Some G20 leaders leaving a summit in Rome hailed this year’s meeting as a “success,” but it was seen by many – including the head of the United Nations, the US and Britain – to have fallen short of expectations on climate change.
There was neither a target date for achieving carbon neutrality nor for ending coal-fuelled power generation in the joint declaration following the summit.
The target for net zero emissions in the final G20 communique released by the Italian government referred only to achieving this “by or around mid-century.”
“We will do our utmost to avoid building new unabated coal power generation capacity, taking national circumstances into account, with a view to accelerating the transition away from coal to meet timeframes aligned with the goals of the  Paris Agreement,” the statement read.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was unconvinced, writing on Twitter: “While I welcome the G20’s recommitment to global solutions, I leave Rome with my hopes unfulfilled — but at least they are not buried.”
“Onwards to COP26,” he added, referring to a major climate summit which opened on Sunday in Glasgow, Scotland.
US President Joe Biden blamed China and Russia for the vaguer wording in the summit conclusions, saying “Russia and … China basically did not show up in terms of any commitments to deal with climate change.”
“There is a reason why people should be disappointed with that. I found it disappointing myself,” Biden said.
Campaigners who had hoped for the G20 countries – representing the vast majority of global GDP and 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions – to provide a strong climate commitment to set the tone for the COP26 were left furious.
Oxfam’s Joern Kalinski said the lack of commitment left him “speechless”: “We are heading towards global warming of 2.7 degrees Celsius and a catastrophic development in the climate crisis.”
“The indecision and disunity shown here threaten to burn our planet,” he said.
China, the largest emitter of greenhouse gases by far, reaffirmed its goals to let its emissions still rise until 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, with President Xi Jinping calling on rich nations to “set an example” first. Russia has made a similar commitment for net zero emissions by 2060.
India, the fourth largest emitter after China, the US and the EU, is also refusing to make a commitment to net zero emissions, indicating that the responsibility lies with wealthier nations.
However, Germany and the European Union also remain unwilling “to pay their fair share,” said Oxfam climate expert Jan Kowalzig.
“A major problem in international climate policy is that industrialized countries are not prepared to contribute fairly to global climate protection, based on their historical responsibility for causing the crisis and their economic strength,” he said.
According to existing national action plans, emissions will increase by 16 per cent by 2030 – even though a decrease of 45 per cent would be necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius annually, as agreed in Paris.
“We have now reached a point where we can no longer negotiate around the climate,” said Friederike Roeder from Global Citizen. Rome saw “half measures instead of concrete deeds,” he complained.
British premier Boris Johnson said COP26 had to go much further than the G20 countries were able to do.
“Just 12 G20 members are committed to reach net zero by 2050 or earlier; barely half of us have submitted improved plans for how we will cut carbon emissions since the Paris summit in 2015.
“We’ve also failed to meet our commitments to provide 100 billion dollars a year to support developing countries to grow in a clean and sustainable way,” Johnson said, according to the Press Association.
Some leaders at the summit nevertheless hailed the summit’s conclusions.
“This summit was a success,” said Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi, highlighting the commitment to the G20’s 1.5-degree-Celsius climate target.
The summit’s conclusions were a “good signal” for the world climate conference in Glasgow, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, noting the return of the United States to the climate consensus under President Joe Biden.
Merkel herself received a warm farewell ovation – and a bouquet of flowers – from other G20 leaders at what was her last such summit.
Besides the climate crisis, the coronavirus pandemic and global tax reform were also on the agenda during the two-day meeting.
Italy, this year’s G20 host nation, was one of the countries hardest hit by the outbreak of Covid-19 in Europe last year.
However, development organizations also criticized the group for failing to make concrete decisions also in regard to the pandemic.
The target of achieving a global vaccination rate of 40 per cent by the end of the year was “illusory,” said Fiona Uellendahl of World Vision.
On tax, the countries called for the rapid development of the necessary regulations and instruments for a minimum global tax rate. The aim is to ensure that the reform can enter into force in 2023.