G20: What was (and wasn’t) agreed by world leaders on the eve of COP26

Pictured: World leaders convene at the Trevi Fountain

World leaders are this evening (31 October) departing from Rome in their droves and heading for Glasgow, as the dust settles on this year’s G20 Summit and with official negotiations and ministerial addresses due to begin in Glasgow’s Scottish Events Campus tomorrow (1 November).

Agreements on delivering the economic recovery from Covid-19, addressing the ongoing public health emergency, and combatting the climate crisis, were all top of the agenda.

In this article, we round up what was, and what was not, agreed on this latter point in the G20 Rome Leaders Declaration – the final communique from the talks.

AGREED: A will to keep 1.5C alive

COP26 President Alok Sharma has stated that the UK will strive to keep hopes of limiting the global temperature increase on pre-industrial levels to 1.5C “alive” at COP26. The UN emissions gap report states that current commitments will result in a 2.7C world, or a 2.2C world, if nations with long-term net-zero ambitions properly back them up.

Today’s communique identifies keeping 1.5C within reach as a common goal and acknowledges that every country will need to play its part in the global low-carbon transition. The G20 accounted for around 80% of global emissions in 2020, and several nations are yet to set net-zero targets, so this is significant.

Specifically, the communique states that all G20 nations should aim for net-zero “by or around mid-century”, updating their Paris Agreement commitments to deliver progress in the interim. China is the main cause of the specific mention of 2050 being omitted; its target is for 2060.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) India’s climate policy director Ulka Kelkar said: “The G20 leaders’ call to limit global warming to 1.5C is very significant. COP26 now needs to back it up with measures to cut emissions rapidly in this decade and urgently scale up climate finance.”

Climate Action Network Canada’s international climate diplomacy manager Eddy Perez said: “In a politically uncertain context, with an increase of painful losses and damages due to the climate crisis, G20 countries have finally realized that nothing matters more than keeping people and communities safe by keeping 1.5C within reach. But the credibility of the largest global economic bloc lies more on just an agreement of principles.”

AGREED: A rapid end to international coal finance

The communique includes a commitment to end overseas coal finance from the end of 2021. COP26 President Alok Sharma has called the level of coal phase-out pledges made by nations this year “quite remarkable”.

NOT AGREED: Changes to fossil fuel subsidies

A caveat to the coal finance point: there is no new information on ending fossil fuel subsidies internationally or domestically, despite the fact that the G7 were able to come to an agreement on the matter this summer, pledging to end all subsidies for unabated thermal coal by January 1 2022 and ending all other “inefficient” subsidies by 2025.

There was also no agreement on stopping coal finance domestically. China, Australia and India reportedly pushed back against a time-bound agreement here; many other G20 nations have already agreed to stop generation before 2030 and financing before that.  

The text, instead, states that all nations must strive for a “largely decarbonized” power system this decade, adding that nations “will cooperate on deployment and dissemination of zero or low-carbon emission and renewable technologies, including sustainable bioenergy”.

Bloomberg’s chief energy correspondent Javier Blas has posted earlier drafts of the communique he has been sent. Italy’s original hope was for nations to pledge to immediately “do their utmost to avoid building new unabated coal capacity” domestically. The pledge was then moved from immediately, to the 2030s, before being weakened further still. 

STATED: The need for a flexible energy system, to maintain energy security in a low-carbon world

The energy price crisis which is gripping many nations at present has prompted both calls for a speedier transition to renewables, and to increased coal lobbying under the guise of energy security.

Acknowledging this, the communique states: “In addition to continuing to address traditional energy security challenges, we are mindful that clean energy transitions require an enhanced understanding of energy security, integrating aspects such as the evolving share of intermittent energy sources; the growing demand for energy storage, system flexibility changing climate patterns; the increase in extreme weather events; responsible development of energy types and sources; reliable, responsible and sustainable supply chains of critical minerals and materials, as well as semiconductors and related technologies.”

AGREED: A green recovery narrative

On finance, the text stipulates that countries should ensure that any finance funneled into the Covid-19 recovery should be allocated with a “do no harm” requirement for the climate.

Beyond the pandemic, the communique states, plans should be drawn up to ensure that more public and private finance is mobilised for sustainable development. Development banks and central banks should also be engaged and required to put more of their money towards sustainable development.  

NOT AGREED: A green finance taxonomy

But there is not a clear definition of what counts as “sustainable”, or what level of finance mobilization would be considered a success. There is, however, an agreement that financial flows will need to be aligned with the Paris Agreement’s temperature pathways, with the communique welcoming work being done in this space already.

STATED: A landmark acknowledgement of methane’s “significant contribution” to global heating

Earlier this year, the US and EU made a joint pledge to cut absolute methane emissions by 30% by 2030, against a 2019 baseline. The UK also signalled its intention to join this pledge by the end of the year.

Building on this, today’s communique is the first from the G20 to acknowledge that the potent greenhouse gas has significantly contributed to the global temperature increase. There are no time-bound numerical targets at this stage.

Key sources of methane include natural gas production, fracking, cattle and waste mismanagement.

NOT AGREED: Plans to meet the $100bn international climate finance goals

The G7 this year stated an intention to get back on track to deliver $100bn of climate finance to less wealthy nations annually. The pledge was first announced in 2009 and formalised in 2015, but has never been met.

Building on this, and the subsequent roadmap for delivering the $100bn in 2023, nothing new resulted from the G20 meeting.

Oxfam‘s senior advisor on climate, Jorn Kalinski, said: “The half-hearted words on financing adaptation in vulnerable countries were again not backed up by timeframes or targets. Without these, poorer nations will continue to lack the resources they need to protect lives, homes and businesses from weather disasters. This was a missed opportunity to re-invigorate the $100bn climate finance target that should have been met last year.”

AGREED: A pledge to halt biodiversity loss by 2030 

In keeping with what was agreed at the first half of the UN’s 15th Convention on Biological Diversity earlier this year, the communique signals an intention for all nations to draw up plans to halt biodiversity loss by 2030 and to enter into a period of loss reversal within this timeframe if possible. 

Sarah George

Comments (1)

  1. Andy Kadir-Buxton says:

    An Open Letter To Prime Minister Boris Johnson

    (Posted on the We Don t Have Time App)

    I am writing to you after reading that the Conservative Government are spending a paltry 0.01% of GDP on the climate crisis, which could even change the shape of the UK, and yet spend 2% of GDP on the armed forces, which are of little use in the climate crisis. You are failing the electorate. I have written to you on previous occasions saying how we could fund our war on climate crisis by either eradicating mental illness using the Kadir-Buxton Method, or have an international agreement to cede all armed forces to the UN in agreed stages until war becomes impossible; yet you seem to have chosen to do neither, and have not even bothered to tell your electorate why not. You must do better, our house is on fire and you chose to throw teaspoons of water on it.

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