Climate action and geopolitical manoeuvring are likely to dominate the conversation among G20 leaders meeting in Hamburg, Germany July 7-8. The big question: how far will Donald Trump’s presence disrupt the priorities of other leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies?
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will chair the summit, “has made it clear that she intends to focus on furthering the goals of the Paris climate accord, while Mr. Trump has set in motion the United States’ withdrawal from the treaty,” the Globe and Mail observes.
Germany wants to see other leaders “commit to a coordinated effort to speed up the transition to a low-carbon energy system, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit the rise in average global temperatures,” an initiative Trump is expected to oppose.
The summit will command global attention, the Globe asserts, as business and political leaders watch for any sign of backsliding on Paris commitments among other G20 members. “It is an important moment,” commented Erin Flanagan, federal policy director for the Pembina Institute. “It does very much matter what the ‘G19’ says on Paris, because we are still looking for clarity from the major economies in response to Trump’s decision” to have the United States withdraw from the accord.
Andrew Light, a fellow at the World Resources Institute in Washington, agreed: “It matters, because one of the biggest emitters in the world, and one of the parties that was pushing hardest and longest to achieve the Paris accord, has announced its intention to withdraw. So in the face of that, you absolutely need a statement of solidarity—a ‘G19’, or as close as you can get to a G19, commitment on climate change.”
According to the Globe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has thrown his weight firmly behind that goal. “Over the past several weeks, Mr. Trudeau has spoken to several G20 leaders—including Ms. Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” the outlet reports. “After each call, the Prime Minister’s Office in Ottawa released a ‘readout,’ in every case reporting that Mr. Trudeau and the other leader had reaffirmed their commitment to the international effort to fight climate change.”
For her part Merkel, speaking in a weekly podcast, urged the G20 leaders to focus on inclusive and sustainable common growth rather than their own prosperity—a clear shot at Trump’s America First mantra. “If we simply try to carry on as we have in the past, the worldwide developments will definitely not be sustainable and inclusive,” she said. “We need the climate protection agreement, open markets, and improved trade agreements in which consumer protection, social, and environmental standards are upheld.”
Nonetheless, there were fears in the climate action community that the Trump administration had already intervened to water down a German draft of a summit communiqué, redefining “clean technologies” to include natural gas and even some coal generation, and removing references to a 2025 deadline for eliminating fossil fuel subsidies.
Another initiative the Americans may now resist would create “a clear and comparable framework for assessing and disclosing the risk that climate change poses to businesses and investments.” That measure, specifically requested by an earlier G20 summit, has been in the charge of Bank of England (and former Bank of Canada) Governor Mark Carney. Its endorsement in Hamburg “would send a strong signal to the private sector—and to capital market regulators—that climate risk should be taken seriously,” Céline Bak, a fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, ON, told the Globe.
In the lead-up to the G20 a report sponsored by the World Bank and a dozen environmental and research organizations stressed that “G20 countries account for 85% of global GDP and 80% of worldwide CO2 emissions.”
But while those nations “have made big efforts to reduce their impact on climate,” the Brown to Green report noted, “present efforts are neither sufficient in speed—nor in depth—to keep global warming to the limit set in the Paris Agreement [of] holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C.”
As the G20 leaders travelled to Hamburg, however, their divergent priorities were already obvious. Reuters reports that Trump planned a pre-summit visit to Warsaw, where he intended to offer American liquid natural gas shipments to eastern European nations to help reduce their politically-charged reliance on gas imported from Russia.
The same news agency reported elsewhere on “an awkward embrace” between Germany’s Merkel and China’s President Xi Jinping, as the two met before the main summit. Both leaders, and their nations, have shown ambitions to fill the vacuum in global leadership—on trade as well as on climate—left by the United States’ retreat into isolationism under Trump.