Wednesday, December 8

UK’s Johnson seeks ‘G20 bounce’ for key climate conference

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson flies into a meeting of the Group of 20 in Rome on Friday with one big goal: to persuade the leaders of the world’s largest economies to put their money where their mouth is at the climate summit. of the UN in Scotland.

Johnson will display his enthusiasm and his certainly divisive charm to try to extract cash and carbon reduction commitments from the G-20, which contains some of the world’s largest carbon emitters, including China, the United States, India and Russia.

The G-20, which accounts for 75% of world trade and 60% of its population, has often been accused of being too large and diffuse to take strong collective action. And Johnson’s Brexit-tinged global image means his arm-twisting power may be limited.

The G-20 is meeting as the European Union and the former British member argue over trade rules, and amid a dispute between Britain and France over English Channel fishing rights. France is also outraged by a nuclear submarine deal between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia that caused Australia to cancel a multi-million dollar contract to buy French submarines.

Those disputes are clouding Johnson’s hopes of a “G-20 rebound” to build momentum for the 12-day COP26 climate conference, which begins Sunday in Glasgow. He hopes to leave Rome with a series of global carbon reduction commitments, a plan to curb the use of coal and a promised and never delivered $ 100 billion a year aid to help developing countries cope with the impacts of change. climate.

“The biggest problem is raising ambition,” said Jared Finnegan, a public policy expert at University College London. “Boris (Johnson) has been talking for some time about how he expects the biggest economies, the G-20, to come up with more ambitious commitments than countries made in 2015” when the landmark Paris climate agreement was reached.

“Some countries have come forward with that and played ball, other countries have not,” Finnegan added.

The main polluters of the G-20, including Russia and Australia, have failed to improve on the carbon reduction promises made after the Paris conference. Neither Chinese President Xi Jinping nor Russian President Vladimir Putin, leaders of two of the largest carbon emitters, plan to attend the G-20 or COP26 in person.

The world is currently very much adrift from the Paris target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, seen as a threshold between manageable and disastrous climate change. Keeping “1.5 alive” is the central theme of the Glasgow meeting. To do this, Britain has focused on a mantra of “coal, cars, cash and trees”: eliminate fossil fuels, switch to clean vehicles, spend money and stop deforestation.

Johnson said this week that it was “easy” if the climate summit would achieve its goals.

“We may not get the agreements we need,” Johnson said during a question and answer session with the children.

That may be a cautious lowering of expectations, but Johnson faces big hurdles. Many European leaders distrust the British leader for his role in Britain’s decision to leave the EU in 2016 and the years of spiteful divorce negotiations that followed. US President Joe Biden has also been cautious, seeing echoes in the antics of Donald Trump’s populism that please Johnson’s crowd.

Johnson insists that Brexit does not mean Britain’s withdrawal from the world, and has defended his vision of an outward-looking “global Britain” during the country’s presidency of the Group of Seven wealthy industrialized countries this year. A G-7 summit in England in June was considered a modest success by Britain, despite environmental groups saying its climate commitments lacked substance.

Johnson is a more credible green messenger than the leaders of some rich nations. The UK has promised to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and has published a detailed plan to achieve it. Unlike Australia, it is on track to remove coal from its energy mix in a few years. And, unlike the United States, there is limited political opposition in the United Kingdom to stricter climate rules.

But the British government’s decision this year to cut foreign aid spending from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5% due to the economic hit from the coronavirus pandemic alarmed aid groups and undermined the UK’s commitment to developing nations. The British government said this week that the cut will continue until at least 2024.

The UK’s annual budget, announced on Wednesday, made little mention of climate change while cutting passenger taxes on domestic flights and freezing taxes on car fuel.

Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain, denied that those measures undermined Britain’s environmental image or the goal of net zero.

“I think anyone who has been following our commitments on climate change and net zero can see that the UK is leading the way on this,” he said.

Naysayers might ask: if the G-20 cannot agree on how to fight climate change, what hope is there for the nearly 200 nations that will meet at COP26 in Glasgow?

However, Finnegan sees progress in the fact that a conservative British government wants to be seen as a green leader and in the way it has changed the global climate conversation.

“Even the fact that we’re talking about net zero by 2050 is something that just wasn’t on the table five years ago,” he said.

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