Climate back on the global agenda as G20 nations renew commitments to lower temperatures

The second day of the Saudi Arabia-hosted G20 summit focused on safeguarding the planet

(FILES) This file photo taken on March 6, 2017 shows a man riding his scooter near the Shanghai Waigaoqiao Power Generator Company coal power plant in Shanghai. China must stop building new coal power plants and ramp up its wind and solar capacity if it wants to become carbon neutral by 2060, researchers said on November 20, 2020. - 
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World leaders have stressed the importance of action on climate change in a discussion at the G20 summit.

The annual meeting of leaders of the world’s top 20 economies was originally slated to take place in Saudi Arabia, but instead was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Leaders from Japan, the US, India and China, among others, discussed the coronavirus pandemic, carbon circular economy and the environment on the last day of the summit, themed around safeguarding the planet.

"We must pioneer sustainable, pragmatic, and cost-effective approaches for achieving ambitious climate goals,” King Salman said in an address to leaders.

“In this spirit, the Saudi Presidency has promoted the Circular Carbon Economy (CCE) that allows holistic management of emissions to mitigate the challenges of climate impacts and advance cleaner and more sustainable energy systems as well as advancing stable and secure energy markets and energy access," he added.

Later on Sunday, the G20 endorsed a Circular Economy Platform to recognise the "importance of reducing emissions' in a communique.

The initiative will allow nations to adopt and promote technologies that match their climate goals through the 4Rs of the Circular Carbon Economy – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Remove.

The Kingdom is preparing to launch a dedicated Circular Carbon Economy National Programme, King Salman said.

“We ask other countries to work with us to help achieve the goals of this programme: tackling climate change while continuing to create growth in the economy and increase the well being of humanity.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his nation was “exceeding” its targets under the 2015 Paris climate agreement in a leaders’ session on climate change and the environment.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman chairs final session of the 15th annual G20 Leaders' Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 22, 2020. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY

“We have made LED light popular. This saves 38 million tons of carbon dioxide emission per year … There are efforts to eliminate single-use plastics. Our forest cover is expanding. The lion and tiger population is increasing. We aim to restore 26 million hectares of land by 2030.”

But Mr Modi said the world needed to think about climate justice.

“For humanity to prosper, every single individual must prosper. Rather than seeing labour as a factor of production alone, the focus must be on the human dignity of each worker. Such an approach would be the best guarantee for safeguarding our planet.”

Meanwhile, outgoing US President Donald Trump defended his decision to pull out of the accords, which became official earlier this month. The accord requires nations to set targets to keep the global temperature from rising to two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

But Mr Trump did emphasise the importance of preserving the environment. “Together, we can protect our environment, promote access to clean, affordable energy, and deliver a future of opportunity, prosperity, and hope for our nations all over the world,” he told the gathering.

His successor Joe Biden has promised to sign back up to the agreement on his first day in office in January.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said protecting the environment didn’t mean damaging the economy, as he pledged that Japan will aim for net-zero emissions by 2050.

"Addressing climate change is not a constraint on economic growth," said Mr Suga. "We will lead international society in realising a decarbonised world."

China also offered a path to carbon neutrality, saying it was implementing a number of initiatives to reach that goal by 2016.

China’s leader, Xi Jinping said his country supports deepening G20 co-ordination in reducing land degradation, conserving coral reefs, and cleaning up plastic from the ocean.

“Let us work together for a clean and beautiful world,” he said.

Summit attendees also discussed the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on schooling and education.

“No one expected the magnitude of the pandemic nor was prepared” for the pandemic and its impact, “Dr Hamad Mohammed Al Sheikh, Saudi Minister of Education told reporters.

In March, “Saudi Arabia decided “safety should precede presence in schools” and continued building a greater infrastructure for virtual learning with platforms like Madrasati, a virtual e-learning platform and YouTube, he said, adding there were more than 600,000 private students and 1.8 million students from public schools participating in 1.2 daily online classes in the Kingdom.

Mr Al Sheikh stressed the importance G20 countries place on the well-being of their people. He said G20 initiatives that greatly contribute to the pandemic and its future impact were internationalisation, early childhood development and ensuring continuity of education.

When asked when schools in the Kingdom would re-open, Mr Al Sheikh said he could not confirm a date since vaccines have not been tested on younger children. He said virtual learning has created a shift in education and will continue, as “what matters is the outcome”.

The G20 countries have committed their efforts on both addressing the immediate challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic and on ensuring the world is better prepared to deal with future health crises by enhancing pandemic preparedness and response.

In the closing remarks by King Salman, he announced that the Saudi Presidency upheld their commitment to working together to address the challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic in order to safeguard lives and livelihoods and protect the most vulnerable groups.
"We have succeeded in sending out a message of hope and reassurance to our citizens and all people around the world through the Final Communique of this Leaders' Summit. And it is my honour to announce that the G20 members have adopted this communique. This is what the world has been expecting from us. This achievement today is a culmination of our joint efforts throughout this challenge-fraught year."

He said the joint and individual actions will be critical in overcoming the immediate global challenges. Looking forward, through Empowering People, Safeguarding the Planet, and Shaping New Frontiers, Saudi Arabia will work on laying the foundations to achieve the main theme of our Presidency: Realising Opportunities of the 21st Century for All.
King Salman said Saudi Arabia has adopted important policies that will achieve recovery all the way to an economy that is resilient, sustainable, inclusive, and balanced. These policies will also maintain the momentum to make the global trade system work for all, and create the conditions to achieve sustainable growth.
"Now, I have the pleasure to pass the honour and responsibility of the 2021 G20 Presidency to the Italian Republic, wishing them every success. We stand ready to provide support in any way possible," he concluded.