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

A quarter of the G20 leaders skipped the weekend’s events

Canada wanted a stronger and more ambitious agreement on climate change to emerge from the G20 summit but leaders still managed to make progress by committing to address some key issues, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Sunday.

His remarks came as he wrapped up two days in Rome at the G20 leaders’ summit, where the leaders’ final communique saw them agree for the first time in writing that limiting global warming to 1.5 C would be better for everyone.

But the document also watered down numerous parts of a previous draft version, including replacing specific deadlines to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and eliminate coal power by the end of the 2030s, with net zero by “mid century” and eliminating coal power “as soon as possible.”

Language promising to reduce methane emissions was changed only to recognize that curbing methane is a cost-effective and relatively easy way to reduce emissions.

“There’s no question that Canada and a number of other countries would have liked stronger language and stronger commitments on the fight against climate change than others,” Trudeau said at his closing news conference.

“But we did make significant progress on recognizing 1.5 degrees is the ambition we need to share.”

A quarter of the G20 leaders skipped the weekend’s events, including Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Trudeau suggested that affected the language on coal and net zero emissions.

“These are the kinds of things that Canada’s going to continue to push for, alongside all our colleagues,” he said. “Not everyone around the table was there today and we’re a group that works on consensus as much as possible. But we’re going to continue fighting for a better future for all.”

China, which is in absolute terms the world’s biggest emitter, is still very dependent on coal for electricity, as is India. Both have expressed an inability to reduce coal power at this point. China has also only set a goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2060, rather than 2050.

Trudeau’s assessment was similar to that issued by G20 host and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who said it’s easier to propose than execute difficult things.

Draghi said he felt the G20 was working more co-operatively than it has for the last several years.

But United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres said he was leaving Rome “with my hopes unfulfilled.” He said he’s now looking to the UN COP26 climate talks in Glasgow for that hope.

His disappointment was echoed by environment advocates.

“If the G20 was a dress rehearsal for COP26, then world leaders fluffed their lines,” said Greenpeace International executive director Jennifer Morgan in a statement.

“Their communique was weak, lacking both ambition and vision and simply failed to meet the moment.”

Eddy Perez, international climate diplomacy manager for Climate Action Network Canada, applauded the G20 leaders for finally realizing the importance of aiming to keep global warming to 1.5 C.

“But the credibility of the largest global economic bloc lies more (than) on just an agreement of principles. With no ambitious and detailed plan to close the climate finance gap and to accelerate the phase out of fossil fuels, we won’t be able to build a more equitable and fair future that ends all expansion of coal, oil and gas.”

Most of the G20 leaders, including Trudeau, are headed to Glasgow directly from Rome for two days of negotiations to finally finish crafting rules for how the Paris climate agreement will measure progress and run carbon-emissions trading markets.

The hope had been for strong language from the G20 as motivation for COP26, when all of the parties to the Paris agreement will be represented in some fashion.

Trudeau said COP will keep putting pressure on governments to do more to slow global warming, even though the same leaders missing in Rome are expected to skip Glasgow too.

“It is a challenging process to shift the trajectory of the world off of fossil fuels and onto more renewables and reduce our carbon emissions,” he said. “But it is hard work that is being done by people here today, by people in Scotland, by people all around the world, that we are committed to as a G20 and as a world.

Trudeau also said just having the G20 talks was progress.

“Any time the leaders of the world are able to gather, particularly after this pandemic year, once again in person, and actually get into it together and talk about this existential threat to all of us that is climate change is itself a win,” he said.

READ MORE: Freeland downplays impact absence of leaders from China, Russia may have at G20 talks

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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