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G20 makes coal, climate pledges; leaves much to be done at COP26

01 November 2021 Max Tingyao Lin

The G20 nations vowed to end public financing for overseas coal power plants and showed ambition about limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but critics said the pledges lack new, clear objectives that can inject momentum into the COP26 talks.

The EU and 19 of the world's largest economies, responsible for over three-quarters of GHG emissions globally, concluded their latest summit in Rome 31 October as the UN climate talks began in Glasgow.

"We will put an end to the provision of international public finance for new unabated coal power generation abroad by the end of 2021," said G20 leaders in a joint declaration after the meeting, adding that the countries committed to mobilizing international public and private finance to support green energy, without elaborating.

Of the G20 nations, Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, South Korea, Turkey, the UK, and the US had made similar pledges earlier.

Many researchers believe that coal, as the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, needs to be phased out in the power sector by 2040 to avert climate disaster.

Since the Paris Agreement was sealed at 2015's COP21, the global pipeline of proposed coal-fired power plants has collapsed by 76%, or 1,175 GW, an analysis by think-tank E3G showed.

But the G20 refrained from committing to a phaseout date for domestic coal power generation. Among its members, China and India accounts for nearly two-thirds of the world's coal demand.

"It is evident that some are still resisting agreeing to explicit language on coal," said Chris Littlecott, director of fossil fuel transition at E3G. "The coal addicts in the G20 may feel like they have succeeded in blocking explicit commitments on coal exit."

Separately, the government leaders for the first time said they want to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius to fulfill the Paris Agreement's ambition.

"We recognize that the impacts of climate change at 1.5 degrees Celsius are much lower than at 2 degrees Celsius," the joint declaration read. "Keeping 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach will require meaningful and effective actions and commitment by all countries, taking into account different approaches."

The G20 meeting host, Italian prime minister Mario Draghi, said the whole G20 now recognize "the scientific validity" of the 1.5 degrees Celsius climate goal and had committed themselves with "sufficiently serious language."

But critics said the heads of government failed to take any concrete action that could kickstart talks on reaching an ambitious global climate deal during COP26 in the next two weeks. Only 12 of the G20 members have committed to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or earlier.

"The G20 contains the world's largest polluters so was never going to be the place to see the strongest climate leadership," E3G Chief Executive Nick Mabey said.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the head of the government of COP26's host country, who was heavily involved in the G20 talks, also admitted "there is a huge way still to go."

"The countries most responsible for historic and present-day emissions are not yet doing their fair share of the work," Johnson said in a press conference 31 October.

"If we are going to prevent COP26 from being a failure, then that must change."

Posted 01 November 2021 by Max Tingyao Lin, Principal Journalist, Climate and Sustainability

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