G20, Paris raises the stakes on Climate Change

G20, Paris raises the stakes on Climate Change

Nicoló Sartori | Senior Fellow and Head of the Energy program at the IAI
In Hamburg, the world's leading nations, apart from the USA, confirmed the anti-climate change commitments signed at COP21 in Paris, and President Macron invited everyone to Paris next December for a new summit to establish the agreement's financial dimensions

While the June announcement by the United States that it was pulling out of the Treaty of Paris caused vehement reactions worldwide, the result of the Hamburg G-20 decisively certified the distance between President Donald Trump’s America and the rest of the international community on climate and sustainability issues. Washington’s choice has since been digested by the other 19 states, whose actions – in the light of the emphasis placed on the subject during the summit – seem unlikely to lose conviction. On the contrary, they reveal the emergence of new international players ready to assume global leadership and reap the political and economic opportunities offered by the fight against climate change.

On December 12 2017, exactly two years after COP21's signature of the Paris Agreement, the French capital will play host to a new summit to discuss the planet's climatic destiny

G-20 statistics

G-20 members contribute almost 80% of global CO2 emissions, with China (29%) and the USA (16%) leading the way – in a negative sense – in the national emissions rankings. The same nations also account for 93% of world coal consumption – thanks mainly to China’s electricity demand – and 75% of world oil consumption, where the American transport system weighs particularly heavily. At the same time, however, the G-20 countries also exert a virtuous impact on international climate policies through their leading role in renewable energy production: 93% of global solar energy and 98% of global wind energy come from installations in the twenty countries gathered in Germany last weekend. This statistics show why the G-20 – ideally, at any rate – is a vital forum for tackling climate change and energy transition issues. This potential raised strong expectations ahead of the Hamburg summit, despite the awareness that the reactionary positions of the Trump presidency – possibly supported by climate skeptics like Saudi Arabia, Russia and Turkey – could well have put a huge damper on global multilateral action.

American isolation

Effectively, Donald Trump’s histrionics were well to the fore even on the banks of the Elbe. As emerges clearly from the final Declaration, in Germany the United States confirmed its intention to pull out of the Treaty of Paris, even succeeding in inserting in the text a curious reference to the “clean” and effective use of combustible fossil fuels. Washington, in other words, confirms its refusal to participate in multilateral cooperation mechanisms, making a U-turn in the opposite direction to the rest of the group, and effectively isolating itself from the others. In this context – even if their Russian and Saudi Arabian colleagues probably applauded the Americans – credit must be given to the German presidency for having succeeded in keeping all the other nations on-board, obtaining (despite the heterogeneous interests of individual states) a clear commitment to continue on the road established at COP21. The Paris Agreement, therefore, whether the White House likes it or not, will continue to stand as a milestone in the international campaign against climate change. Despite Trump’s attempts to derail its future, it will continue to represent the starting point for all new multilateral initiatives... including the measures contained in the “G20 Hamburg Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth” which, while acknowledging America’s choices, sets out a series of priorities and connected actions for group members in terms of energy, climate and sustainable development.

French leadership?

France was particularly active at the summit, proposing a first concrete initiative to reinforce international action on the climate... despite America’s defection. President Emmanuel Macron seized the opportunity to position his country in the front line regarding one of the most important – and most symbolic – elements of current international debate. The youthful inhabitant of the Eliseo Palace has placed notable emphasis on climate issues since his first speech as head of state. He confirmed his commitment to this subject by naming Nicolas Hulot as Minister for Ecological Transition (a macronian mutation of ‘Minister for Energy)’... effectively raising the stakes after the fracture created by Trump. On December 12 2017, exactly two years after COP21’s signature of the Paris Agreement, the French capital will play host to a new summit to discuss the planet’s climatic destiny. In the attempt to “make our planet great again” – a motto coined by Macron as an ironic snub to Trump after his announcement on pulling out of the COP21 declaration – the new French President will focus the international community on the key aspect of the financial dimension of implementing the Paris Agreement, which has become an even more thorny problem in the absence of the US financial guarantees offered in the Obama era. Now, acknowledging once and for all America’s withdrawal from the mechanisms of multilateral cooperation, it will be up to the actors remaining in the field to transform the joint declarations of recent months into concrete actions. Much is hoped for from China, “the elephant in the room” in terms of global climate policies, big enough to shift consensus on its own but in need of credible support from the EU (awakened by French activism) in order to confront the vacuum – still acutely problematic – created by Washington.