Can the G20 Save the World?
By Mark Beeson

Can the G20 Save the World?

May. 09, 2023  |     |  0 comments

Addressing climate change is arguably the most urgent problem facing humanity. Global climate change and environmental crises will affect everyone, and only collective action can bring about the necessary changes to slow global warming. At present, we face serious technical and policy issues, but achieving a national and even international consensus is difficult because policy change always creates winners and losers. The G20 has the potential to address climate change, a role made more urgent by the failure of other agencies to take effective action.

The G20 was originally focused on short-term economic issues, but its membership and potential capacity can help address long-term global issues. G20 economies account for 80% of global GDP and 80% of global carbon dioxide emissions. The G20 states are capable of action and have a moral duty, as they are largely responsible for the current predicament. A key challenge is to expand the responsibilities of G20, not least by helping poorer countries transition to a sustainable economy. We can use the limited time available to solve problems only when countries work together.

The United Nations has been at the forefront of alerting the world to the climate crisis but lacks the capacity to implement the necessary changes. The situation is made more complex by the changing global geopolitical situation and the intensifying competition between the United States, which seems in decline, and China, which is clearly becoming more important. So we have to find alternative leadership models, and China has the potential to play a very important role in this regard. Indeed, many observers talk about replacing the Washington Consensus with the Beijing Consensus.

The Beijing Consensus is linked to China's own development experience and could serve as a potential blueprint for more sustainable forms of development. China has articulated several new, potentially more sustainable initiatives based on new technologies, the cost of which may be as little as 1% of the global GDP. China could play an important role through its "Belt and Road" initiative, especially where projects are directly linked to sustainable environmental outcomes. Although China is still relatively dependent on coal power, it is the world’s leading green energy and technology investor. Overall, China has the potential to play a crucial role in promoting sustainable development and should be encouraged to do so.

More generally, the historical experiences of China and East Asia have demonstrated that there are alternative roads to economic development. China can demonstrate that economic development can be linked to effective carbon-neutral industrial policies by encouraging technological research and innovation. China could also lead by promoting and implementing a global carbon tax. Such a tax would not only be an important source of revenue for national governments, but it is also a very powerful policy mechanism to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The G20 and China can potentially be important driving forces in encouraging other countries to adopt green and sustainable policies. The members of the G20 need to realize their moral responsibility and help the countries in the global south by giving them the capabilities and tools to transition to sustainable development. While not every aspect of the ‘China model’ will be applicable to neighboring countries, China can help them transition to a sustainable development future through resource transfer mechanisms that would ultimately enhance China's soft power and international image.

One of China’s key potential contributions is to promote debate and discussion of climate change issues within partner countries, especially through the BRI. Convincing policymakers everywhere that no country can overcome these problems alone is a first step. International cooperation is crucial, and the BRI provides a potentially important mechanism for achieving that. Climate change must be part of national policy. In this regard, middle powers, such as Australia, could or should encourage major powers, such as China and the United States, to strengthen cooperation, act in the global interest, and not just focus on their narrower national interests.