G20 climate talks fail to deliver emission cuts despite leadership pleas

Cop28 president, Sultan Al Jaber and UN climate change boss, Simon Stiell, had called on G20 countries to show leadership and deliver ambitious emissions cuts.

John Kerry, climate envoy from the US, speaking from his seat to a hall of climate ministers from G20 countries

John Kerry speaking at the meeting of G20 climate ministers in Chennai, India. (Photo: G20 India/Twitter)


Climate ministers from the G20 group of nations have failed to agree on targets to reduce emissions and accelerate the energy transition, laying bare entrenched divisions with only four months left before the start of Cop28.

At a summit in Chennai, India, on Friday developed countries pushed for a commitment to peak emissions by 2025 and to cut them by 60% by 2035 (from 2019 levels) to limit global warming. This is what needs to happen to limit global warming to the critical figure of 1.5°C, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

But developing nations opposed the demands, wanting to stick to the Paris Agreement that allowed different countries to tackle global warming in different ways depending on their circumstances, Reuters reported.

The outcome conflicts with a joint plea by the Cop28 boss Sultan al Jaber and the head of the UN climate body Simon Stiell urging G20 ministers to “leave Chennai on the right path and with a clear signal that the political will to tackle the climate crisis is there”.

G20 climate talks

The G20 is seen as a key forum to reach a consensus on targets ahead of UN climate summits. The group of nations is responsible for 85% of the world’s GDP and 80% of the world’s emissions. “The world needs its leaders to unite, act and deliver; and that must start with the G20”, said al Jaber and Stiell.

But, after days of intense discussions, the talks ended with the same outcome as the meeting of G20 energy ministers’ last week: no agreement and fractured relations.

Some European officials accused a “small group of countries” of trying to walk back previous climate pledges.

“We were asked to make bold choices, to demonstrate courage, commitment and leadership. But we, collectively, failed to achieve that. We cannot be driven by the lowest common denominator, or by narrow national interests. We cannot allow the pace of change to be set by the slowest movers in the room”, the EU’s Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius said.

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Disagreements also resulted in the failure to produce a joint text at the end of the meeting. Instead, officials issued an outcome statement and a chair’s summary of the debate.

The summary said countries had “divergent views on the issues of energy transitions and how to reflect them in this document”.

Division ahead of Cop28

The talks in Chennai are a replay of the divisions on display last Saturday when G20 energy ministers sparred over commitments to cut the use of fossil fuels and set renewable energy targets.

Phasing down unabated fossil fuels by mid-century and tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030 are among the pillars of the plan outlined by Cop28 chief Sultan al Jaber.

Observers told Climate Home News they were surprised by the divisions over the renewables goal that had until then appeared to attract broad consensus.

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At last week’s meeting governments split into three camps, according to two sources with knowledge of the talks.

The Indian G20 presidency, supported by the EU and Germany, championed the higher-achieving target of tripling renewable energy capacity.

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A group of nations, including France, the US and South Korea, pushed to water down the commitment and broaden the language away from a specific focus on renewables and towards the inclusion of “low-carbon” solutions, including nuclear power and carbon capture technologies.

Hardliners like Russia, Saudi Arabia, China and South Africa opposed the inclusion of any renewable energy targets at all.

Last call

The spotlight is now on the Cop28 team headed by al Jaber. He has been under mounting pressure to bridge divisions and engineer some consensus ahead of the Dubai summit in November.

“The Cop28 Presidency will continue to call on all parties to make a clear commitment to this ambitious but achievable target at every opportunity in the lead-up to COP28″, a spokesperson for the team told Climate Home News.

The meeting of the G20 leaders in September will be one of the last opportunities on the calendar to show some progress toward achieving that goal.

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