While World Leaders Throw Coins in the Trevi Fountain, We Wish to Preserve the Planet

From the G20 summit hosted in Rome to COP26, the resolutions of global leaders left many disappointed.

COP26 – Climate Change Special Edition

By Alice Finno / Matthew Staff and COP26 delegate

If you wondered the reason why the entire city of Rome was paralyzed during the Halloween weekend — with events canceled, public transportation inaccessible, manifestations, and police everywhere — the answer resides in the G20 Summit

The Group of Twenty (G20) is a forum of global leaders joining together to tackle the most pressing issues of our times to favor prosperous economic growth. The G20 was established in 1999, and it is composed of 19 states: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, and United States plus the European Union. The presidency of the Summit, which rotates annually, this year was conferred to Italy, and therefore, the G20 summit took place in Rome. 

The Summit meeting was held at La Nuvola convention center in EUR, on Oct. 30 and 31, and most world leaders were present, including the President of the United States, Joe Biden. However, there were also important figures missing: China’s leader Xi Jinping, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, whose presence would have been crucial to ensuring a truly global commitment. 

Among the most significant issues discussed during the Summit figured the introduction of a global minimum tax to reduce international competition, the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic by shipping vaccines to developing countries, and the climate crisis. Unfortunately, concerning this last point, global leaders failed to make substantial commitments. The G20 collectively recognized and upheld the importance of maintaining the average global temperature at 1.5 degrees Celsius, a target that was already set in the Paris Agreement in 2015. However, once again, the words of the global leaders sounded quite empty since they were not followed by a concrete action plan.  

new achievement was the commitment to stop financing coal plants abroad by the end of the year, but the G20 didn’t set a timeline to cease using coal overall. World leaders acknowledged the importance to reduce methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030, but only 60 countries signed the Global Methan Pledge, and key state actors like Australia, China, Russia, and Japan avoided fully committing to the pledge. Even in this case, the actions foreshadowed seem too limited to have a meaningful impact. Indeed, the countries of the G20 are responsible for 80% of the greenhouse gas emissions, and scientists asserted that current contributions are far from sufficient to reach net-zero by mid-century. Meanwhile, countries like Russia and China are already delaying the net-zero goal to 2060.  

Furthermore, low-income countries, which bear the most devastating effects of climate change, are not receiving enough aid, as the promise of the G20 to deliver $100 billion per year to developing countries has not been fulfilled yet but postponed to 2023

Mario Draghi, the Italian Prime Minister, claimed to be satisfied with the outcome of the Summit and, referring to Greta Thunberg’s words during the Youth4Climate Conference in Milan, declared, “Many say they are tired of ‘blah, blah, blah.’ I believe this summit was full of substance. We have filled the words with substance.” 

Nonetheless, for climate activists, it is difficult to be equally optimistic since global leaders are failing to firm binding commitments, and their promises are hardly ever maintained. The truth is that we are heading toward a devastating 2.7°C increase in global temperature, and until now, there are no concrete measures to prevent it. 

In this regard, the UN’s Secretary-General, António Guterres, seemed to be the most sincere concerning the outcome of the G20 Summit, as it emerges from the tweet below. 

Now that COP26 officially ended, and we can make a balance of the outcomes of the conference, it is noteworthy that the final agreement, the Glasgow Climate Pact, reflected many of the points laid down during the G20 summit. 

The parties committed again to the goal of keeping the global temperature at 1.5°C, not 2°C or barely below, as the livability of our planet would change drastically from the first target to the second. The coal commitment could also be considered a significant step forward, considering the long-lasting opposition to bringing fossil fuels into the climate debate due to the enormous economic interests lying behind their use. However, the initial commitment to phase-out coal was substituted by the one to phase down coal after insistence from China and India, and this will ulteriorly slow down progress in tackling the climate crisis. 

Alok Sharma, the President of COP26, when the Glasgow Climate Pact was signed. 
Credit: CC license via Flickr 

Lastly, global leaders are still not listening to voices from the Global South. The promise of delivering $100 billion per year was postponed to 2023, as anticipated by the G20 summit, and even more dissatisfying was the fund allocation: money would mainly be devoted to cutting emissions, which raised many concerns.  

Indeed, activists underlined the need to devolve more money on adaptation, aimed specifically at transforming infrastructures and preventing future damage caused by climate-related disasters. Besides, even though a database for reporting climate damages was set up, the Santiago Network, there is still no hint at establishing a “loss and damage” fund to help communities in the Global South to recover from the most severe and devastating effects of the climate crisis. 

In the end, it doesn’t seem like much progress has been made from the G20 Summit to COP26. For now, we can only wait to see whether countries will commit, at least, to the pledge on the reduction of coal and be ready to hold them accountable if, or rather when, they will fail us again.