G20 summit showed international climate action really is 'Trump- proof'

| 12th July 2017
In the run up to the G20 summit in Hamburg, tens of thousands demonstrated peacefully for climate action and global justice. Image credit: Daniel Bockwoldt/ G20 Protestwelle
The G19 pro-climate coalition which agreed both an energy and climate action plan and important steps to help reorient private capital flows and business strategies towards a new sustainable direction has been deemed a success by many environmentalists, writes KATRIN RIEGGER (who was present at the conference for the Ecologist). But others say these agreements still do not go far enough and want to see global leaders adopting even more ambitious strategies to cut emissions and achieve the agreed goals of the Paris Agreement
It was the French President Emmanuelle Macron who fought until the last minute for the best language that would demonstrate the willingness to advance climate action that world leaders would eventually commit to

The dust over Hamburg, the venue of this year´s G20 summit, is slowly settling, though it will take a while until the wounds, which uncontrolled riots have made in some parts of the city, will heal. Outside the conference centre, it was burning cars, broken glass and cobblestone-throwing criminals who dominated the news. Inside the conference center it was the chapter on energy and climate, which was the biggest conflict zone among heads of states.

According to insiders, the climate chapter was the most controversial part of the key document, the G20 communiqué, and an agreement was only reached after a long night of negotiations that went right down to the wire. It was the French President Emmanuelle Macron who fought until the last minute for the best language that would demonstrate the willingness to advance climate action that 19 plus one world leaders would eventually commit to.

So: is it in the end a good outcome for climate protection, will the outcome get us closer to keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius and thus preventing mankind from continuing on a course that can only trigger the worst impacts of climate change?

The question cannot be answered without looking at the developments of climate diplomacy over the few months, especially the June announcement of President Trump that he intends withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement. Though he had already expressed his intent to exit from the agreement during the election campaign, the formal announcement still shook the international community.

The Paris Agreement not only reflects the broadest commitment for international climate action, the world has ever seen, it is also a symbol of unprecedented multilateralism to cooperate for the sake of the most vulnerable countries and for the welfare of future generations - and thus a symbol of hope and peace. While leaders from all over the world quickly came out with statements in support of the Paris Agreement, backed by an overwhelming wave of support from civil society and the business community, it still remained unclear, how they would act at the G20 summit, where the German presidency had bravely put the issue high on the agenda.

Taking this difficult political context into account, it is no small achievement by Merkel as this year's G20 chair to have brought about a consensus between the 20 leaders of the largest industrialized countries and emerging economies, which can be spelt out as "agreeing to disagree". With the support of other progressive heads of states, she managed to conserve the unity of the group while clearly isolating Trump´s position on climate in the communiqué. In the text itself this was expressed by dedicating one paragraph in the energy and climate chapter to the US, stating that the G20 leaders "take note of the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from the Paris Agreement". This stands in stark contrast to the following paragraph, where the other nations stressed that the Paris Agreement is "irreversible". The world is going in one direction, irrespective of the US.

It was the French President Emmanuelle Macron who fought until the last minute for the best language that would demonstrate the willingness to advance climate action that world leaders would eventually commit to

Environmental groups are quite aligned in acknowledging the G19 pro-climate coalition as a success. "The world has passed the Trump test on climate", Christoph Bals, Policy Director at the German NGO Germanwatch said. "The G19 held the line today, defending the Paris Agreement against Trump's backward decision to withdraw", said Jennifer Morgan, CEO of Greenpeace International, but finishing the sentence by saying "that is not enough". Environmentalists expected - and will continue to push for - more ambition from the world´s leading economies, which are all in all responsible for about 80% of global GHG emissions.

At least - and this is also perceived as a significant step forward - the G19 agreed on an energy and climate action plan in the annex of the communiqué. It identifies issues that need to be addressed for the implementation of the Paris Agreement and provides a list of G20 action items for future cooperation. In the action plan, G19 leaders committed to the global energy transition by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement. Implicitly, this means that the energy transition will have to lead to net zero GHG emissions in the energy sector until then. Further, the G19 leaders recognized the important role of developing long-term strategies, which should be submitted by 2020 and which should guide national planning and policy making, mainstreaming climate action, and incentivizing investment flows from brown to green and driving technological innovation.

The call for countries "to initiate sharing good practices and experiences on domestic mitigation and adaptation policies, including domestic economic and market-based instruments as well as emission to value approaches" can be seen as setting the agenda on these issues. It should mark the beginning of a G20 process for mutual exchange on carbon pricing - which, given the circumstances - represents a step forward.

In addition, important results were achieved under the finance track - both within the Green Finance Study Group and the business-lead Task Force on Climate related Financial Risk Disclosure, which will help reorient private capital flows and business strategies towards a new sustainable direction.

It is now up to the national leaders to swiftly engineer the implementation of the Paris Agreement and to raise climate ambition. And the recent weeks since Trump's announcement to quit the Paris Agreement have demonstrated: It´s the local governments, the cities and mayors, the people who demand clean air and a healthy environment, but also businesses seeking new opportunities, who are standing strong behind global climate action and are pressuring their governments to do more.

This Author

Katrin Riegger leads the Communications Department of the European Climate Foundation (ECF) in Germany. Prior to this, she worked  for a German environmental organization and as a journalist. Katrin studied at the University of Cologne and at the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, and holds a Masters' degree in Political Science


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