19 of G-20: Climate pact is ‘irreversible’
HAMBURG, Germany — World leaders struck a compromise Saturday to move forward collectively on climate change without the United States, declaring the Paris accord “irreversible” while acknowledging President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement.
In a final communique at
the conclusion of the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, the nations took “note” of Trump’s decision to abandon the pact and “immediately cease” efforts to enact former President Barack Obama’s pledge of curbing greenhouse-gas emissions 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
But the other 19 members of the group broke explicitly with Trump in their embrace of the international deal, signing off on a detailed policy blueprint outlining how their countries could meet their goals in the pact.
The statement and the adoption of the G-20 Climate and Energy Action Plan for
Growth ended three days of negotiations over how to characterize the world’s response to Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, and it came as this year’s meeting of major world economies laid bare the stark divide between the United States and the rest.
“This is a clear indication that the U.S. has isolated itself on climate change once again, and is falling back while all other major economies step up and compete in the clean energy marketplace created by the Paris agreement estimated to be worth over $20 trillion,” said Andrew Light, a senior climate-change adviser at the State Department under Obama.
Differences between the United States and other nations on climate, trade and migration made for a tricky summit meeting, which unfolded as large protests played out, sometimes turning violent, with several people injured and demonstrators setting fire to cars and looting in the streets of the German city.
“Nothing’s easy,” Trump said of the gathering Saturday as he complimented its host, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who has toiled to bridge the gap between the United States and other nations, for handling the challenge “so professionally.”
Trump’s chief economic adviser later played down tensions between the U.S. and other nations on climate.
Gary Cohn told reporters aboard Air Force One after the summit concluded that while communiques “are never easy,” he thought this one “came together pretty reasonably. He said having “a diversity of opinions in a group of 20” was not unexpected.
“To get 20 of your friends to agree to have dinner tonight is pretty hard,” Cohn said.
Cohn added that while the U.S. obviously has chosen to get out of the Paris agreement, “we do go out of our way to say in there that that doesn’t mean we don’t support the environment and we’re still working for the environment.”
Merkel played a major role in forging compromise language in the communique after France raised objections.
Working overnight, diplomats first agreed on a common text on trade, with a nod toward Trump’s “America First” demands for restrictions on unfair trade, but they had great difficulty on climate, with the Americans demanding a reference to the use of fossil fuels.
President Emmanuel Macron of France said he would continue to press Trump on climate and would hold a follow-up summit meeting in Paris in December to move the climate deal forward.
On trade, the talks preserved the G-20’s condemnation of protectionism, a statement that has been a hallmark of the group’s efforts to combat the global financial crisis and the aftereffects of the last recession.
The group added new elements, however: an acknowledgment that trade must be “reciprocal and mutually advantageous” and that countries could use “legitimate trade defense instruments” if they are being taken advantage of.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said there was “incredible consensus” on the issue and that the U.S. pushed to include the phrasing about “reciprocal” trade.
The wording echoes concerns voiced by Trump, who has said trade must be fair as well as open and must benefit American companies and workers. He has focused on trade relationships where other countries run large surpluses with the U.S., meaning they sell more to U.S. consumers than they buy from American companies.
That’s in contrast to the approach favored by Merkel and the EU, who stress multilateral trade frameworks such as the World Trade Organization.
The climate section takes note of the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Paris accord and says the other countries regard the deal as “irreversible.” Yet it left open the possibility that the United States could someday come back into the pact, specifying that the country is putting the brakes on its “current” emissions pledge.
It then nods toward fossil fuels, saying: “The United States of America states it will endeavor to work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently.”
G-20 agreements are statements of intent and rely on governments themselves to follow through. Still, they set the tone for global policymaking and enable peer pressure when they’re not followed.
John Kirton, co-director of the G-20 Research Group at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, called the summit a “very solid success.” He pointed to broad agreement on the agenda, much of it focusing on less contentious issues such as women’s empowerment and promoting digitalization.
Other deals at the summit included an agreement to press Internet providers to detect and remove extremist content as a way to fight terrorist incitement and recruiting.
Over the long term, the G-20 implements 72 percent of its promises, and has implemented 80 percent of them since last year’s summit in Hangzhou, China, according to Kirton.
Trump, who spent so much time meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday that he delayed meeting the British prime minister, Theresa May, until Saturday, tried to fortify her delicate political fortunes. He said they had had “tremendous talks” on trade and were working on a “very powerful” trade deal for Britain, to be implemented after its planned departure from the European Union, that could be completed “very, very quickly.”
Besides finalizing the communique, G-20 leaders on Saturday attended sessions dedicated to tackling migration and a “partnership with Africa,” digitalization, empowering women and employment.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (left) talks to U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday prior to a working session at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany.