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G20 leaders struggle to secure climate breakthrough at Rome summit

U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders stand for a family photo at the G20 summit at the La Nuvola in Rome, Italy October 30, 2021. Erin Schaff-Pool via REUTERS

Leaders of the Group of 20 major economies holding their first face-to-face summit in two years, struggled on Sunday to bridge differences over how to combat global warming ahead of a crucial United Nations conference on climate change.

Diplomats worked through the night seeking agreement on the wording of the traditional final communique. But there was no sign of significant progress, an official for one of the delegations said, declining to be named.

“The fight against climate change is the defining challenge of our times,” Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who chairs the G20 this year, told his fellow leaders as he opened the day’s discussions.

“Either we act now, face the cost of the transition and succeed in moving our economy to a more sustainable path or we delay, pay a much higher price later and risk failing.”

With drafts of the communique showing scant results in terms of new commitments to curb pollution or greenhouse gases, climate scientists and activists are likely to be disappointed unless late breakthroughs are made.

The G20 bloc – which includes Brazil, China, India, Germany and the United States – accounts for an estimated 80% of the global gas emissions that scientists say must be sharply reduced to avoid climate catastrophe.

U.S. President Joe Biden shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron as Democratic Republic of the Congo President Felix Tshisekedi looks on during a family photo session on the sidelines of the G20 summit at the La Nuvola in Rome, Italy.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, France's President Emmanuel Macron, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Joe Biden pose for a family photo prior to a meeting during the G20 leaders' summit in Rome, Italy October 30, 2021.

U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders stand for a family photo at the G20 summit at the La Nuvola in Rome, Italy October 30, 2021. Erin Schaff-Pool via REUTERS

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel before the opening session of the G20 leaders summit in Rome, Italy October 30, 2021. Brendan Smialowski-Pool via REUTERS

U.S. President Joe Biden talks with people in the crowd after a family photo session during the G20 summit at the La Nuvola in Rome, Italy October 30, 2021. Erin Schaff-Pool via REUTERS

For that reason, this weekend’s gathering is seen as a vital stepping stone to the UN’s COP26 climate summit attended by almost 200 countries in Glasgow, where most G20 leaders will fly directly from Rome.

“The latest reports are disappointing, with little sense of urgency in the face of an existential emergency,” said Oscar Soria of the activist network Avaaz. “There is no more time for vague wish lists, we need concrete commitments and action.”

MID-CENTURY GOALS

A fifth draft of the G20’s final statement seen by Reuters on Saturday did not toughen the language on climate action compared with previous versions. In some key areas, such as the need to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, it softened it.

This mid-century target date is a goal that United Nations experts say is needed to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, seen as the limit to avoid dramatic climatic changes.

U.N. experts say even if current national plans to curb emissions are fully implemented, the world is headed for a warming of 2.7C.

The planet’s largest carbon emitter, China, is aiming for net-zero in 2060, while other major polluters such as India and Russia have also not committed to the mid-century deadline.

G20 energy and environment ministers who met in Naples in July failed to reach an agreement on setting a date to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and end coal power, asking the leaders to find a resolution at this weekend’s summit.

Based on the latest draft, they have made little progress, pledging to “do our utmost” to stop building new coal power plants before the end of the 2030s and saying they will phase out fossil fuel subsidies “over the medium term.”

On the other hand, they do pledge to halt financing of overseas coal-fired power generation by the end of this year.

Some developing countries are reluctant to commit to steep emission cuts until rich nations make good on a pledge made 12 years ago to provide $100 billion per year from 2020 to help them tackle the effects of global warming.

That promise has still not been kept, contributing to the “mistrust” that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday was blighting progress in climate negotiations.

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