G20 energy and resources ministers concluded the first-ever G20 Energy Ministerial in Istanbul over the weekend. Their communique is an initial response to the call from G20 leaders at last November's Brisbane summit to meet and progress nine agreed principles on energy collaboration.

With energy access one of the focal points of Turkey's efforts on inclusiveness during its 2015 G20 presidency (the Ministerial coincided with a one-day High-Level Conference on Energy Access in Sub Saharan Africa), the key advance is that energy ministers endorsed an Energy Access Action Plan. The energy access challenge remains imposing: 1.1 billion people globally live without access to electricity, with more than 600 million of these in sub-Saharan Africa. The action plan builds on existing initiatives by facilitating voluntary collaboration among G20 countries on sharing knowledge and best practices in technology, investment and finance, capacity building and regional integration.

Renewable energy, energy efficiency and fossil fuel subsidies were also prominent in the three page statement. A toolkit of voluntary options for renewable energy deployment aims to support a faster roll-out of renewable energy by G20 countries taking advantage of reducing technology costs and exchanging good practice on enabling policy and financing frameworks. Ministers also discussed implementation of the 2014 energy efficiency action plan and G20 actions to deliver greater energy efficiency, and welcomed progress made in the past 12 months (mainly by India and Indonesia) to phase out their fossil fuel subsidies.

Yet the communique is more notable for what has not been progressed.

Two areas in particular are sources of frustration: a missed opportunity to make concrete progress on reforming global energy governance, and an unambitious approach on climate change that adds nothing to momentum in the lead up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year. In both of these areas there is a strong disconnect between G20 rhetoric and action.

G20 leaders took a significant step when they expressed a shared purpose that the international energy architecture was not reflective of the global energy landscape. The aspiration, articulated by then parliamentary secretary and now Australian energy minister Josh Frydenburg, was that the agreement reached in Brisbane would lay the foundations for a new body that would govern the 'affordable and reliable' delivery of energy to the world. The move was praised for placing the G20 at the forefront of global energy governance reform.

Yet fast-forward a year and this ambition has not been advanced. While it is important to temper expectations for what could have been achieved in just 12 months, the stage was set to deliver a serious statement of intent in 2015 that marked the G20's ongoing constructive role. Ministers could have agreed on a first pragmatic step forward, such as by recommending the International Energy Agency consult on expanding its membership. This is not an easy conversation, but leaving it in the hands of the existing establishment is guaranteed to not result in the substantive change the G20 leaders agreed was necessary in November.

There are three ways the G20 can reinforce international efforts on climate change: support the work of the UNFCCC as principal body for global climate change negotiations, support investment and international coordination in research and development on clean technologies, and recognise that the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions are key to efforts to improve energy efficiency and investment in clean technologies. While the G20 may not be the appropriate body for negotiating climate pledges, there is much that energy ministers could have done to add to the momentum building towards Paris. They could, for instance, have explicitly recognised and praised the joint leadership that the US and China have displayed, welcomed the enhanced commitments of other G20 countries, urged greater ambition in the energy sector and boldly detailed the type of collective actions and international coordination that would lead to a substantive boost in clean energy research and development in G20 countries.

In all, the first Energy Ministerial has overseen some progress in discrete parts of the agenda. But it is hard to escape the feeling the G20 has still a long path to tread before it makes meaningful contributions to the energy sector.

In the future, action plans and toolkits will need to be supplemented by political drive to deliver substantive governance change and contribute to climate change solutions if the G20 is to justify the time of energy ministers and the associated machinery of government.

Photo by Flickr user DIVatUSAID