Britain’s Prince Charles has urged leaders of the world’s biggest economies to put words into action as they tackle the global climate change crisis on the final day of a weekend summit setting the tone for an even bigger UN climate conference opening in Glasgow, Scotland.
Warning “it is quite literally the last-chance saloon,” Charles told the Group of 20 leaders that public-private partnerships were the only way to achieve the trillions of dollars in annual investment needed to transition to clean, sustainable energy sources that will mitigate the warming of global temperatures.
“It is impossible not to hear the despairing voices of young people who see you as the stewards of the planet, holding the viability of their future in your hands,” Charles told the presidents and prime ministers, including Australia’s Scott Morrison, gathered in Rome.
The Group of 20 countries, which represent more than three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, are looking for common ground on how to reduce emissions while helping poor countries deal with the impact of rising temperatures.
Diplomats said negotiators, known as “sherpas”, worked through the night to try to come up with solid commitments on emissions in a final statement to be released later on Sunday.
If the G20 summit ends with only weak commitments, momentum could be lost for the larger annual talks in Glasgow, where countries from around the globe will be represented including poor ones most vulnerable to rising seas, desertification and other effects.
The future of coal, a key source of greenhouse gas emissions, has been one of the hardest things for the G-20 to agree on.
However, the US and other countries are hoping to get a commitment to end overseas financing of coal-fired power generation, said a senior US official who spoke on condition of anonymity to preview President Joe Biden’s plans.
Western countries have moved away from financing coal projects in developing countries, and major Asian economies are now doing the same: Chinese President Xi Jinping announced at the UN General Assembly last month that Beijing would stop funding such projects, and Japan and South Korea made similar commitments earlier in the year.
China has not set an end date for building domestic coal plants at home, however. Coal is still China’s main source of power generation, and both China and India have resisted proposals for a G20 declaration on phasing out domestic coal consumption.
COP26 President Alok Sharma said China’s carbon-cutting commitments — known as the nationally determined contribution, or NDC — so far fall short of expectations.
“In terms of their NDC, it moved forward somewhat from 2015 … but of course we expected more,” Mr Sharma told the BBC.
He added that while Beijing has pledged to stop international coal financing and reducing domestic coal “we need to see the details of that.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said before the Rome summit that he tried but could not get a commitment on a coal phase-out from Mr Xi, who did not travel to the gathering.
In Glasgow, Mr Johnson said, “we want these leaders … to focus on the commitments they can make, moving away from the use of fossil fuels, moving away from coal-fired power stations domestically.”
Climate campaigners were hoping that rich G20 countries would take steps to meet a long-standing but yet-to-be-fulfilled commitment to raise US$100 billion ($133 billion) annually to help developing countries move toward greener economies and adapt to the changing climate.
Youth climate activists Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate issued an open letter to the media as the G20 was wrapping up, stressing three fundamental aspects of the climate crisis that often are downplayed: that time is running out, that any solution must provide justice to the people most affected by climate change, and that the biggest polluters often hide behind incomplete statistics about their true emissions.
“The climate crisis is only going to become more urgent,” they wrote, just weeks after Thunberg shamed global leaders for their “blah blah blah” rhetoric during a youth climate summit in Milan.
“We can still avoid the worst consequences, we can still turn this around. But not if we continue like today.”
G20 leaders also discussed the COVID-19 pandemic and the uneven distribution of vaccines in the world. On Saturday they endorsed a global minimum tax on corporations, a linchpin of new international tax rules aimed at blunting fiscal paradises amid skyrocketing profits of some multinationals.
And after a meeting on the sidelines about Iran’s nuclear program, Mr Biden, Mr Johnson, Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron made a joint statement expressing their “determination to ensure that Iran can never develop or acquire a nuclear weapon”.
They also voiced concern that Tehran “has accelerated the pace of provocative nuclear steps” after halting negotiations on a return to the nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.