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On Climate: Summits and Speeches | Insight

Following one summit in Rome and an upcoming one on climate in Glasgow, world leaders differ on climate action.

This weekend, Rome hosted the G20 summit, an annual meeting of the leaders of 19 of the world’s largest economies, and the European Union. Some years feature consequential discussions and agreements, though most others result in lots of hand-wringing and airy declarations. This time, the G20 failed to make any net-zero emissions pledge, a key goal set for the summit.

Two major heads of government not in attendance this weekend were China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Both said they had not left and could not leave their countries during the COVID pandemic.

The next two weeks will feature another major international meeting: the COP26 summit on climate change, organized by the United Nations. 2015’s COP21 was the occasion for the drafting of the Paris Climate Agreement, and it’s hoped that this year’s meeting in Glasgow, Scotland could yield similarly, or more, significant results.

Xi Jinping will again be missing, though that shouldn’t necessarily be a sign of disinterest, as delegates for the Chinese government will be in attendance. The serious interest of China is crucial to any climate efforts, seeing as the country accounts for more than a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. Another quarter comes from the United States, Canada, and the EU.

Taking a look at the statements from leaders of these countries about the experience in Rome may yield an interesting preface to events in Glasgow. Here’s what some of them—Italy’s Prime Minister and host of the G20 Mario Draghi, US President Joe Biden, and Britain’s Prime Minister and host of COP26 Boris Johnson—had to say.

For the best experience, listen to this episode to hear each leader speaking.

Mario Draghi—

While at this G20, this extraordinary G20, as you know, reaching this agreement was not easy. We can say it is a success. In the last few years, the G20 countries have had difficulty in terms of working together. And this is something we have observed over the last few years. Things have now changed, and I must say that this summit, in my view, makes me hopeful.

Joe Biden—

I believe we've had a series of very productive meetings in the past few days. And I'm looking forward to continuing to make progress on critical global issues, as we head off to Glasgow. Because of what we've seen again here in Rome, what I think is the power of America showing up and working with our allies and partners to make progress on issues that matter to all of us.

And there's really no substitute for face-to-face discussions and negotiations among the leaders, when it comes to building understanding and cooperation. I found in all of my meetings here, both the larger sessions and the one-on-one sessions—and I had many of those—a real eagerness among our partners and allies for American leadership to help bring the world together and solve some of these big problems. They know me, I know them, and we can get things done together.

And so I want to congratulate Prime Minister Draghi. He did one heck of a job leading the G20 through a difficult year marked by a great global challenges, critically among them ending the pandemic, driving a broad-based sustainable global economic recovery, and tackling the climate crisis.

I believe we made tangible progress in each of these issues, in part because of the commitment that the United States has brought to the table.

Boris Johnson—

Unlike many other global challenges, the solution to climate change is clear. It lies in consigning dirty fossil fuels like coal to history, in ditching gas-guzzling modes of transport, and recognizing the role that nature plays in preserving life on this planet, and harnessing the power of nature through renewable energy rather than orchestrating its destruction.

If we don't act now, the 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 turned away.

We've seen some progress in the last few days and weeks. Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Russia have all made net-zero commitments, meaning 80% of the global economy will wipe out its contribution to climate change by the middle of the century, up from 30%, thanks to the UK's COP26 leadership. Countries such as the United States have doubled their spending on climate aid. Every nation at this weekend's summit will end the financial support for international, unabated coal projects by the end of this year.

But these commitments, welcome as they are, are drops in a rapidly warming ocean, when we consider the challenge we've all admitted is ahead of us. Just 12 G20 members have committed to reach net-zero by 2050 or earlier. Barely half of us have submitted improved plans for how we will cut carbon emissions since the Paris summit in 2015. And we've also failed to meet our commitments to provide $100 billion a year to support developing countries to grow in a clean and sustainable way.

The UN says emissions will rise by 15% by 2030, and they need to halve by then. The countries most responsible for historic and present day emissions are not yet doing their fair share of the work. If we are going to prevent COP26 from being a failure, then that must change.

And I must be clear that if Glasgow fails, then the whole thing fails.

The Paris agreement will have crumpled at the first reckoning. The world's only mechanism, viable mechanism, for dealing with climate change will be holed beneath the waterline. 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.

And I know that humanity has in it the power to rise to the challenge. We've made some progress at this G20. We've had a reasonable G20. But there is a huge way still to go. We all know that we have the technology. What we need to do now is to raise the finance. But above all, we need the political will in Glasgow to make those commitments and to keep alive the hope of restraining the growth in our temperatures to 1.5 degrees.

Thank you very much and see you in Glasgow.

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Which leader’s speech did you think was the most valuable? Are you hopeful for COP26 like Mario Draghi, eager for American leadership, or concerned by limited progress, like Boris Johnson? Let us know in a comment!


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