G20 fails to agree on climate change goals

Leaders from the world’s biggest economies have fractured in a tense negotiation over climate change that has stalled hopes for a global pact to make deeper cuts to carbon emissions and phase out the use of coal.

The G20 leaders scaled back plans by some of the group’s most powerful members, including the United States and European Union, for an ambitious agreement that would set a collective goal to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050.

A UN proposal to phase out coal was strongly opposed by Australia, China, India, Russia and other nations.

A UN proposal to phase out coal was strongly opposed by Australia, China, India, Russia and other nations. Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

While the group backed the goal of limiting the rise in world temperatures, it made no firm commitments on how to keep the rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius after warnings from scientists two months ago on the need to reach that goal.

Australia was strongly opposed to phasing out coal, and was also opposed to a call to reduce methane emissions by 2030.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres admitted the failure for leaders to agree on climate change at the summit in Rome, but held out hope of a commitment from a wider group of leaders when they meet at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow on Monday.

“I leave Rome with my hopes unfulfilled – but at least they are not buried,” he said.

The communique at the end of the two-day summit set a general goal of reducing emissions to net zero levels by “mid century” but retreated from an earlier draft that set 2050 as the target date.

The final statement, reached by consensus among disparate members, also deleted the idea of phasing out coal-fired power stations in advanced economies by 2030 and in other nations by 2040.

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While Mr Guterres had urged the G20 to agree on phasing out coal, the proposal was strongly opposed by China, India, Russia and other nations including Australia.

A call to reduce methane emissions by 2030 was also halted, with Australia also opposed to the proposal.

“We recognise that the impacts of climate change at 1.5 degrees Celsius are much lower than at 2 degrees Celsius,” the leaders said in the communique.

“Keeping 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach will require meaningful and effective actions and commitment by all countries.”

The G20 generates about 80 per cent of the world’s economic bloc, which includes Brazil, China, India, Germany and the United States, ad accounts for an estimated 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

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David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.Connect via Twitter or email.

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