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Complying with Global Summit Climate Change Commitments:
G7, G20 and UN Performance

Aurora Hudson, Research Associate, G7 and G20 Research Groups
December 1, 2015

As world leaders work in Paris at the United Nations summit on climate change, the world wonders how well they will keep any of the big, bold promises they make there. In the case of UN summits themselves, it is very difficult to tell, for there is very little systematic, reliable, independent evidence upon which to base an answer. But critical to the success of Paris are the commitments and compliance of the most powerful countries of the world — those of the G7/G8 and now those of the bigger, broader G20. Here, there is substantial evidence based on compliance assessments with the climate change commitments the leaders make at their own annual summits.

The Compliance Evidence

The evidence compiled from reports produced by the G7/G8 Research Group and the G20 Research Group shows several important trends.

The overall average compliance score for the G7/G8 is 72.5%. This is higher than the G20's 67.5%. Within the G20, the G7/G8 members' compliance score 73%, while that of the remaining members is only 60%. G7/G8 members achieve higher overall levels of compliance and lead the rest of the G20, shaping the climate compliance all members aspire to.

There is no discernible chronological trend in either group. G7/G8 compliance scores have increased since climate change first appeared in summit commitments in the mid 1980s, but there is significant variation between the summits. It is more helpful to analyze trends within the topics covered by commitments.

For the G7/G8, general commitments that cover a wide range of issues related to climate change achieve the highest average score at 73.5%. Commitments related to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) follow closely at 72.5%. Commitments involving other UN agencies or mechanisms come third with 65%. Climate finance trails at 56%.

For the G20, UNFCCC commitments score the highest at 75.5%. General climate change commitments come second at 67.5%. The Green Climate Fund comes third at 47.5%. Members are thus more likely to comply with commitments that involve UN agencies and with general climate change commitments rather than specific, target-oriented ones involving financial contributions.

Compliance by member varies widely within both the G7/G8 and the G20. The European Union and the United Kingdom lead both. Russia scores second lowest in both groups. Italy and Saudi Arabia traditionally have the lowest scores for the G7/G8 and G20 respectively.

This evidence suggests that the global community should look to G7/G8 leadership at Paris on its critical issues of implementing and improving countries' intended nationally determined contributions. The G7/G8 should seek to bring developing countries into the new agreement as contributors. They should support changes to the existing UNFCCC structure that allows G7/G8 countries to lead, as they are the ones most likely to comply with the big new promises they make at Paris. Above all, the G7/G8, G20 and UN must improve their accountability mechanisms for monitoring, verifying and reporting, to ensure that promises made are promises kept — and continuously improved — to solve the critical challenge of climate change.

For further information, see John Kirton and Ella Kokotsis, The Global Governance of Climate Change: G7, G20 and UN Leadership (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015).

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Aurora Hudson
Aurora Hudson, M.ICS, has been a researcher for the G7 and G8 Research Group, as well as G20 Research Group, since 2013. She has researched and written on G7/G8 and G20 compliance, specifically on climate change, energy and regional security. She completed her honours BA at the University of Toronto, and her master's degree in international conflict and security at the University of Kent in Brussels. The focus of her studies and research is water security and related climate change issues.

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