fb-pixel Skip to main content

Prince Charles warns world leaders at G20 summit about climate change

Britain's Prince Charles arrived at the G20 Summit in Rome on Sunday.AARON CHOWN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

ROME — Prince Charles told world leaders at the G-20 Summit that the global climate conference beginning Sunday in Glasgow was “the last chance saloon” to save the planet.

“We must now translate fine words into still finer actions,” the Duke of Wales said. “The future of humanity and nature herself are at stake.” Charles stressed the importance of bringing the power of the private sector to the task, “who are now more and more anxious to invest in the projects and new technologies that could establish a more rapid transition to sustainability.”

The prince said that the world’s top C.E.O.’s from every sector of the economy, “representing well over 60 trillion dollars of assets under management,” had joined his Sustainable Markets Initiative and are listening to shareholders and consumers “who are now demanding changes in the way businesses behave.”

Advertisement



The heir apparent to the British throne was invited to speak to the world leaders by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi in recognition of his 50 years highlighting the environmental crisis wrought by climate change.

The 72-year-old royal told the G-20 to reflect on their “overwhelming responsibility to generations yet unborn.”

“It is impossible not to hear the despairing voices of young people who see you as the stewards of the planet, holding the viability of their future in your hands,” he said.

Charles’s mother, Queen Elizabeth II, canceled her planned attendance at the climate summit after the 95-year-old monarch was advised to rest by doctors. But appearing along with Charles will be his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; his son Prince William; and his daughter-in-law Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.

Draghi kicked off the second day of the G-20 summit by laying out out the stakes within his first sentences.

“Dear colleagues,” he began his introductory remarks, “the fight against climate change is the defining challenge of our times.”

Advertisement



He said it was time to “act now” by reorganizing economies and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Though the Paris Agreement in 2015 set a target to limit warming to 2 Celsius - while “pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5″ - Draghi said that aiming for the more ambitious of those two targets was still crucial.

“Some of us are asking why we move our goalpost from 2 degrees to 1.5 degrees. Why? Because science says so,” Draghi said.

Scientists have said that limiting warming to the 1.5 Celsius mark, compared to preindustrial levels, is crucial to avoiding many catastrophic consequences of climate change. But a United Nations climate report from August suggested the world could hit the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold in a decade.

“The shift to clean energy is key to achieving the necessary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “We can no longer postpone it.”

The morning session for Sunday was set to focus specifically on the role of the private sector in the fight against climate change, with the idea that any wholesale makeover of the global economy - driven by decarbonization - would also require vast private funding. Later in the day the leaders will also discuss climate change more broadly.

Because G-20 countries account for around 80 percent of global emissions, the summit in Rome has the chance to create or thwart momentum for the conference in COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, where many of the leaders will be traveling next.

Advertisement



President Joe Biden, in a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the G-20 summit on Sunday, expressed “concerns” about Turkey’s acquisition of a sophisticated Russian-made air defense system, the White House said.

The Biden-Erdogan sit-down came amid rising tensions with the U.S. ally over threats to expel diplomats, including the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, and Ankara’s possession of the Russian S-400 missile system.

After the meeting, which lasted for roughly an hour, the White House said in a statement that Biden “underscored his desire to maintain constructive relations, expand areas of cooperation, and manage our disagreements effectively.”

In addition to his concerns about Turkey acquiring the Russian defense system, Biden “also emphasized the importance of strong democratic institutions, respect for human rights, and the rule of law for peace and prosperity” with Erdogan, the White House said.

In a brief photo opportunity ahead of the meeting, Biden declined to comment on the substance of his sit-down, telling reporters: “We’re planning to have a good conversation.”

A senior administration official who previewed the meeting to reporters on Saturday said the threats and the weapons systems would be discussed, in addition to issues related to Syria and Libya. Turkey’s desire to acquire American-made F16s will also be discussed, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss delicate diplomatic conversations.

Erdogan recently threatened to expel 10 ambassadors, including from the United States, France, Canada and the Netherlands, because their embassies signed a letter calling for the release of Osman Kavala, a philanthropist and civil society activist. Erdogan backed off the threat after the embassies released statements committing not to interfere in Turkey’s internal affairs.

