Yet all the good work being done is coming up against a brick wall, the subsidies given to fossil fuel companies from G20 countries. One of the Brown To Green Report authors, Jan Burck, said “There is a huge fight by the fossil fuel industry against cheap renewables. The old economy is well organised and they have put huge lobbying pressure on governments to spend tax money to subsidise the old world,”.

To avoid more than 1.5C of global heating (The term George Monbiot prefers us to use), emissions from G20 need to begin declining in the next two years, and be halved by 2030. Not one country has set a target credibly enough to see this through, and with the leaders of the US and Brazil, Trump and Bolsonaro, are hostile towards tackling climate breakdown, there seems to be little hope. On the brighter side, what inaction we see at a federal level, we see much action happening at a public, community level, with groups such as Greenpeace, the WWF, and even smaller organisations such as Extinction Rebellion leading the way.

“Global emissions need to peak in 2020. The Brown-to-Green report provides us with an independent stock-take on where we stand now. This is valuable information for countries when they declare their contribution in 2020.” said Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Below are links to each specific country within the Brown To Green Report. Click through them to see your country’s data.

The European Union
Saudi Arabia
South Africa
South Korea
United Kingdom
United States



EU members demand increased action on 2020 UN deforestation goal

An action plan on the alarming rates of global deforestation from the EU, which has previously been delayed, has been demanded to be brought forward “as soon as possible”, by the Amsterdam Declaration, a declaration proposed and sign by a number of EU countries, in a letter sent to the European commission.

The letter states that “despite progress in recent years, deforestation and forest degradation continue at alarming rates, in particular in tropical and subtropical regions, with as much as 80 % of global forest loss being driven by expansion of agricultural land, according to FAO estimates.”

The UN has a goal of halting deforestation by 2020, part of their Sustainable Development Goals, with goal 15 referencing the target of halting deforestation, and similarly goal 12, which works towards ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns, notably of palm oil.

The Amsterdam Declaration group letter states that “as a major importer and consumer of many commodities which include embodied deforestation, the EU is both part of the problem and can be part of the solution by stepping up its efforts to address the impacts of the consumption and adopt a more coherent and comprehensive EU approach to the problem of deforestation.”

The Amsterdam Declaration itself aims at promoting “sustainable economic development” as it’s main tenet, but also focuses on an “inter-sectoral and holistic agenda” for poverty reduction, food security, gender equality, water and sanitation, sustainable consumption and production, climate action, and the halting of land degradation and biodiversity loss.

“The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR5) states: “total anthropogenic Green House Gas (GHG) emissions have continued to increase over 1970 to 2010 with larger absolute decadal increases toward the end of this period (high confidence)”. In 2010, 24% (12 GtCO2eq) of total net emission was associated to Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Uses – AFOLU – (IPCC AR5). Moreover, according to the FAO (2014) AFOLU emissions may still increase by up to 30% if the status quo remains unchanged.” states the Declaration.

As stated above, agribusiness is responsible for 80% of the current amount of global forest loss. The forests that stretch around the planet are not only responsible for maintaining biodiversity, but for land reclamation and an incredible amount of carbon sequestration. Better forest management and natural climate solutions could possibly provide more than a third of climate breakdown mitigation needed by 2030 if acted upon, which makes this letter from the Amsterdam Declaration group all the more important.

This move comes as tensions and concerns continue to increase over the election of right-wing Jair Bolsonaro as President-elect of Brazil, whose campaign was funded in large by powerful agribusiness interests’ promising to construct a highway through the Amazon rainforest, an act with the potential to spread deforestation to an area of rainforest larger than Germany.

Rainforest in Brazil.

Stronger regulations and laws within the EU could be put in place to lower the ecological footprint of our societies within all levels of the economy, from demand to production to consumption. According to Greenpeace, it is the production of soy, beef, and palm oil which drives deforestation in Brazil today.

Over the last decade, production of palm oil has doubled. This is expected to double again by 2050. Palm oil itself accounted for 65% of all vegetable oils traded internationally in 2006.

Recently an advert from Iceland and Greenpeace went viral, depicting a cartoon orangutan telling the story of the destruction of its home for the production of palm oil. While noble in it’s message, it misses out on the fact that it is not the issue with outright consumption, it is an issue of land management.

It has been claimed that to produce as much oil from a substitute in ‘palm oil free’ products, the amount of land needed increases to as much as 40x for coconut oil and 25x for soya. Soya production has been linked to massive deforestation in the South Americas, and yet is not covered in the mainstream media.

This could be attributed to the lack of coverage for environmental issues caused by the animal agriculture business, with around 90% of soybean production used for animal feed. It is similar in focus to the recent proposed ban on plastic straws across the UK, in an effort to reduce plastic waste in our oceans, when a large majority of plastic waste in our seas comes from discarded fishing gear, and yet the focus falls on plastic straws.

It is possible that for deforestation to become more manageable, it is not simply our consumption that needs to be reduced, but that actual way that we farm these products. These ‘Natural Climate Solutions’, can be read about here.

The full letter from the Amsterdam Declaration can be read here.