G-20 ministers fail to agree on climate goals in communique

Demonstrators protest against the G-20 climate meeting in Naples, Italy, on July 22, 2021.
Demonstrators protest against the G-20 climate meeting in Naples, Italy, on July 22, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NAPLES (REUTERS) - Energy and environment ministers from the Group of 20 (G-20) rich nations have failed to agree on the wording of key climate change commitments in their final communique, Italy’s Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani said on Friday (July 23).

The G-20 meeting was seen as a decisive step ahead of United Nations climate talks, known as COP26, which take place in 100 days’ time in Glasgow in November.

The failure to agree common language ahead of that gathering is likely to be seen as a setback to hopes of securing a meaningful accord in Scotland.

Cingolani told reporters that the ministers could not agree on two disputed issues which would now have to be discussed at a G-20 summit in Rome in October.

“Commitments made today lack substance and ambition. It is now up to G-20 heads of state and government to discard this document at the October leaders’ summit,” said online activist network Avaaz.

Italy holds the rotating presidency of the G-20, and Cingolani, as chairman of the two-day gathering, said negotiations with China, Russia and India had proved especially tough.

Cingolani said that in the end China and India had declined to sign the two contested points.

One of these was phasing out coal power, which most countries wanted to achieve by 2025 but some said would be impossible for them.

The other concerned the wording surrounding a 1.5-2 deg C limit on global temperature increases that was set by the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Average global temperatures have already risen by more than 1 deg C compared to the pre-industrial baseline used by scientists and are on track to exceed the 1.5-2 deg C ceiling.

“Some countries wanted to go faster than what was agreed in Paris and to aim to cap temperatures at 1.5 degrees within a decade, but others, with more carbon based economies, said let’s just stick to what was agreed in Paris,” Cingolani said.

The final communique, which had been due to be published on Friday, would probably not now be released until Saturday, he added.

Ahead of COP26, environmental activists had hoped that the G-20 gathering would lead to a strengthening of climate targets, new commitments on climate financing, and an increase in countries committing to net zero emissions by 2050.

“The G-20 is failing to deliver. Italy’s G-20 tagline is ‘People, Planet, Prosperity’, but today the G-20 is delivering ‘Pollution, Poverty and Paralysis,” said Avaaz.

Cingolani said the G-20 had made no new financial commitments, but added that Italy would increase its own climate financing for underdeveloped countries.

The urgency of climate action has been brought home this month by deadly floods in Europe, fires in the United States and sweltering temperatures in Siberia, but countries remain at odds over how to pay for costly policies to reduce global warming.

Despite the two points of disagreement, Cingolani said the G-20 had put together a 58-point communique and that all the countries agreed that decarbonisation was a necessary goal.

“This is the first time that the G-20 has accepted that climate and energy policies are closely interconnected,” he said when asked which aspect of the package he was most pleased with.

“What happened today would have been unthinkable four months ago,” he added.

Ahead of the full communique, the Italian presidency released a summary of the deal, under headings such as “the fight against climate change,” "clean energy”, “climate financing, “research and development” and “smart cities.”

It referred to a 2009 accord that developed nations should together contribute US$100 billion (S$130 billion) each year by 2020 in climate finance to poorer countries, many of which are grappling with rising seas, storms and droughts made worse by climate change.

That target has yet to be met.

Nonetheless the Italian presidency summary said the pledge “remains central”, and there was “a commitment to increase contributions every year until 2025”.