Intense diplomatic efforts are being made in advance of the Cop26 climate summit to get the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to increase their ambitions to combat climate change.
Led by the US, the UK and Italy, the drive is taking place with a view to ensuring a better chance of limiting the global temperature rise this century to less than 1.5 degrees.
A significant potential positive has emerged in the text of a draft G20 communiqué in circulation among world leaders gathering for talks in Rome, which commits to taking urgent steps to reach that key target of the Paris agreement. G20 countries are responsible for 80 per cent of global emissions.
The communiqué, which is subject to negotiation and changes during Saturday’s talks, indicates that the world’s 20 richest countries are on track to commit to tackling the existential threat of climate change.
This would pave the way for more detailed actions at the UN gathering of almost 200 countries which begins in earnest in Glasgow on Monday.
Pope Francis yesterday lent his voice to calls for action rather than mere words at Cop26. He later met US president Joe Biden at the Vatican, with the climate crisis dominating their discussions.
Expectations of a breakthrough at Cop26 are at their highest level since the Paris pact was agreed in 2015. Since then, as extreme weather episodes have intensified and carbon levels in the atmosphere have grown to record levels, climate scientists have underlined the importance of the 1.5 degree cap to limit the risk of environmental catastrophe. It is a key element of the agenda being pushed by the UK government, which is hosting Cop26.
Subject to negotiation
“Responding to the call of the scientific community, noting the alarming reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and mindful of our leadership role, we commit to tackle the existential challenge of climate change,” the draft communiqué, seen by Reuters, adds .
“We acknowledge the key relevance of achieving global net zero greenhouse gas emissions or carbon neutrality by 2050,” the statement says, referring to a recommendation by IPCC experts who say the mid-century deadline is crucial to meet the 1.5 degree warming limit.
However, the 2050 date appears in the draft in brackets, indicating it is still subject to negotiation. Some of the world's biggest polluters say they cannot reach the 2050 target date. China, by far the largest carbon emitter, is aiming for 2060 as is Russia – both countries are in the bloc but are not attending the this weekend's G20. It includes Brazil; India, Germany, Japan, Australia, the US and the EU.
The draft communiqué reaffirms a commitment to “phase out and rationalise” fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 and to curb coal-powered electricity generation. They also pledge to cut collective emissions of methane “substantially” by 2030. This deadline is also in brackets.
The willingness of developed countries to help finance the ecological transition of poorer ones, known as “climate financing”, is likely to be crucial to the success of the G20 and Cop26.
“We stress the importance of fulfilling the joint commitment of developed countries to mobilise $100 billion annually from public and private sources through to 2025 to address the needs of developing countries, in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation,” the draft says. There are indications some $80 billion has been committed by the developed world; considerably short of promised.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson said the fall of the Roman Empire showed how quickly civilisations can collapse as he urged G20 leaders to go faster on tackling climate change.
Speaking to reporters on his flight to the G20 summit, he said it showed humanity “can go backwards as well as forwards”.
“When things start to go wrong, they can go wrong at extraordinary speed,” he added.