G-20 ministers stumble over coal, global warming targets

Environment ministers from the Group of 20 nations were unable to reach full agreement on key climate goals, just 100 days before a critical international conference kicks off.

After marathon negotiations that ran through the night, the ministers couldn’t find common ground on phasing out coal or how much to limit global warming, Italian Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani said at a press conference Friday in Naples.

The divisions among the G-20 nations bode badly for United Nations climate talks set to start Oct. 31 in Glasgow. Leaders and diplomats including U.S. presidential climate envoy John Kerry have repeatedly stressed that the meeting, known as COP26, may be the last chance to set international policies that would prevent the planet from warming more than 1.5 C from pre-industrial levels, which scientists say is key to staving off the worst impacts of climate change.

“The G-20 accounts for 80 per cent of all global emissions,” Patricia Espinosa, head of the UN’s climate change secretariat, said during the meeting, which took place as dramatic weather events hit parts of the world from China to Germany. “There is no path to 1.5 C without the G-20.”

Ending the use of coal was a major sticking point. Italy, which is hosting the G-20 meeting, pushed to include that goal within the official communique that will be issued Saturday. However, a number of countries including India and Russia resisted, Cingolani said.

“It is frustrating that despite the progress made by some countries, there was no consensus in Naples to confine coal to history,” said Alok Sharma, the incoming COP26 president, following the meeting. The question over phasing out coal will now be kicked to the gathering of G-20 leaders in October, taking place in the days immediately before COP26 starts.

As the talks dragged on overnight from Thursday into Friday, the U.S., Canada and Europe lobbied for including the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 C. But other countries were unwilling to go beyond the 2015 Paris Agreement’s less ambitious target range. In the end, the text recognized that the impacts of climate change at 1.5 C are much lower than at 2C.

This year is seen as a crunch time in climate policy, because all 197 countries in the Paris accord must submit enhanced national plans for cutting emissions. So far only 97 have done so, the UN’s Espinosa said. At the meeting, all countries, including China, agreed to submit their updated plans before COP26. The nations also reached agreements on other fronts, such as ensuring a green recovery from the pandemic.

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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