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G20 to end overseas coal plant finance but leaves domestic use in place – Financial Times

British prime minister Boris Johnson has warned there is “a huge way still to go” at the COP26 climate summit, after G20 leaders agreed to stop financing coal power overseas but not to phase it out at home.

In a summit in Rome to pave the way for progress at the COP26 gathering in Glasgow, G20 leaders agreed to end international financing of coal power. They also pledged to take steps to limit global warming to 1.5C — the first time that target had been mentioned in a G20 leaders’ communique.

But they stopped short of agreeing to end the use of coal in their own countries.

“I think we have made reasonable progress at the G20 all things considered. But it is not enough,” Johnson said at a press conference on Sunday evening.

The UK prime minister, who will host the COP26 talks, said the “commitments, welcome as they are, are drops in a rapidly warming ocean”.

UN secretary-general António Guterres said he “welcomed” the G20 outcome but added: “I leave Rome with my hopes unfulfilled — but at least they are not buried.”

The G20’s decision on coal is highly influential because the group, made up of 19 countries plus the EU, includes the world’s biggest coal consumers and accounts for 80 per cent of global emissions.

However the deep divisions in Rome over coal — which was the last element of the communique to be agreed on Sunday afternoon — also highlight the challenges ahead at COP26, which is supposed to agree on the rules that govern the Paris climate accord. Leaders from more than 100 countries are due to attend.

“If Glasgow fails, then the whole thing fails,” said Johnson, speaking just minutes before departing for Scotland. “Right now the Paris Agreement, and the hope that came with it, is just a piece of paper. We need to fill that piece of paper to populate it with real progress.”

Mario Draghi, the Italian prime minister, who hosted the G20, said the summit was a success and that Italy would triple its annual climate funding.

“The COP26 will be on a pretty solid foundation now. We changed the goalposts,” Draghi added. “For the first time, G20 countries have committed to limiting global warming to 1.5C . . . We have a common ambition now, which we didn’t have before.”

But others said they wished that the Rome summit had been able to do more on climate change.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said: “There’s no question that Canada, and other countries, would have like stronger language and stronger commitments on the fight against climate change.”

“But we did make significant progress on recognising 1.5 degrees and the goals we need to share,” Trudeau added.

The agreement at the summit in Rome follows heated debate and opposition from coal-dependent countries, including Turkey and Russia.

Global agreement to restrict financing for the fossil fuel was one of the main targets for the G20 ahead of the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, which starts today. Its British hosts have said they want to “consign coal to history”. 

The summit had already reached broad agreement on Saturday on vaccines and taxes while the US and EU also struck a deal over steel tariffs on the sidelines of the meeting.

The provision on ending coal finance also applies only to “unabated” new power generation abroad, which means coal plants that include emissions-reduction technology, such as scrubbing carbon dioxide from the smokestack, could still be financed.

Negotiators erupted in applause on Sunday morning when a section of the communiqué was agreed that referenced limiting global warming to 1.5C — the first time it had been mentioned in a G20 leaders’ official statement. Global warming since pre-industrial times is already estimated at 1.1C.

The Paris climate accord, which is signed by all G20 members, aims to limit global warming to well below 2C, with best efforts made to keep rises to 1.5C, which is a much harder target.

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