ROME — 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 coal-dependent countries including China and India and a blow to Britain which had hoped for more solid commitments ahead of the Glasgow meeting.
The Group of 20 countries represent more than three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and summit host Italy had been looking for solid targets on how to reduce emissions while helping poor countries deal with the impact of rising temperatures.
These people could quickly lose their momentum in the annual talks which opened Sunday in Glasgow. The larger conference will see countries representing all corners of the globe, as well as those most at risk from rising sea levels, desertification, and other consequences.
Italian Premier Mario Draghi informed the leaders heading into Sunday’s last working session that they had to be able to establish long-term goals but also make quick changes in order to get there.
“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 communique states that the G-20 has reaffirmed previous commitments made by rich countries to mobilise $100 billion per year to aid poorer nations in climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as committed to increasing financing to support them.
The sticking point remained the deadline to reach carbon neutrality or “net zero” emissions, meaning a balance between greenhouse gases added to and removed from the atmosphere. Going into the summit 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.
According to the final communique, the G-20 leaders said they will “accelerate our actions across mitigation, adaptation and finance, acknowledging the key relevance of achieving global net zero greenhouse gas emissions or carbon neutrality by or around mid-century.”
A French official said “mid-century” meant 2050 in the strict sense “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.” Speaking on condition of anonymity, the French official cited top carbon polluters China and India, as well as Indonesia.
Some countries have chosen 2050 to be their target date for zero net emissions. Russia, China and Saudi Arabia, however, are setting 2060 as the deadline.
G-20 members have struggled to reach an agreement on the future of coal as a major source of greenhouse gases emissions.
At the Rome summit, leaders agreed to “put an end to the provision of international public finance for new unabated coal power generation abroad by the end of 2021.”
This refers to foreign financial support for coal plant construction, which has been a problem in Western countries. Major Asian economies now do the same. Last month, the Chinese President Xi Jinping declared at the U.N. General Assembly that Beijing will stop financing such projects. Japan and South Korea had made similar promises earlier this year.
Britain felt disappointed by the failure of G-20 members to agree on a timeline for eliminating domestic coal usage. The spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Max Blain, said the G-20 communique “was never meant to be the main lever in order to secure commitments on climate change,” which would be hammered out at the Glasgow summit.
He said the U.K. would continue to push for “ambitious commitments” on coal.
As the G-20 ended, Greta Thunberg, a youth climate activist, and Vanessa Nakate wrote an open letter to media. They stressed three basic aspects of climate change that are often overlooked: time is running short, justice must be given to those most affected by it, and the fact that large polluters sometimes hide behind insufficient statistics regarding their actual emissions.
“The climate crisis is only going to become more urgent. The worst effects can be avoided, and there are ways to turn things 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 is an environmentalist and long-time activist. He believes that public-private partnerships are the best way to reach the billions in annual investments needed to shift to renewable energy sources, which will reduce global warming.
“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.
This report was contributed by Jill Lawless, Sylvie Corbet and other Associated Press journalists.