ROME (AP) — Leaders of the world’s biggest economies agreed Sunday to stop funding coal-fired power plants in poor countries and made a vague commitment to seek carbon neutrality “by or around mid-century” as they wrapped up a Rome summit before the much larger United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

Mario Draghi (Italian Prime Minister) and Emmanuel Macron (French President) described the Group of 20 summit as a success, the outcome disappointed climate activists, the chief of the U.N. and Britain’s leader. The U.K. hosts the Glasgow conference over two weeks and was looking for bigger targets than those in Rome.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the G-20′s commitments mere “drops in a rapidly warming ocean.” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres agreed the outcome was not enough.

“While I welcome the #G20′s recommitment to global solutions, I leave Rome with my hopes unfulfilled — but at least they are not buried,” Guterres tweeted. “Onwards to #COP26 in Glasgow.”

The G-20 countries represent more than three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and Britain had hoped for a “G-20 bounce” going into the Glasgow COP26 meeting. Environmentalists and scientists have described the U.N. conference as the world’s “last best hope” for nailing down commitments to limit the global rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial average.

Summit exposed the divides between the West, which pollute the planet most in the past but now see their emissions declining, and emerging economies like China, whose emission are increasing as they grow.

Britain was a strong advocate for climate neutrality (or net-zero emission) by 2050. That is, a balance of greenhouse gases added and subtracted from the atmosphere.

While the United States and European Union set 2050 for their respective deadlines for reaching net zero emissions, China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia have set 2060 as their own. The leaders of those three countries didn’t come to Rome for the summit.

In the end, the G-20 leaders arrived at a compromise to achieve climate neutrality “by or around mid-century,” not a set year.

U.S. President Joe Biden called it “disappointing’ that G-20 members Russia and China ’basically didn’t show up” with commitments to address the scourge of climate change ahead of the U.N. climate conference.

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, are unlikely to be present at the conference in Glasgow. However they will send senior officials to international COP26 negotiations.

“The disappointment relates to the fact that Russia…and China basically didn’t show up in terms of any commitments to deal with climate change. And there’s a reason why people should be disappointed,” Biden said, adding: “I found it disappointing myself.”

Biden comments came in response to a reporter’s question about the modest pledges made during the G-20 summit.

“We made commitments here from across the board in terms of what we’re going to bring to (COP26),” the president said. “As that old trade saying goes, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.”

Earlier in the day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pushed back at the West’s target date.

“Why do you believe 2050 is some magic figure?” Lavrov asked at a news conference. “If it is an ambition of the European Union, it is the right of other countries also to have ambitions….No one has proven to us or anybody else that 2050 is something everyone must subscribe to.”

Italy’s Draghi said the declaration went further on climate than any G-20 statement before it. It referred to keeping 1.5 degree global warming under control, which science has shown will prove difficult if the world drastically reduces fossil fuel emissions.

“We changed the goalposts,” Draghi told reporters.

Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Premier, stated that G-20 leaders being able to come together in spite of the pandemic coronavirus was a victory.

“The fact that we have well laid out the table and know where the sharp edges are, and know what work we we’re going to have to do at COP… is a very positive step,” Trudeau said.

G-20 members found it difficult to reach consensus on the future of coal as it is a major source of greenhouse gases emissions.

At the Rome summit, leaders agreed to “put an end to the provision of international public finance for new unabated coal power generation abroad by the end of 2021.” That refers to financial support for building coal plants abroad.

Western nations have begun to move away from such funding, and many major Asian economies are following their lead: The Chinese President Xi Jinping stated at the U.N. General Assembly last week that Beijing would cease financing such projects. Japan as well as South Korea also made similar pledges earlier this year.

China does not have an expiration date to build coal plants in its own country. Coal is still China’s main source of power generation, and both China and India have resisted proposals for a G-20 declaration on phasing out domestic coal consumption.

Britain felt disappointed that the G-20 failed to agree on a timeline for eliminating domestic coal consumption. But Johnson’s spokesperson, Max Blain, said the G-20 communique “was never meant to be the main lever in order to secure commitments on climate change,” noting those would be hammered out at the Glasgow summit.

John Kirton, director of the G-20 Research Group at the University of Toronto, said the leaders “took only baby steps” in the agreement and did almost nothing new.

He pointed to the agreement to “recall and reaffirm” their overdue commitment to provide $100 billion in assistance to poorer countries and to “stress the importance of meeting that goal fully as soon as possible” instead of stating that they were ready to stump up the full amount.

The agreement to end international coal financing “is the one thing that’s specific and real. That one counts,” Kirton said.

While the G-20 concluded, youth climate activists Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate sent an open letter highlighting three key aspects of the crisis.

“The climate crisis is only going to become more urgent. It is possible to avoid all the terrible consequences and we can turn it around. But not if we continue like today,” they wrote, just weeks after Thunberg shamed global leaders for their “blah blah blah” rhetoric during a youth climate summit in Milan.

Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace’s Executive Director, said that the G-20 had failed to deliver the leadership needed for the planet. “I think it was a betrayal to young people around the world,” she told The Associated Press on Sunday.

Apart from the climate issue, leaders also signed a historic agreement for all countries to establish a minimum global corporate tax rate of 15%. This global minimum is intended to deter multinational corporations from shifting their profits abroad at low rates, where there may be little business.

They also stated that they will continue to work with a French initiative to allow wealthier nations to channel $100 billion of financial support to Africa’s needier members. This would be done through special drawing rights, a form of foreign exchange used to finance imports.

The leaders said they were “working on actionable options” to do that and set the $100 billion figure as a “total global ambition” short of an absolute commitment. Individual countries have already redirected $45 billion on a voluntary basis.

It is an indication of the concern that post-pandemic recovery may be diverging. Rich countries will rebound faster thanks to more vaccines and spending on stimulus.

This report was co-authored by Sylvie and Jill Lawless of the Associated Press. Aamer madhani contributed from Washington.


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