British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Friday that world leaders must step up their fight against climate change, saying global civilization could collapse as quickly as the ancient Roman Empire unless more was done.
Speaking just hours before the start of a two-day meeting of leaders of the Group of 20 major economies in Italy, Johnson said future generations risk hunger, conflict and mass migration if progress is not made in tackling climate change.
“There is absolutely no doubt that this is a reality we must face,” he told reporters as he headed to Rome for the G20 summit, warning that living conditions could deteriorate rapidly without collective change of course.
“You’ve seen it with the decline and fall of the Roman Empire and I’m afraid to say it’s true today.”
This is the first time in two years that most G20 leaders feel able to have face-to-face discussions as the Covid-19 pandemic begins to recede in many countries.
The health crisis and economic recovery are firmly on the agenda, but the liveliest and most difficult debate will focus on how far leaders want to go in cutting greenhouse gases and in helping poor countries cope with global warming.
The G-20 bloc, which includes Brazil, China, India, Germany and the United States, accounts for more than 80% of the world’s GDP, 60% of its population, and an estimated 80% of its carbon emissions.
Several leaders in Rome, including US President Joe Biden, will then travel directly to Scotland for the United Nations climate summit. Known as COP26, it is seen as vital to addressing the threat of rising temperatures and consequences such as rising sea levels, more powerful storms, worse flooding in some areas, and worse droughts in others.
“On the eve of the COP26 conference in Glasgow, all roads to success pass through Rome,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters on Friday.
The missing leaders
However, expectations of significant progress have been dashed by the decision of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian Vladimir Putin to stay at home, unlike the vast majority of their counterparts, and to attend only via video link.
Biden’s hopes of showing that his country is now at the forefront of the fight against global warming waned after he failed to persuade fellow Democrats this week to unite behind a $1.85 trillion economic and environmental spending package.
Draft final statement read Reuters He said G20 leaders would pledge to take urgent steps to reach the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), without making legally binding pledges.
Discussions on the first day, which will take place in a futuristic conference center called The Cloud, will focus on the global economy and pandemic response.
Concerns about rising energy prices and stretching supply chains will be addressed. Leaders were expected to approve plans to vaccinate 70% of the world’s population against COVID-19 by mid-2022 and establish a task force to combat future pandemics.
“We hope that we can lay the groundwork for more countries to ensure that vaccines are distributed more widely,” German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told reporters on Friday after a joint meeting of G20 health and finance ministers.
“This is a global crisis that requires global solutions.”
Much diplomacy was also expected on the sidelines, with several bilateral meetings planned, while the leaders of the United States, Britain, Germany and France were due to hold four-way talks on Iran.
Rome was put on heightened security alert, with up to 6,000 police and about 500 soldiers deployed to maintain order.
Two protest demonstrations were allowed during the day, but protesters would stay away from the summit center, located in a suburb built by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in the 20th century.