Leaders of the world’s biggest economies made a compromise commitment Sunday to reach carbon neutrality "by or around mid-century" as they wrapped up a two-day summit that was laying the groundwork for the U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
According to the final communique, the Group of 20 leaders also agreed to end public financing for coal-fired power generation abroad but set no target for phasing out coal domestically — a clear nod to top carbon polluters China and India.
The Group of 20 countries, which represent more than three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, had been looking for common ground and solid commitments on how to reduce emissions while helping poor countries deal with the impact of rising temperatures.
Without them, momentum could be lost for the larger annual talks in Glasgow that officially opened Sunday and where countries from around the globe will be represented, including poor ones most vulnerable to rising seas, desertification and other effects.
Negotiators for the Group of 20 worked through the night and talks continued Sunday morning in hopes of reaching consensus for a final statement, said two European officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Italian Premier Mario Draghi told the leaders going into the final working sessions that they needed both to set long-term goals and make short-term changes to reach them.
“We must accelerate the phasing-out of coal and invest more in renewable energy,” he said. “We also need to make sure that we use available resources wisely, which means that we should become able to adapt our technologies and also our lifestyles to this new world.”
The Group of 20 countries, which represent more than three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, are looking for common ground on how to reduce emissions while helping poor countries deal with the impact of rising temperatures.
If the G-20 summit ends with only weak commitments, momentum could be lost for the larger annual talks in Glasgow, where countries from around the globe will be represented including poor ones most vulnerable to rising seas, desertification and other effects.
A French official said the leaders had reached agreement on the still-unmet goal of providing $100 billion annually to help poorer countries cope with the effects of climate change as well as a common goal to keep global warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than the pre-industrial average.
The sticking point remained the deadline to reach carbon neutrality. Going into the summit, host Italy had all-but conceded it would only be able to secure commitments to reach net-zero emissions “by mid-century,” rather than a specific year.
Mid-century means “2050 if we want to be strict, but given the diversity of the G-20 countries ... it means everyone agrees to a common goal while providing a bit of flexibility to take into account national diversity,” the French official said, citing top carbon polluters China and India as well as Indonesia.
The future of coal, a key source of greenhouse gas emissions, has been one of the hardest things for the G-20 to agree on. However, the U.S. and other countries are hoping to get a commitment to end overseas financing of coal-fired power generation, said a senior U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity to preview President Joe Biden’s plans.
Western countries have moved away from financing coal projects in developing countries, and major Asian economies are now doing the same: Chinese President Xi Jinping announced at the U.N. General Assembly last month that Beijing would stop funding such projects, and Japan and South Korea made similar commitments earlier in the year.
China has not set an end date for building coal plants at home, however. Coal is still China’s main source of power generation, and both China and India have resisted proposals for a G-20 declaration on phasing out domestic coal consumption.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said before the Rome summit that he tried but could not get a commitment on a coal phase-out from Xi, who did not travel to the gathering.
In Glasgow, Johnson said, “we want these leaders … to focus on the commitments they can make, moving away from the use of fossil fuels, moving away from coal-fired power stations domestically.”
Climate campaigners were hoping that rich G-20 countries would also take steps to meet a long-standing but yet-to-be-fulfilled commitment to raise $100 billion annually to help developing countries move toward greener economies and adapt to the changing climate.
Youth climate activists Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate issued an open letter to the media as the G-20 was wrapping up, stressing three fundamental aspects of the climate crisis that often are downplayed: that time is running out, that any solution must provide justice to the people most affected by climate change, and that the biggest polluters often hide behind incomplete statistics about their true emissions.
“The climate crisis is only going to become more urgent. We can still avoid the worst consequences, we can still turn this around. But not if we continue like today,” they wrote, just weeks after Thunberg shamed global leaders for their “blah blah blah” rhetoric during a youth climate summit in Milan.
Britain’s Prince Charles addressed the G-20 Sunday morning and urged leaders to listen to young people who are inheriting the warming Earth, warning that “it is quite literally the last-chance saloon.”
Charles, a longtime environmental activist, said public-private partnerships were the only way to achieve the trillions of dollars in annual investment needed to transition to clean, sustainable energy sources that will mitigate the warming of global temperatures.
“It is impossible not to hear the despairing voices of young people who see you as the stewards of the planet, holding the viability of their future in your hands,” Charles said.
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