Trudeau says climate progress made at G20, though Canada wanted more ambitious plan


Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of a CBC News initiative entitled Our Changing Planet to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about it.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada wanted a stronger and more ambitious agreement on climate change to emerge from the G20 summit.

The final communiqué on Sunday from the two-day gathering in Rome remained vague about the deadline for countries to reach net-zero carbon emissions or for them to phase out coal power.

But Trudeau said the summit still managed to make “significant progress” by recognizing that countries need to aim to limit the increase in average global temperatures to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.

He said progress was also made in at least recognizing that phasing out the use of coal and methane is critical to the fight against climate change.

Trudeau said the fact that G20 leaders were able to meet in person for the first time in 18 months to focus on the issue was progress in itself.

“I think that every time we get together and we get to challenge each other and put forward ambition and hear the obstacles that various countries are facing, we do move it forward, and they don’t always get fully recognized in a consensus-based communiqué,” he told reporters.

Trudeau, centre, is shown with health-care workers and world leaders at the G20 summit in Rome on Saturday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

In a tweet earlier on Sunday, Trudeau said, “Climate change cannot be denied. And climate action cannot be delayed. Working together with our partners, we need to tackle this global crisis with urgency and ambition.”

He is heading from the G20 to Glasgow for the United Nations climate conference, known as COP26, and he said Canada will continue to work with like-minded partners to come up with more ambitious goals.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, the G20 summit host, made a last-ditch effort on Sunday to urge the leaders of the world’s biggest economies to accept the reality of the situation.

“We face a simple choice,” he told leaders at the table. “We can act now or regret it later.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was more grim when asked about the results of the G20 summit.

“If we don’t act now, the [2015] Paris Agreement will be looked at in the future not as the moment humanity opened its eyes to the problem, but the moment we flinched and looked away,” Johnson said.

The U.K. leader further cranked up the stakes for the conference starting in Scotland: “If Glasgow fails, then the whole thing fails.”

  • Have questions about COP26 or climate science, policy or politics? Email us: Your input helps inform our coverage. 

A key part of the upcoming COP26 conference is a push for developed countries to commit to climate financing to help developing countries address climate change. Canada and Germany had been tasked with securing the goal of $100 billion US per year — but that goal won’t be met until 2023.

In an interview on Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday, Canada’s new natural resources minister, Jonathan Wilkinson — who previously served as environment minister — said the report that he and his German counterpart put together had “moved the ball forward significantly” but that there was more to do.

“Beyond 2025, we’re all going to have to do more, there’s no question about that. And that conversation will begin at COP26,” he told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton. Wilkinson also noted that the world would need to also mobilize private dollars to help with climate action.

WATCH | Canada’s natural resources minister on the fight against climate change:

Canada and Germany call on help for poorer countries to fight climate change

A report co-authored by Canada suggests richer countries have failed to come up with $100 billion to help poorer countries fight climate change. Canada’s new natural resources minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton he thinks that promise will be fulfilled but admits it may take some time. 8:10

Chinese involvement is key

The United Nations reiterated warnings this week that with the current policies promised by parties to the Paris climate agreement, the Earth will warm more than 2.7 C by the end of this century.

The Paris accord aimed to keep the temperature below 2 C and as close to 1.5 C as possible. The G20 was debating how to reword that target to make 1.5 C more critical.

“Scientists tell us that under current policies, the consequence of climate change for the environment and the world’s population will be catastrophic,” Draghi said. “The cost of action, however high it may seem, is trivial compared to the price of inaction.”

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, left, host of the G20 summit, speaks with Prince Charles at the La Nuvola conference centre in Rome on Sunday. (Aaron Chown/The Associated Press)

The prospect of progress at the two-day summit at the Rome Convention Centre dimmed in the days before the meeting when China submitted its new targets to the UN with barely any increase in ambition.

China still plans to keep growing its emissions until 2030 and isn’t agreeing to move its net zero target up from 2060. It was slightly more specific about using more renewable energy and planting more trees.

Chinese President Xi Jinping was also not at the table, choosing to send his foreign minister, Wang Yi, instead.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Saturday that Xi’s absence wasn’t ideal, but she wouldn’t comment on what impact she thought that may have on the climate talks.

“The G20, of course, is most effective when all the G20 leaders are at the table,” she said. “Having said that, I do think we also need to recognize that the fight against COVID is not finished yet, and different countries will take different decisions about international travel while we’re still finishing the fight against COVID.”

Xi was one of five G20 leaders who didn’t make the trip. The leaders of Russia, Mexico, Brazil and Japan also sent officials and participated themselves only virtually.

But China’s importance to the G20 negotiations on ending coal-fired electricity made Xi’s absence potentially the most troublesome. He is also not attending the COP26 summit.

Trudeau and Draghi had both hoped for a strong, united message on climate from the G20 to carry into COP26. The G20 isn’t just responsible for 80 per cent of global economic output; it also produces about 80 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

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