G20 countries failing by big margins to cut greenhouse gas emissions to below ‘catastrophic’ levels


Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are set to rise by 10.6% by 2030 instead of falling by the 45% needed to limit the increase in global temperature to 1.5 °C. The G20 countries are the worst and most-responsible offenders, says Oxfam.

New research commissioned by Oxfam and released today shows that under the G20’s current carbon reduction pledges, their per capita GHG emissions in 2030 will collectively remain at similar levels as they are today – nearly double the amount needed to avoid catastrophic impacts.

The G20 is responsible for 78% of all territorial GHG emissions. The G20 Summit begins in India Sept 9-10. The G20 and other countries will submit their latest climate action pledges (called “nationally determined contributions” or NDCs) to an important stocktake at the UN Climate Summit in Dubai in November. This will reveal whether we are on track to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement.

“With less than three months to go before this crucial climate stocktake is published, we call out the G20 for their failure of ambition and action. Unless G20 countries substantially improve their NDCs, they are effectively spelling ‘surrender’ in the face of the existential crisis of our times,” said Oxfam climate change policy lead, Nafkote Dabi.

“Science traces today’s wildfires and droughts, crop failures and flash floods, shifting weather patterns and heatwaves, sea-level rise and mega-storms to excessive greenhouse gas emissions. People living in poverty and in lower-income countries are suffering most. We look to the world’s super-emitters for solutions but find today their numbers simply don’t stack up,” Dabi said.

G20 countries are emitting the equivalent of 7.4 to 7.7 tons of CO2 per person on average each year, of territorial emissions. To keep below 1.5 °C, they must at least halve this to between 2.9 to 3.8 tons per person by 2030. Researchers ran the NDCs of each G20 country through three different tracking methodologies. They found that the G20 plans to reduce emissions to only to 6.7 to 6.9 tons per person on average – or nearly double what they should be.

Oxfam has shown that per capita emissions are immensely skewed by wealth and inequality. Because of their investments, 125 billionaires alone emit 393 million tons of CO2 each year at an individual annual average, which is around half-a-million times higher than the average person in the G20 and a million times higher than anyone living in the bottom 90 percent of global wealth.

All three methodologies find that richer G20 nations are performing worst of all. Currently, high-income G20 countries are emitting more than 12 tons of CO2 annually per person on average. This needs to be reduced by between 8.9 to 19.4 tons. However, the research shows that high-income countries’ NDCs aim to reduce annual emissions by 2030 by only 4.2 to 4.6 tons per person.

The high-income G20 countries with the largest shortfall in their planned emissions reductions (using two of the three methodologies reviewed) are:

  • the United States between 5.8 to 24.6 tons of CO2 equivalent per person per year
  • Australia 4.1 to 18;
  • Canada 3 to 15.6;
  • Japan 3.7 to 15.5;
  • Germany 6.5 to 14;
  • France: around 12;
  • The United Kingdom 5.7 to 11.1;
  • Italy around 10,
  • The European Union 4.2 to 9;
  • Saudi Arabia 3.7 to 5.8;
  • South Korea 3.4 to 4.6.

Currently, middle-income G20 countries are emitting the equivalent of 6.1 to 6.3 tons of CO2 per person per year and need to bring this down to the equivalent of 4 to 5.8 tons per person. The middle-income G20 countries shortfalls in CO2 equivalent annual emissions per person are:

  • Russia 7.8 to 10;
  • Turkiye 4.3 to 4.8;
  • Indonesia 2.3 to 3.4;
  • Mexico 1.3 to 2.6;
  • Argentina 0.6 to 2.5;
  • Brazil 0.5 to 2.5;
  • China 0 to 3.4;
  • India 0.1 to 0.7 tons.

For South Africa, the estimate of its NDC ranges from a shortfall of 0.3 tons per person to a surplus of 0.4 tons per person, showing it is potentially being more ambitious than required by its fair share.

“The G20’s failure to commit to reduce their emissions by enough will become glaringly obvious when the global stocktake concludes at COP28 in November. Yet we expect countries will continue to point fingers at others without acknowledging their own responsibilities. In particular, G7 countries are peddling a perverse narrative that their plans are sufficient and that the onus instead is on middle-income countries to peak and reduce emissions. This research exposes that argument as false,” Dabi said.

“High-income G20 countries need to do two things. One, reduce drastically their domestic emissions to as low as possible, particularly on their wealthiest citizens, and support low-carbon societies for all, and two, provide the financing and technological support that lower income countries need to help them reduce emissions and build low-carbon futures,” Dabi said.

“The richest G7 and G20 countries need to ramp up their own domestic climate ambition and radically increase climate finance to make up for historic emissions. This is not only a matter of equity – without it, we will never achieve the life-saving goals of the Paris Agreement.”

Notes to editors

Researchers assessed the G20’s latest NDCs using the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), Climate Equity Reference Project (CERP) and Equal Per Capita Consumption CO2 (EPCCC) methodologies.

The figures listed above for per capita emissions use only CAT and CERP because their figures include all greenhouse gases (but exclude emissions from deforestation and other land uses and land use changes), whereas the EPCC only measures carbon dioxide from energy and industry and excludes land use and forestry. The conclusions about the G20’s emissions plans, including those about high-income and middle-income countries, reflect the analysis from all three methodologies.

CAT and CERP are the methodologies generally used by civil society organizations. There is no agreed or common methodology between countries or by inter-governmental organizations. Oxfam considers that the CERP best meets the criteria of both ambition and fairness according to its standards. The research aimed to compare various methodologies and present their results rather than to endorse them.

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