G20 likely to conclude talks without ambitious climate deal

Ministers were unable to agree on timetables needed to reach net-zero global emissions by 2050 and keep global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to officials.

United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry (right) arrives to attend the Group of 20 climate and environment ministers meeting in Naples, Italy, where parties have not been able to agree on taking specific actions to stem climate change [Reuters]

Group of 20 ministers are likely to end talks this week without an ambitious deal on climate change, another setback in the fight against rising temperatures ahead of key negotiations this year.

Energy and environment ministers at a G-20 meeting in Naples, Italy, are stuck on a number of issues, according to several officials and diplomats familiar with the discussions. They will kick a final decision to a meeting of their leaders in October.

The parties haven’t been able to agree on specific actions and firm timetables needed to reach net-zero global emissions by 2050 and keep global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to a draft communique and the officials.

Despite major net-zero commitments from the world’s largest polluters in the past 12 months — and a backdrop of dramatic weather events — two people familiar with the talks said it would be extremely difficult to reach a substantive agreement given the scale of the differences. Securing an ambitious plan is one the main goals of the G-20 this year, ahead of international climate talks known as COP26, to be held in Glasgow in November.

For a second time this month, G-20 ministers will fail to agree on net zero greenhouse gas emissions or keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees — the lower end of the goal agreed in Paris in 2015. Instead, the ministers only recognized “the impacts of climate change at 1.5°C are much lower than at 2°C.”

‘Stark Warning’

“Failure to agree a G-20 climate communique would be a stark warning for COP26,” said Tom Evans, a researcher at think tank E3G in London. “Without leaders stepping up where ministers have failed, it will be nearly impossible to see how COP26 can possibly deliver on its stated mission” to keep the 1.5-degree goal alive.

Ending the use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, is one sticking point, as G-20 chair Italy is pushing for a phase-out to be included in the communique for the first time. But the draft document shows the group won’t commit to ending the use of coal domestically, and only urges its members to follow the G-7 in ending overseas coal finance.

Two developed economies are pushing back against new commitments on coal, and a handful of emerging economies are also resisting an effort to define clearer targets, the people added. The draft communique instead focuses on “deployment and dissemination of high efficient technologies” to end the use of “unabated coal.”

Both the G-7 and the G-20 are seen as staging posts along the path to the Glasgow talks. G-20 leaders are set to meet in Rome right before that gathering.

Last month’s summit of G-7 leaders in England highlighted the difficulty of reaching agreement on climate at the highest levels of power. Those countries agreed to stop funding coal overseas but failed to halt its domestic use. Progress was blocked by last-minute nerves, political tensions and a shortfall of funding.

Time Running Out

With just 100 days until the start of COP26, time is running out, said John Kerry, the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate, during a speech in London this week. The talks come as countries around the world are feeling the effects of climate change, with nations from China to Germany suffering intense flooding and heat waves.

Kerry has said COP26 is the last chance to keep alive the chance of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. On Wednesday, he said that at the very least, he expects the G-20 meeting to agree to keep warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, striving for 1.5 degrees Celsius — the language agreed to in Paris in 2015.

“My hope is that we’ll find a pretty easy agreement on the major goals because we broke that ground in Paris,” he said in an interview. “But we need to raise ambition now.”

The U.S. remains well short of financial commitments to support energy transitions in developing countries — though Kerry has said more money will be delivered.

Source: Bloomberg