Advertisement



The U.S. official said that if Erdogan had followed through, the bilateral meeting would have been in jeopardy. “I’m not actually even sure we would have had the meeting if he had gone ahead and expelled,” the official said.

“Certainly, the president will indicate that we need to find a way to avoid crises like that one going forward,” the official said about the threat. “Precipitous action is not going to benefit the U.S.-Turkey partnership and alliance.”

Erdogan said last week that he expected to meet Biden on the sidelines of the climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, rather than Rome, and that he would discuss issues related to Turkey’s suspension from the international program that builds the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet.

The United States removed Turkey from the program in 2019, after Ankara purchased the Russian air defense system, known as the S-400. Turkey has said it is owed $1.4 billion it paid for F-35s it was later blocked from buying.

Despite the recent tension, Biden and Erdogan were seen speaking several times Saturday. The two men chatted as leaders posed for the “family photo” of G-20 principals. Then they were seen huddling with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson just before the opening session of the summit.

Biden also had a “brief” meeting Saturday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the administration official said. It was an “opportunity” for Biden to speak with Scholz, who is trying to form a government and step in as Merkel’s successor.

Advertisement



Secretary of State Antony Blinken met for an hour Sunday morning with his Chinese counterpart Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, holding what a U.S. official described as a “candid” conversation that touched on tensions over Taiwan, developments in Afghanistan and climate policy.

The U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to reveal the contents of diplomatic talks, charactered the meeting as a “rare, valuable” opportunity to hold a high-level conversation in person. Blinken sought to convey that increased competition with China will require increased diplomacy, the official said. He also conveyed a desire to manage what the U.S. official described as a “intensely competitive” relationship, the official said.

During the meeting Blinken reiterated that U.S. foreign policy toward Taiwan has not changed, making it “crystal clear” that the U.S. continues to abide by a One China policy, according to the U.S. official. America has followed a policy of so-called strategic ambiguity toward the island which the Chinese see as part of their territory. Biden recently injected some uncertainty to whether the policy is changing by answering “yes” when asked if he would vow to protect the country.

The official said the conversation was less contentious that some of the earlier sitdowns between U.S. and Chinese top officials. It was similar in tone to a meeting between National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi held in Zurich in early October, the official said.

The meeting was in part to help plan an upcoming virtual summit between Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jingpin, the official said. Other topics discussed included the U.S. desire for the Chinese to “fulfill its obligations” on climate and help reduce emissions, the official said. They also touched on Burma, Iran and North Korea, the official said.

The diplomats did not discuss the recent Chinese test of a hypersonic missile, the official said.

New Zealand has pledged to reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030, ramping up its green ambitions, its prime minister said in a Sunday announcement ahead of the climate summit in Glasgow.

“As a country surrounded by oceans and an economy reliant on our land we are not immune to the impact of climate change, so it’s critical we pull our weight,” Jacinda Ardern said in a statement.

“New Zealand’s enhanced contribution to the global effort to fight climate change now represents our fair share, and is in line with what’s needed if we are to avoid the worst impacts of global warming on New Zealand,” she added.

New Zealand’s previous target was to bring emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The 2015 Paris agreement, negotiated by almost 200 countries, committed signatories to keeping global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels” and preferably to 1.5 degrees. However, many nations have since struggled to maintain their targets.

New Zealand’s climate minster James Shaw welcomed the news and called this decade “make or break for the planet.” He also said that New Zealand would work with developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region to help them meet their own emissions goals.

However, some climate scientists have been skeptical. “Setting a target is easy. Meeting it is hard,” said Ralph Sims, an emeritus professor of sustainable energy and climate mitigation at New Zealand’s Massey University. Although he and others welcomed the more “ambitious” target, he warned that “the transition to a lower-carbon economy will not be easy.”

- - -

The Washington Post’s William Booth, Kareem Fahim, Adela Suliman and Rachel Pannett contributed to this report.