Global Climate Talks Face Hurdles After G-20 Nations Struggle to Find Common Ground

Global Climate Talks Face Hurdles After G-20 Nations Struggle to Find Common Ground

World’s leading economies express aspiration of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but don’t find consensus on how to do it

The world’s leading economies made no major progress on Sunday over how to cut greenhouse gas emissions, showing how difficult it will be to achieve a breakthrough at United Nations climate talks in Glasgow over the next two weeks.

During a two-day summit in Rome, leaders of the Group of 20 major economies, which includes the U.S., India and China, struggled to find a consensus on how best to adhere to the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The agreement aims to achieve net zero emissions by midcentury, meaning that enough greenhouse gases are removed from the atmosphere to match any new emissions.

Leaders agreed to stop financing new coal-fired power plants overseas but otherwise hammered out few specifics on how to limit a rise in global temperatures or a timeline for doing so.

The G-20 economies account for around 75% of global emissions. Their summit in Rome comes ahead of U.N. climate negotiations known as COP26 in Glasgow that began Sunday evening and last for two weeks.

“I leave Rome with my hopes unfulfilled—but at least they are not buried,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said on Sunday.

President Biden in his closing news conference touted the G-20’s efforts to address climate change but singled out Russia, China and Saudi Arabia as standing in the way of a stronger statement on the issue.

“I think you’re going to see we made significant progress and more has to be done, but it’s going to require us to continue to focus on what China’s not doing, what Russia’s not doing and what Saudi Arabia is not doing,” Mr. Biden said.

The standoff leaves the world’s biggest economies with a daunting task going into the negotiations. They must come to an agreement over how developed and developing nations are going to divide the burden of limiting emissions in the coming decades to achieve the climate targets of the Paris accord.

The U.S. and Europe are pushing China, India and other big developing economies to commit to earlier emissions reductions. Developing countries counter that wealthy nations should do more and are demanding a big increase in financial support from the developed world.

The G-20 includes some of the world’s biggest polluters and fossil-fuel producers, and countries with disparate levels of economic development, making forging consensus difficult. The Rome summit’s final communiqué included no new commitments to phase out coal use domestically or fossil-fuel subsidies. The U.K. government, which is hosting COP26, has said it wants to use the U.N. summit to “consign

G-20 leaders agreed to halt public financing of new coal-fired power plants overseas, albeit only plants that aren’t outfitted with technology to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions. The G-20 nations also for the first time pledged “to reduce G-20 methane emissions significantly,” the communiqué said.

“These commitments, as welcome as they are, are drops in a rapidly warming ocean,” said U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson. “We have had a reasonable G-20 but there is a huge way yet to go.”

The G-20 communiqué reaffirmed leading economies’ commitment to the 2015 Paris agreement, which aims to limit the rise in average world temperatures to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial levels.

For the first time, the G-20 said the 1.5 degrees target should be kept within reach and that member countries would commit to taking further action this decade. They provided little detail on how they wanted to achieve this goal. The U.N. said that the world’s current emissions-reduction policies would allow 2.7 degrees of warming.

The G-20 summit couldn’t agree on a deadline for reaching net zero emissions. Mr. Guterres has previously called carbon neutrality by 2050 “the world’s most urgent mission.”

China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is aiming for net zero emissions before 2060. India and Russia haven’t committed to the midcentury deadline. The G-20 communiqué said the group’s members would strive to achieve carbon neutrality “by or around mid century.” A previous draft version of the communiqué had set a deadline at 2050.

“If Glasgow decides the same thing as G-20, it will be a failure,” said Li Shuo, a Beijing-based policy analyst for Greenpeace.

Stoking tensions among the G-20, rich nations have so far failed to meet a pledge to grant $100 billion a year to developing countries to help finance their shift away from fossil fuels and mitigate the effects of climate change. Currently, that $100 billion target will be met in 2023, rather than by 2020 as pledged, U.K. authorities recently said. G-20 leaders said they would hit this goal as soon as possible, according to the communiqué.

Mr. Johnson said the key element in unblocking the climate negotiations in Glasgow would be money. Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India had urged G-20 leaders to give 1% of gross domestic product to developing nations to ease their transition away from fossil fuels, according to Mr. Johnson. Mr. Johnson said that “was unlikely in the short term,” but said he hoped to see more private investors at COP26 commit to helping poorer nations with the transition.

While leaders such as outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said the final communiqué was “a good signal for Glasgow,” others such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada expressed disappointment that the statement wasn’t more ambitious.

“There’s no question that Canada, and along with a number of other countries, would have liked stronger language and stronger commitments on the fight against climate change,” Mr. Trudeau said. He added he would have liked to have seen a firmer commitment to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and stronger language about moving off coal at a faster pace.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy, who led the G-20 summit in Rome, deemed the meeting a success. “Until today, we didn’t share ambitions; today we share all objectives and all ambitions. Now we need to share the speed of action,” he said.

President Xi Jinping of China told the G-20 summit on Sunday in a video address that developed countries should fulfill their promises on providing climate finance to developing countries.

Diplomacy in Rome has been hindered by the fact that not all world leaders are personally present at the summit. Mr. Xi, who has not left his country for 21 months, participated in the G-20 meeting only via video link, as did President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

Apart from the issue of climate, the G-20 was a largely conciliatory affair, with leaders trying to put geopolitical disputes aside as their economies emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Saturday, leaders backed the goal of vaccinating at least 70% of the population in each of the world’s countries by mid-2022.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and the European Union reached a deal to ease U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports that were imposed under the Trump administration. G-20 leaders also gave their seal of approval to an agreement to set a minimum global corporate tax rate.

By Max Colchester, Sha Hua and Matthew Dalton

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