G20 leaders back off ambitions to ‘consign coal to history’
|Toronto Star 21 Oct 2021 at 13:26|
Group of 20 diplomats have all but given up on their lofty goal of consigning coal to history and are instead closing in on a more modest plan to stop governments funding foreign coal-fired power plants, according to people familiar with the situation.
With the energy crisis changing the dynamics of diplomatic talks, several emerging nations continue to push back against even this smaller goal — which the G7 signed up to in June and China has already committed to. (Canada is a member of both the G7 and G20.) The U.K. and Italy, which have been pushing the climate agenda at international talks this year, had been hoping to secure a phase-out of coal at home and abroad in the run-up to the United Nations’ COP26 climate talks this month.
The G20, which includes the world’s top emitters, will set the scene for the COP negotiations in Glasgow, Scotland, that have been billed as a make-or-break summit to curb global warming. Last week, preparatory G20 talks ended in gridlock with no consensus on striving for net-zero emissions or limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. There was even some backsliding since the summer, according to people familiar with the matter.
As G20 leaders prepare to meet on Oct. 30-31 in Rome, the energy crisis rattling Europe and Asia has thrown into sharp relief the importance of energy security and the risks of giving up fossil fuels before alternatives are ready to pick up the slack. China has ordered miners to dig up as much coal as they can; India is calling for more oil output, and even the U.K. is using more coal-fired power. In the U.S., President Joe Biden’s climate plans are in peril in Congress, undermining his ability to persuade others to make ambitious green pledges.
The leaders of nine countries including Denmark and Belgium have called on the G20 nations to raise their climate ambitions at the Rome meeting.
“The world urgently needs leadership from the biggest countries — now,” said the group, which also includes Ireland, Sweden and Costa Rica, in an open letter. They also want wealthy nations to deliver on a $100-billion (U.S.) pledge to help developed countries deal with climate change.
If G20 leaders can’t agree on a communique with strong language on coal and action to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, it portends further difficulties at the COP climate summit right after, said Alden Meyer, a senior associate with research group E3G.
“In some ways we’ll know how this movie is going to turn out by the end of the G20 summit in Rome,” Meyer said. “Either we’re going to have agreement and we go into Glasgow with a tailwind, and we’re able to figure out how to start to implement it. Or we go in with a pretty big split and it being very difficult to resolve those differences.”
The U.K. hosts of COP have made it their goal to “consign coal to history,” and Alok Sharma, the British cabinet minister who is president of COP26, says it’s his “personal priority.” But even at the G7 in June in England, where leaders made pledges to cut emissions, they failed to nail down a deal on phasing out the dirtiest fossil fuel at home.
Negotiations continue, and there’s still room for compromise. According to two officials, diplomats are also considering including commitments at the G20 on methane — a potent greenhouse gas that’s increasingly in focus after the U.S. and EU forged an alliance to reduce emissions.