G20 leaders' statement on climate change highlights rift with US

Joint statement points to US decision to withdraw from Paris agreement while other G20 countries see accord as ‘irreversible’

World leaders have made clear the US’s isolated stance on climate change, with 19 of the G20 countries affirming their commitment to the “irreversible” Paris climate agreement.

After lengthy negotiations that stretched well into Saturday, the final joint statement from the meeting in Hamburg notes Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris deal while stating that the world’s other major economies all still support the international effort to slow dangerous global warming.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said on Saturday she “deplored” the US exit from the agreement and added that she did not share the view of Theresa May, the British prime minister, that Washington could decide to rejoin the pact.

“I think it’s very clear that we could not reach consensus, but the differences were not papered over, they were clearly stated,” Merkel told reporters at the end of the two-day meeting. “It’s absolutely clear it is not a common position.”

The communique reads: “We take note of the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from the Paris agreement,” adding: “The leaders of the other G20 members state that the Paris agreement is irreversible” and “we reaffirm our strong commitment to the Paris agreement”.

The US did successfully manage to insert text referencing fossil fuels which read: “The United States of America states it will endeavour to work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently.”

World leaders meeting in Hamburg managed to agree almost every aspect of the statement, including the potentially contentious issue of trade, but the final text was held up by the US’s contrarian approach to climate change.

In June, Trump, who has enthusiastically touted coal and oil extraction, announced his country’s exit from the Paris agreement, which aims to avoid dangerous global warming of more than 2C (3.6F) compared to the pre-industrial period.

The strongest proponents of the climate deal, including Merkel and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, have attempted to shore up support for the Paris deal among countries following Trump’s decision to exit the agreement. Saudi Arabia and Indonesia were reportedly considering watering down their commitment to the deal but they ended up reiterating their support at the G20 summit.

The final communique was accompanied by an agreed climate and energy plan that supports the key planks of the Paris agreement and sets goals to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and shift countries towards “affordable, reliable, sustainable and low greenhouse gas emission energy systems as soon as feasible”.

A lengthy notice period means that the US withdrawal from the Paris agreement will not take place until November 2020. The US will become the only country in the world not signed up to the landmark 2015 deal other than Nicaragua, which complained that it wasn’t strong enough, and Syria, currently mired in a bloody civil war.

Trump’s administration has sought to unravel domestic climate policies by dismantling the clean power plan, which would slash emissions from coal-fired power plants, halting new emissions standards for cars and trucks and opening up new areas of public lands and oceans to mining and drilling.

Climate change has been one of the animating causes for protesters who have clashed with police in Hamburg, resulting in more than 100 arrests. On Friday, Greenpeace erected a giant effigy of Trump, dressed in a diaper and soiling himself with oil on the globe, on the river Elbe.

Other environmental groups were more optimistic, noting that almost all of the world’s major powers were broadly behind the transition to low-carbon energy and ameliorating the impacts of climate change.

“In the end, it was a landslide victory for countries voicing support for global climate action,” said Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute. “Chancellor Merkel demonstrated deft leadership in rallying 19 of the world’s largest economies to deliver an unmistakable message behind climate action.

“The direction of travel toward clean energy is loud and clear. The question remains how quickly the world will surge forward and how far behind the Trump administration will let the United States fall.”

Mohamed Adow, international climate lead at Christian Aid, said: “The US president’s weak attempts to capsize the climate movement have failed: he is now marooned on a political island of his own making, with his head buried in the sand. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is moving ahead.”


Oliver Milman

The GuardianTramp

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