G20 Nations Take a Step Against Burning Coal

Leaders avoid strong commitments on other actions to fight climate change
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 31, 2021 2:10 PM CDT
G20 Leaders Take Step to Curb Coal-Burning Power Plants
President Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen talk to reporters Sunday in Rome during the G20 summit.   (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Leaders of the world's biggest economies reached a vague agreement in Rome on Sunday to achieve carbon neutrality "by or around mid-century," while taking a more concrete step against the burning of coal. The G20 nations did not establish a deadline for ending the domestic use of coal, but they agreed to stop financing coal power plants overseas. The decision on coal represents a step, the New York Times reports, but it falls short of what's needed to affect climate change. "I leave Rome with my hopes unfulfilled, but at least they are not buried," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted, per the AP.

The leaders also said they'll work on holding the increase in the global average temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius over the preindustrial age by the end of the century. That's the goal that scientists say must be reached to mitigate the most serious damage from climate change. Such pledges aren't the same as taking action, but they could help set the agenda for the UN climate conference beginning in Scotland. The US and UK wanted a firm deadline for phasing out coal, per Axios. A UK spokesman said the final G-20 communique "was never meant to be the main lever in order to secure commitments on climate change." That's what the Glasgow summit is for, he said.

The lack of commitments on issues like climate finance could make agreements at this week's UN summit more difficult to achieve, per CNN. A G20 analyst at the University of Toronto nevertheless said the leaders "took only baby steps" in the agreement, generally reaffirming and harrumphing but committing to few new actions. He gave the example of the overdue $100 billion in aid to poorer countries, which the leaders again said they're committed to "as soon as possible" instead of just fulfilling the agreement. But John Kirton said the deal to stop international coal financing is significant. That's "the one thing that’s specific and real," he said. "That one counts." (Read more G20 stories.)

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