Trudeau says climate progress made at G20 — but Canada wanted more ambitious plan

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives at the G20 summit in Rome on Saturday. He issued a statement on Sunday about climate change, saying that 'we need to tackle this global crisis with urgency and ambition.' (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives at the G20 summit in Rome on Saturday. He issued a statement on Sunday about climate change, saying that 'we need to tackle this global crisis with urgency and ambition.' (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press - image credit)

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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 communiqué saw them agree for the first time in writing that limiting the increase in average global temperatures to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels 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."

WATCH | PM Trudeau speaks at closing of G20 summit in Rome:

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," Trudeau 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.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, the G20 summit host, made a last-ditch effort on Sunday to urge the leaders of the world's biggest economies to accept the reality of the situation.

"We face a simple choice," he told leaders at the table. "We can act now or regret it later."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was more grim when asked about the results of the G20 summit.

"If we don't act now, the [2015] Paris Agreement will be looked at in the future not as the moment humanity opened its eyes to the problem, but the moment we flinched and looked away," Johnson said.

The U.K. leader further cranked up the stakes for the conference a UN climate conference starting in Scotland: "If Glasgow fails, then the whole thing fails."

Push for financing a priority

A key part of the COP26 conference is a push for developed countries to commit to climate financing to help developing countries address climate change. Canada and Germany had been tasked with securing the goal of $100 billion US per year — but that goal won't be met until 2023.

In an interview on Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday, Canada's new natural resources minister, Jonathan Wilkinson — who previously served as environment minister — said the report that he and his German counterpart put together had "moved the ball forward significantly" but that there was more to do.

"Beyond 2025, we're all going to have to do more, there's no question about that. And that conversation will begin at COP26," he told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton. Wilkinson also noted that the world would need to also mobilize private dollars to help with climate action.

WATCH | Canada's natural resources minister on the fight against climate change:

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 COP26 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.

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