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G20 commits to limiting global warming, falls short of zero-emission target

The Netherlands’ Prime Minister Mark Rutte speaks with Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson as they attend the G20 Summit at the La Nuvola conference center in Rome, Italy, October 31, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

Leaders attending the Group of 20 (G20) summit in the Italian capital, Rome, have agreed to commit to the key goal of limiting global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, but fell short on a target of zero emissions, amid global concerns on challenges that the climate crisis is bringing about.

According to a final draft communique obtained by AFP on Sunday, leaders of the 20 biggest economies decided to keep in play key commitments agreed at the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord, and recognized “the key relevance” of achieving net zero carbon emissions by the middle of the current century.

“We recognize that the impacts of climate change at 1.5°C are much lower than at 2°C. Keeping 1.5°C within reach will require meaningful and effective actions and commitment by all countries, taking into account different approaches,” the communique said, but made no specific reference to 2050 as a date to achieve net zero carbon emissions.

The 1.5C threshold is what UN experts say must be met to avoid a dramatic acceleration of extreme climate events like droughts, storms and floods, and to reach it they recommend that net zero emissions be achieved by 2050.

The document further said the United States, China, India, Russia, plus the European Union, have called for clear national plans that “align long-term ambition with short- and medium-term goals, and with international cooperation and support,” stressing that current national plans on how to curb emissions will have to be strengthened “if necessary.”

The leaders also agreed to halt financing of overseas coal-fired power generation by the end of 2021, but set no date for phasing out coal power, promising to do so “as soon as possible.” They set no date for phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, saying they will endeavor to do so “over the medium term.”

China, the world’s biggest carbon emitter, has set a target date of 2060. Other large polluters, such as India and Russia, have not committed to the 2050 target date either.

Advocacy groups have slammed the final statement as “weak” and “half-hearted,” with environmental campaign group Greenpeace saying G20 leaders “failed to meet the moment.”

“If the G20 was a dress rehearsal for COP26, then world leaders fluffed their lines,” Greenpeace Executive Director Jennifer Morgan said.

Friederike Roder, senior director at anti-poverty group Global Citizen, also said the summit had produced “half-measures rather than concrete actions.”

The G20 accounts for an estimated 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The pledges of the member states are viewed as crucial to the success of make-or-break UN climate talks taking place in Glasgow, Scotland, over the next fortnight.

Earlier in the day, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi called on world leaders to think big ahead of the Glasgow meeting. He said climate change was “the defining challenge of our times.”

“Either we act now... or we delay acting, pay a much higher price later, and risk failing.”

Thousands of people have marched through the streets of Rome, holding the G20 leaders accountable for some of the world’s most pressing issues, including global warming and unequal COVID-19 vaccine distribution. The protesters carried colorful placards as they called on leaders of the world’s largest economies to take action to save the earth and its inhabitants.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as the leaders from Mexico, Brazil and Japan skipped the event and sent ministers to the G20 summit instead.

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