The G20's Silent Storm

G20 protesters in Seoul, South Korea during the group's gathering in 2011. This year, though large demonstrations are not expected at talks in Turkey next week, the implications of what the G20 decides will directly impact what happens at the UN climate summit talks in Paris that begin at the end of the month. (Photo: Demotix)

The G20's Silent Storm

How next week’s G20 discussions will impact the Paris climate summit

ISTANBUL, Turkey - Next week, the world leaders of the most powerful 20 countries will convene in closed-door meetings in the tiny Mediterranean resort town of Belek, Turkey, a short distance from the burgeoning city of Antalya. What kinds of protests will happen in the streets? Not a lot

But don't be fooled. The G20 shouldn't be ignored. Powerful storm clouds are gathering over the Mediterranean, as President Obama, Angela Merkel, Xi Jinping, Vladamir Putin, and other heads of state converge upon Turkey.

"The G20 comes as the silent lightning before the thunderous storm of the Paris climate summit."

About half a million activists are expected to flood the streets of Paris for the COP21 Climate Summit. But the G20 Summit, happening just two weeks prior to the Paris meetings, seems to be drawing little interest from protesters. Global threat assessment agencies confirm that there are currently no public protests planned at all for the summit. Compare that to Paris, where a power club of environmental organizations like Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, Sierra Club, and others are planning to hold one of the largest acts of civil disobedience that Europe has ever seen.

But there is something we're missing here. If G20 leaders fail to commit funds to climate action, or fail to meaningfully address climate at all, the Paris meetings will be in jeopardy. The 20 countries in the G20 emit about 75 percent of all carbon emissions, so their actions will be critical in lowering world carbon emissions. These countries include the United States, Germany, Russia, China, and India, countries who often drive the agenda of large UN summits. If they say no dice, no dice. Some groups have applied pressure at G20 ministerial meetings this year, which is commendable, but we could go farther.

Climate finance has been one of the stumbling blocks in past climate summits, keeping poor countries from agreeing to lowering emissions unless funds can be made available for sustainable development. The G20 offers an important forum for reaching agreements on climate finance, and this year the Turkish forum hosts have made it an important part of the agenda.

"2015 will be a crucial year for the climate change negotiations as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is expected to render an agreement that will define the future of our efforts in this important field," wrote the Turkish government in its Turkish G20 Presidency Priorities for 2015 document. "During Turkey's Presidency, we will take up this issue with a particular focus on financing aspect and pay special attention to the needs of the [Low-Income Developing Countries]."

Last year, following the 2014 G20 meetings in Brisbane, Australia, President Obama announced that the United States would commit $3 billion to the UN Green Climate Fund. Japan contributed $1.5 billion.

The United States contribution to the Green Climate Fund "will help developing nations deal with climate change, reduce their carbon pollution and invest in clean energy," said Obama.

But despite these hopeful signs, there is always the chance that climate funding could face further delays. If appropriate funds for sustainable development in poor countries are not committed before the Paris climate summit, poor countries may be somewhat reluctant to actually commit to reducing emissions. So let's keep an eye on the G20's climate funding discussions.

Another central concern in terms of G20 carbon emissions is a new physical infrastructure framework that the group has put forward. The infrastructure proposal would include $80 trillion in industrial infrastructure spending, but it is unclear whether environmentally sustainable approaches to development are part of the discussions. Such a massive project would significantly raise global carbon emissions, if undertaken without sustainable methods.

In March, an open letter signed by economist Herman Daly, activist Vandana Shiva, former Green Party presidential candidate Winona LaDuke, Greenpeace USA director Annie Leonard, Earth First! co-founder Mike Roselle, and others urged the G20 to rethink the infrastructure proposal. The letter suggests that the G20 "discuss significant changes to the economic model," educate themselves on planetary ecological boundaries, and shift toward ecologically sound infrastructure.

"Should the G20 facilitate the wrong path at its November meetings in Turkey this could nullify any gains made in Paris," the letter warns.

Another issue is that Obama is expected to use the forum to build more global support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a sweeping trade deal that would take away our ability to enact environmental or labor protections, raise prescription drug prices, ship more jobs overseas, and give corporations even more power all signing countries, including the United States. Many groups in the United States, including a consensus of environmental groups and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, oppose the TPP.

The G20 is a forum of the "Group of 20" countries, the 20 most important economies in the world, meeting at least once per year. Together they constitute about 60 percent of the world's population and emit the lion's share of global carbon emissions. Since its beginnings as an emergency response to economic crises, the G20 meeting agendas have widened to encompass a variety of issues, such as anti-corruption practice, food policy, financial transaction tax, youth employment, and especially expansion of economic growth.

The countries invited to the meetings are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The hosting of the forum rotates frequently between member countries.

I'll be in the streets of Antalya, Turkey, looking for signs of dissent, of pressure, of something. In a country with a lot of recent turmoil, including the bombing of a peace protest in Ankara, it's possible that people are reluctant to make a public stand. In addition, security barriers and checkpoints erected around Belek frustrate plans to be heard in the halls of power. But I'll be there to witness whatever occurs.

I was present at the Pittsburgh G20 summit when a high-tech sound cannon device was employed right next to where I stood, to dispel the massive crowd, and I was tear gassed and shot with rubber bullets. I was in the fiery throngs at the Toronto G20, where I was violently arrested and thrown into detention with over a thousand others. I was at the Mexico G20 summit, where "YoSoy132" student activists joined labor unions, indigenous groups, womens groups and others, and flooded the streets. I'm not trying to sound like a "summit hopper," but I do believe in the power of the people, especially in the face of authority

This G20 summit, however, comes at an important turning point. The G20 comes as the silent lightning before the thunderous storm of the Paris climate summit.

Next week, in a quiet resort town on the Turkish rim of the Mediterranean, some of the most important global players will be reaching agreements on climate issues, Pacific trade deals, infrastructure development, and more. This is a critical time for us to be paying attention.

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