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G20 leaders speak up climate action, but they avoid making any real commitments, casting doubt over crucial Glasgow talks
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G20 leaders speak up climate action, but they avoid making any real commitments, casting doubt over crucial Glasgow talks


The G20 summit in Rome concluded over the weekend with a disappointing outcome for Earth’s climate.

Leaders of the world’s wealthiest countries, including Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, failed to reach a commitment to phase out fossil fuels. And the meeting’s final communique did not includeA commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050

G20 leaders made significant efforts to combat the COVID-19 epidemic, especially in regards to global vaccines. targetsThey also struck a deal with the police. They also struck an agreementProfits of multinational companies will pay more tax.

However, there was not enough leadership to address climate change. This outcome does not bode well for the Glasgow talks – the world’s last hope for keeping the 1.5℃ global warming limit within reach.

two men in suits touch elbows
G20 leaders, including Australia’s Scott Morrison and the UK’s Boris Johnson, failed to reach a commitment to phase out fossil fuels.

No timeline for coal exit

The G20 meeting was seen to be a crucial precursor for the COP26 negotiations. But while world leaders agreed substantial action was needed to stay within 1.5℃ of global warming, they made few real commitments to meeting that target.

Going into the G20, Morrison was under pressure, after US President Joe Biden on Saturday described Australia’s handling of the cancelled French submarine deal as “clumsy”. In the months that followed, both the USAnd United KingdomAustralia had been urged to raise its climate ambition.

Morrison reached a deal with Nationals Australia days before he left for the summit. They agreed to a target of net zero emissions by 2050.

The Rome talks, however, failed to set a concrete 2050 target for all G20 nations – instead underlining the importance of reaching the target by or around the middle of the century. This formulation is compatible with the positions ChinaAnd Saudi Arabia, which don’t plan to reach net zero until 2060.

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city skyline and polluted air
China has committed to achieving net-zero emission by 2060.

Morrison’s commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050 was welcomed by some, and scrutinised by others, particularly for lack of detail.

John Gummer is the chair of UK Climate Change Committee said international pressure “squeezed out” a net-zero pledge from Morrison, and the plan lacked the action necessary to meet the target.

Major global news outlets have labelled Morrison’s plan “hollow” and “hard to believe”. CNN called Australia “the rich world’s weakest link at COP26”.

In his closing statement at the G20, Morrison talked up the nation’s record on emissions reduction and sought to justify his government’s “technology not taxes” approach to climate action.

He advocated for emerging technologies, stating that many were already in use. He conceded some technologies were not yet invented, but likened the challenge to development of the COVID-19 vaccine which “didn’t exist two years ago”.

Morrison’s focus on technology appeared to resonate. G20 leaders agreed to “cooperate on the deployment and dissemination of zero or low carbon emission and renewable technologies, including sustainable bioenergy, to enable a transition towards low-emission power systems”.

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Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary General, had called onG20 leaders to reach an agreement on coal. The G20 leaders said that rich countries should eliminate coal-fired electricity by 2030 and developing nations by 2040.

But he was disappointed. The G20’s final communique failed to put a timeline on the phase-out, instead saying it should be done “as soon as possible”.

Unsurprisingly, Australia has resisted coal-phase-outs. alongsideChina and India

However, small steps were made towards eliminating coal. Leaders accepted the G7 position to end international public finance for “new unabated coal power generation abroad by the end of 2021”. However, this commitment does nothing to address existing coal plants. still be burnedCarbon capture and storage technology

Now to COP26

Australia’s overall contribution to the G20 was low-key. In a defiant statement about climate policy issued last week, Morrison declared the nation “won’t be lectured by others who do not understand Australia”. On this, Morrison may regard the G20 as a success, for it required few concessions to Australia’s position on climate.

Morrison had some positive moments at G20, including a meeting with President Joko Widodo of Indonesia. This led to a joint statement on cooperation on the green economy and energy transition – an important move that advances the bilateral relationship while recognising the significance of Indonesia’s forthcoming G20 presidency.

However, this high note was overshadowed by the French President Emmanuel Macron claimedMorrison lied about the cancellation of the major French submarine contract.

These comments further deepen the divide between Australia and France. This could create problems for Australia with coalitions like the G7, OECD, and the European Union. France is a major participant in these discussions.

Of course, there’s still room for diplomatic pressure and progress on climate action in Glasgow.

The focus will then shift to national pledges to reduce emissions by 2030 and the actions required to meet them. Australia’s 2030 target lags almost all developed countries, and we are one of very fewSince the Paris Agreement six-years ago, rich nations have not increased their 2030 targets.

Macron has declared “2030 is the new 2050”. Australia will feel the heat on that score.

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