Paris deal is “irreversible” for G20 leaders, except for US

At the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, leaders of the 20 major economies have expressed their commitment to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and to work towards low GHG emission energy systems. However, according to the leaders’ declaration, the head of states and government “take note of the decision of the [US] to withdraw from the Paris Agreement” and the 19 remaining G20 members called the Paris Agreement “irreversible” and reaffirmed their “strong commitment to the Paris Agreement”, thus formalizing the isolation of Donald Trump on climate change.

The highest representatives of 19 countries and the European Union have met on July 7 and 8 with several guest countries and representatives of key international institutions (see here for an overview of the members and guests) to discuss issues of global relevance. The G20 represent around two thirds of global population and 85 percent of global economic output in terms of GDP as well as more than 80 percent of current GHG emissions and 99 percent of historic CO2 emissions. At the edges of the summit, there have been many peaceful demonstrations levelling criticism against the G20 and also violent protests.

Topics addressed at the meeting included the stabilisation of the world economy and financial markets, geopolitical conflicts, terrorism, migration and refugee flow, poverty, hunger and pandemics as well as climate change. However, it left also space for bilateral discussions, such as the long-awaited first meeting between US president Trump and Russian president Putin. The importance of such meetings was emphasised by the reach of a cease-fire agreement for Syria. The agenda consisted of three pillars, namely “Building of Resilience”, “Improving Sustainability” and “Assuming Responsibility”.

Thus, the leaders’ declaration is structured along the three pillars including another chapter on “Sharing the Benefits of globalisation”, with strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth as highest priority. The first and second chapter had been controversial with respect to the contents on trade and the regulations of the international financial market. There had been concerns of a stalemate due to Trump’s protectionist trade positions and the US president’s executive orders relaxing regulations on the financial market. However, a compromise was found especially with respect to the former, highlighting the commitment to “keep markets open” and “to fight protectionism” but at the same time addressing excess capacities, such as in the steel sector, and recognising “legitimate trade defence instruments”.

The chapter on “Assuming Responsibilities” focuses to a large extent on the partnership with Africa and the issue of displacement and migration. The section on “Improving Sustainable Livelihoods” relates inter alia to resource efficiency and marine litter, food security and sustainable development. Moreover, it represents the part of the document that covers climate and energy.

In there, it is also underscored that the US will continue “to work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently and help deploy renewable and other clean energy sources”. The focus on fossil fuel cooperation further indicates the stand-alone position of the US. In contrast, the other 19 members of the G20 emphasised their intention to move “swiftly” towards the implementation of the Paris Agreement and agreed to the “G20 Hamburg Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth”, representing the most detailed document on climate change from the G20 so far.

The consensus of the other 19 members of the G20 is to a certain extent remarkable, as opposition to the climate section was not only expected from the US but also from several other states. For instance, Saudi Arabia has been anticipated to support the US, not only due to its status of large oil exporter but also due to its close relationship with the US in the Qatar crisis. Moreover, Russia and Turkey have been reported to be hesitant in expressing their firm commitment to the Paris Agreement – two countries, which have diplomatic tensions with the G20 host Germany. However, Turkish President Erdogan said in a press conference after the G20 summit that Turkey would be inclined not to ratify the Paris Agreement unless it is granted access to climate finance.

The G20 leaders’ declaration mirrors to a certain extent the final communiqué of the meeting of the G7 environment ministers in June in Italy, in which a footnote indicated the US refusal to back the sections on climate change and on Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs). At the meeting of the G7 leaders in May, Trump had not yet taken the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which was why the G7 Leaders’ Communiqué acknowledged the review of climate change policies in the U.S. Nevertheless, the other six countries stressed the significance of the Paris Agreement and reaffirmed their commitment in the final document.

An issue that is not covered in the G20 leaders’ declaration of Hamburg, but was included many times before since the summit in Pittsburgh, US, in 2009, is the phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies. As Climate Home reported, a draft version in March included this topic, mentioning a deadline of 2025 (while the final G20 communiqué does not indicate any target year for the phase-out). The draft included also language on carbon pricing and commitments to publish mid-century decarbonisation plans, as demanded in the Paris Agreement, by 2018.

However, the G20 Hamburg Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth (on which the US reserved its position) restates the commitment to phase-out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. The action plan addresses several topics, such as the urgency of pre-2020 climate action and the ratification of the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol. Moreover, collaboration is strived for with respect to the implementation of nationally-determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement as well as research and development efforts on sustainable and clean energy technologies. According to the document, energy efficiency shall be promoted in accordance with the sustainable development goals (SDGs); renewable energies and other sustainable energy sources (including natural gas) scaled up in power generation and energy-end-use sectors alike. The enhancement of climate resilience and adaptation efforts is put on an equal level, which includes the adoption of a “Global Partnership for Climate and Disaster Risk Finance and Insurance Solutions”. Developing countries shall be supported in providing access to sustainable energy for all, for instance through aligned financial flows. For this purpose, the governments of the “G19” strive to build an enabling environment for respective investments, referring as well to climate-related disclosure and green finance.

Overall, the G20 summit has delivered what has been in reach with respect to climate and energy. However, this can only partially mask the disagreement on issues that have been much higher on the agenda in the past years, such as the phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies or green finance, which was pushed by the Chinese G20 presidency during the 2016 summit.


Source of image: Bundesregierung/Güngör.