Pope Francis called on world leaders Sunday to hear “the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor,” while urging them to develop efficient responses to global warming and give hope to younger generations.
The pope made his appeal in Rome, where leaders attended their first in-person G-20 summit since the coronavirus pandemic swept the planet. The politicians, however, struggled to secure a climate breakthrough, a likely harbinger of the difficulties a United Nations climate change summit in Glasgow, Scotland will face in the coming days, some diplomatic observers warn. The Glasgow event, known as COP26, runs from October 31 through November 12.
The G-20 leaders from the world’s major economies finally agreed on a communique closely mirroring pledges made in Paris in 2015, namely, to “hold the global average temperature increase well below 2° C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels.”
After all-night wrangling by officials, there were no agreed concrete steps on how to do this, to the disappointment of some climate action campaigners. They did strike agreement on developed countries ending public funding of coal-fired power stations in developing nations, a key aim of the Biden administration; but they did not set a target for phasing out public financing of coal production by governments in their own countries, something China and India oppose.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, the G-20 summit host, urged his fellow leaders in the final hours of the two-day event in Rome to set both long and short-term goals. “We also need to make sure that we use available resources wisely, which means that we should become able to adapt our technologies and also our lifestyles to this new world,” he said.
Draghi had hoped to get a commitment on the specific target date of 2050 to achieve net zero carbon emissions — a deadline scientists say is vital to stave off disastrous climate change and disruption. But in their final document ahead of the COP26 talks, G-20 leaders agreed on climate neutrality “by or around mid-century.”
The G-20 countries, which produce around three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, also agreed to scale up their commitment to provide $100 billion annually to help poorer countries cope with the impact of climate change and to adapt to changing weather. In 2009, wealthy governments agreed to increase climate financing for vulnerable countries to $100 billion annually by 2020. Under the Paris climate agreement, they said they would negotiate a higher amount that would kick in from 2025. They have so far not reached the $100 billion goal.
Britain’s Prince Charles addressed the G-20 Sunday morning and urged leaders to listen to young people who are inheriting the warming Earth, warning, “It is quite literally the last-chance saloon.”
A longtime environmental activist, Charles said public-private partnerships were the only way to achieve the trillions of dollars in annual investment needed to transition to clean energy sources.
Officials at the G-20 summit, though, said they believe the gathering had achieved enough to maintain momentum going into COP26. “The decisions we are making today will have a direct impact on the success of COP26 and our ability to address the climate crisis,” Draghi told the attendees.
Climate activists said they remained disappointed by the G-20 meeting. In a BBC interview Sunday, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg complained of world leaders making climate statements “because it makes them popular, it makes them sound good.”
Thunberg was speaking as the first of 25,000 diplomats, climate activists, scientists and politicians from nearly 200 countries started arriving in Glasgow Sunday for COP26. Alok Sharma, the president of the COP26 climate summit, called on global leaders to “banish ghosts of the past” and step up with new pledges to lower emissions.
Sharma told British broadcasters he could not say with certainty that the two-week gathering would end with a deal to keep alive the prospect of maintaining a global average temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius.
“We know from the IPCC [the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] that we are already at global warming of 1.1C above pre-industrial levels. At 1.5C, there will be countries in the world that will be under water and that’s why we need to get an agreement here on how we tackle climate change over the next decade,” he said.
British officials say they expect a fierce debate at COP26 among advanced and developing nations over the funding poor countries say they should get to help them introduce green technologies needed to replace their coal- and oil-burning power stations. Arab states are also expected to come under pressure over continued drilling for oil.
Abdulla Shahid, president of the United Nations General Assembly, told COP26 delegates in Glasgow Sunday, “We are facing an existential crisis. We are simply not doing enough. We must be honest about this with ourselves, with each other and with the rest of the world.”
British officials say they hope to get an early groundbreaking deal on stopping the destruction of the world’s forests — an agreement that would see poor nations paid not to fell trees and developed nations halting the importing of food grown on illegally cleared land. “We are seeking to get an agreement to halt the loss of forestry around the world by 2030 and get as many countries as possible committed to that,” according to George Eustice, Britain’s environment minister.
Eustice told reporters in London that success is within reach with dozens of countries already agreeing to sign up in what could be one of the big surprises from the summit. He told The Times newspaper that on Tuesday he hopes British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be able to announce a historic agreement on deforestation. Details, however, are still being debated. “We think we’ve done really well to get good engagement,” Eustice said. “But it’s not in the bag.”