Leaders of the world’s largest economies reached a climate agreement in the final hours of the G20 summit in Rome but one that fell well short of the breakthroughs that delegates at the global climate conference in Glasgow had wanted to help build momentum for new carbon-reduction commitments.

The G20′s 20-page final communiqué largely reflects the wording and pledges of previous G20 summits and the 2015 Paris climate agreement itself, though there was some progress on reducing the use of coal. The upshot is that the Glasgow summit, known as COP26, which opened on Sunday, will come under even more pressure to find its own solutions.

The climate sections of the communiqué did not commit the G20 countries to boost the carbon-reduction pledges that they already made. They did reinforce their desire to “remain committed to the Paris Agreement goal to hold the global average temperature increase well below 2 degrees C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees C above preindustrial levels.”

In a press briefing at the close of the G20, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “There is no question that Canada, along with a number of other countries, would have liked stronger language, stronger commitments, in the fight against climate change.”

John Kirton, founder and director of the G20 Research Group, which is based at the University of Toronto, and a veteran of G20 and G7 summits, pronounced the Rome event “average at best” in terms of overall impact, and a disappointment on the climate front. “The G20 leaders faced a world of fire and flooding and took only baby steps to fight these potentially existential threats,” he said.

The G20 countries, as a whole, did not commit themselves to achieving net-zero emissions, also known as carbon neutrality, by 2050, as many countries had already pledged. The statement said that G20 countries will “accelerate their actions” to achieve carbon neutrality “by or around mid-century.”

G20 host Mario Draghi, Italy’s Prime Minister, was thought to be pushing for a 2050 commitment but faced pressure from several carbon-intensive economies, notably China, Russia and Saudi Arabia, which have said they would achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

If there was one breakthrough at the G20, it was the progress made on phasing out coal-fired power generation. The G20 vowed to “put an end to the provision of international public finance for new unabated coal power generation abroad by the end of 2021.″ (Unabated coal plants are those that lack the technology to capture and store carbon emissions so they do not pour into the atmosphere.)

The wording means that G20 governments will not finance the development of coal plants beyond their countries’ borders. China is, by far, the biggest financial backer of international coal plants. China had been the subject of a campaign by the United States and other G7 countries at the world leaders’ meeting in Cornwall earlier this year to stop its overseas financial support of coal power plants. China said it would stop that practice, though it would continue to finance domestic plants.

“We need to get off coal even quicker,” Mr. Trudeau said on Sunday. “These are the things that Canada is going to continue to push for.”

In a statement, Global Citizen, an education and anti-poverty advocacy group, said it was disappointed that the G20 didn’t put a stop to all coal financing from both government and private sources. “On climate change, the G20 seems to miss the emergency we are in by not setting a timeline for the end of coal power or subsidies for fossil fuels,” it said.

Britain, the host of the COP26 climate summit, had aimed to “consign coal to history.”

The G20 reaffirmed its commitment to deliver US$100-billion a year to help the developing world fight, and adapt to, climate change. It recognized the danger of methane as a dangerous powerful greenhouse gas, but the communiqué made no concrete commitments to cut methane emissions.

Mr. Kirton said that the G20 was somewhat stronger on non-climate initiatives.

The G20 did back a global minimum tax of 15 per cent on big multinational businesses, giving the effort – pushed hard by U.S. President Joe Biden – a boost. The commitment was expected, because the OECD and the G7, in Cornwall, had already endorsed the plan to prevent international corporations from avoiding tax by shifting profits and revenues to tax havens.

The G20 statement on vaccine deliveries to the developing world stopped short of firm commitments. The G20 said it would “help advance” the goal of vaccinating at least 40 per cent of the world’s population by the end of this year and 70 per cent by mid-2022, as recommended by the World Health Organization.

On Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland used the G20 to announce that Canada would supply 200 million vaccines to the developing world by the end of 2022. But Canada’s previous vaccine-delivery commitments have come up well short.

On the pandemic front, the G20 also agreed to strive to lift the contributions of special drawing rights (SDRs) from the current commitment of US$45-billion to US$100-billion to help vaccine-short developing countries fight the pandemic and rebuild their economies. SDRs are issued by the International Monetary Fund and are, in effect, a form of currency that can be used in emergency situations.

Mr. Trudeau and most other G20 leaders were due to fly to Glasgow on Sunday evening to attend the opening of COP26 climate conference.

The Globe and Mail, October 31, 2021