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Opinion

G20 leaders reaffirm the commitments they have failed to deliver

The COP26 summit requires serious and inspired leadership, which its host looks ill-suited to provide.

Members of an Abba cover band hold a song protest in front of the Colosseum ahead of the G20 summit, in Rome
Photo: Reuters

It was all a bit disappointing and mealy-mouthed in Rome.

In their final communique yesterday, the G20 leaders merely reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement to hold the global average temperature rise well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

There was lots of guff about accelerating actions, different approaches and clear national pathways. But the best they could manage on the key issue of coal was that they would “put an end to the provision of international public finance for new unabated coal power generation abroad by the end of 2021”.

So, no commitment to cutting its use at home, then.

It takes a writer to cut to the core. UK prime minister Boris Johnson dismissed 18 pages of weasel words as mere “drops in a rapidly warming ocean”.

If these people couldn’t deliver the $100 billion they promised the worst-affected countries 16 years ago, how can anyone trust them to meet their commitments to ‘well below 2°C’?

Did music summon the poetry to Johnson’s lips? He may have heard drifting over the security barriers the familiar ABBA refrain of "Money, money, money", from a tribute band touring the summit in an open-top bus.

This was a protest from Avaaz, an online campaign group with 70 million members, over the failure of developed nations to provide the $100 billion per year they promised back in 2009 to help developing countries adapt to and mitigate climate change.

“We recall and reaffirm the commitment,” said the communique, which stressed the importance of meeting it “as soon as possible”, as if the failure to do so is someone else’s fault.

Where, the ABBA tribute band asked a cardboard cutout of Joe Biden, is the $32-59 billion per year that the US promised? They took to task the leaders of Canada, Australia and Italy, before turning on no less than the host of the COP26 in Glasgow himself. Avaaz says the UK must increase its annual contribution by 50% to meet its fair share (£3.4-4.8 billion) of the promised $100 billion.

Avaaz states: “Prime minister Boris Johnson has said that COP26 must be a 'turning point for humanity'. To meet the gap towards $100 billion urgently, the UK needs to commit new and additional funding.”

Last chance

Euromoney is sure Johnson would have loved to discuss all this in depth with the tribute band, or better yet with Agnetha and Anni-Frid themselves.

He may feel their song’s mournful opening was written for him.

“I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay.

"Ain’t it sad.”

But he had to fly off to Glasgow, to hobnob with executives of the principal partners of COP26, such as Scottish Power, SSE, Sky and Microsoft – which will be leading panel discussions from the UK’s “Presidency Pavilion” – and to pencil his latest call to arms for world leaders.

Avaaz asks the right question. If these people couldn’t deliver the $100 billion they promised the worst-affected countries 16 years ago, how can anyone trust them to meet their commitments to "well below 2°C"?

Unfortunately, that sum now looks like peanuts.

Avaaz might have chosen a different ABBA song and a different cover band to underscore the importance of seizing this last chance to avert climate catastrophe. Euromoney would have recommended Portishead’s devastating version of "SOS".

“When you’re gone

"How can I even try to go on?”

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