U.S. goes own way on climate at G20 summit
Only nation that refused to reaffirm commitment to the Paris accord
BUENOS AIRES— Leaders of the world’s top economies agreed Saturday to repair the global trading system as they closed a Group of 20 summit that saw the Trump administration at odds with many allies over the Paris accord on climate change and issues like migration.
The joint statement signed by all 20 member nations said19 of them reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris climate accord, with the United States, which withdrew from the pact under President Donald Trump, the lone holdout. The official communique acknowledged flaws in global commerce and called for reforming the World Trade Organization, but it didn’t mention the word “protectionism” after negotiators said that had met resistance from the United States.
Applause broke out in the convention centre hall as the leaders, including Trump, signed off on the statement at the end of the two-day summit in the Argentine capital.
The non-binding agreement was reached after marathon talks by diplomats stretched overnight and into daylight, amid deep divisions between member nations. European Union officials said the United States was the main holdout on nearly every issue. Trump has criticized the WTO and taken aggressive trade policies targeting China and the EU.
But China also pushed back in talks on steel, South Africa objected to language on trade, Australia didn’t want the statement to be too soft on migra- tion and Turkey worried it would push too far on climate change.
A senior White House official said the joint statement meets many U.S . objectives and stressed that it includes language about WTO reform. The official also noted other elements, such as language on workforce development and women’s economic development and a commitment by China to doing infrastructure financing on “transparent terms.”
According to the official, the unusual language on climate was necessary for Washington to sign on, and Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Russia had appeared sympathetic to the U.S. position but ultimately stayed with the other countries.
The final language of the statement says, regarding climate, that 19 nations that are signatories to the Paris accord reiterate their commitment to it while the U.S. reiterates its decision to withdraw. It also notes a recent UN report that warned damage from global warming will be much worse than previously feared and expresses support for an upcoming UN climate meeting in Poland meant to nail down how countries will meet promises made in the Paris accord. On global commerce, the statement says the 20 countries support multilateral trade, but acknowledge that the current system doesn’t work and needs fixing via “the necessary reform of the WTO to improve its functioning.”
On migration, European officials said the U.S. negotiator said too much talk about it would have been a “deal-breaker” for Trump. So they came up with “minimalist” language that acknowledges growing migrant flows and the importance of shared efforts to support refugees and solve the problems that drive them to flee.
The statement also shows a commitment to a “rules-based international order,” despite Trump’s rejection of many of those rules.
French President Emmanuel Macron called it a victory that the U.S. signed on to the statement at all, given the tensions going into the talks. “With Trump, we reached an agree- ment,” Macron said. “The U.S. accepted a text.”
Thomas Bernes of the Canada-based Centre for International Governance Innovation, who has held leading roles with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Canadian government, said the G20 had “veered all over the road” at the summit and failed to truly fix trade.
“Instead, leaders buried their differences in obscure language and dropped language to fight protectionism, which had been included in every G20 communique since the leaders’ first summit,” he said. “This is clearly a retrograde step forced by United States intransigence.”
The summit statement’s language on climate was welcomed by environmental groups, such as the World Wildlife Forum and Greenpeace, the latter of which said in a statement: “The necessity of the U.S. being part of the effort to fight climate change cannot be denied, but this is a demonstration that the U.S. is still the odd one out.”
While a statement isn’t legally enforceable, the Europeans see it as proof that the G20 is still relevant.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a news conference that he directly pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin about actions that resulted in the Russian seizure of three Ukrainian naval vessels near Crimea — a message that top Ukrainian officials wanted Trudeau to relay.
Trudeau said he told Putin of the need to release imprisoned Ukrainian sailors during a meeting of world leaders on Friday, but there wasn’t an opportunity for Putin to respond to the remarks.
“For me, it is obvious that this is an issue that concerns not just Canada, but a number of our NATO allies. We are all very much hoping that there will be de-escalation and a release of those prisoners.”
Trudeau also indicated that he spoke directly with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince on the sidelines of a dinner offered by Argentina that was held on Friday night.
Trudeau said he also brought up the need for better answers on the killing of journalist Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the ongoing imprisonment of Raif Badawi, as well as the need for an immediate ceasefire and humanitarian aid in Yemen.