The G8 and G20 as Global Steering Committees for Energy: Opportunities and Constraints

This article looks at the opportunities and constraints for the G8 and G20 to act as steering committees in global energy governance. It starts from the premise that, intrinsically, informal consultation mechanisms among major powers have a large potential to act as coordinating bodies for global energy. After assessing the G8’s recent energy work, the article finds that the G8 has made notable strides on the energy front, particularly in areas of low controversy such as energy efficiency, but that its scope of action is limited by internal divisions, a lack of legitimacy, the absence of several key players and the lack of mechanisms for successful implementation of collective action. While some of these problems are addressed by the recent shift to the G20, the G20’s ability to act as a global energy governor remains limited. Nevertheless, by sketching the G20’s recent actions to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, we show that the G20 does have a large potential to make progress in addressing specific energy dossiers. The article concludes by making some concrete policy recommendations for G20 leaders to make full use of this forum’s potential.

Efforts to solve the various global energy problems are doomed to fail if they do not engage the most relevant and powerful players in this particular issue area. Only a handful of countries are responsible for the bulk of global energy consumption and CO2 emissions.
As long as large countries are reluctant to transfer substantial authority over energy issues to formal multilateral settings, informal and high-level forums such as the G8 and G20 fulfil a paramount function: they ensure continuous dialogue and deliberation with regard to this highly strategic and complex policy issue.
While the G20 continues to be plagued by internal divisions on energy and a lack of mechanisms for successful implementation of collective action, compared to the G8 it scores much better in terms of representativeness and the inclusion of all key energy players on an equal footing.
To make full use of the G20 as an energy forum the leaders should be farsighted, restrict the number of participants to a maximum of 20, treat energy issues iteratively, allow for independent monitoring of the commitments, and reach out to nonmember countries in a structured manner.