World leaders voice ‘dissent’ against U.S. climate position

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E News • Posted: Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Nineteen countries with major economies reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement over the weekend, highlighting U.S. isolation a month after President Trump pulled the United States out of the deal.

In the official communiqué and a separate action plan adopted Saturday at the close of the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, leaders made it clear that America stands alone in rejecting emissions commitments and in promoting fossil fuels as a remedy for energy poverty abroad.

“In the end, the negotiations on climate reflect dissent — all against the United States of America,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel, president of the summit, told reporters Saturday.

“I deplore this,” she said of Trump’s decision to leave the Paris accord.

Saturday’s statement was the product of extended negotiations by staff and two days of leader-level talks, though Trump missed most of the climate and energy discussions Friday to meet bilaterally with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The final language did less to “gloss over” the differences on climate between the United States and the rest of the world than American negotiators had sought, Merkel said. Trump’s team brought proposed text to Hamburg calling for leaders to “take note” that “the United States of America will endeavor to work closely with other partners to improve their access to and use of fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently.”

But that didn’t pass muster with French President Emmanuel Macron and his team. The French were tasked with negotiating the final climate language with the United States, and Macron viewed America’s promotion of fossil fuel use as antithetical to the goals of the Paris Agreement.

In the end, all mention of working with “partners” to deploy high-carbon fuels was dropped from the text, and the passage starts by saying, “The United States of America states” the benefits of expanded oil and gas use. It was a clear denunciation of the Trump administration’s position.

Also gone is language offered by the United States that seemed to leave open the door for a Paris renegotiation. The United States wanted to express support for a “global approach” on climate change, but that was judged to sound too much like the new climate deal Trump referenced in his June 1 Rose Garden speech withdrawing from Paris. Trump indicated at the time that he was open to replacing the deal approved by 195 countries two years ago. Leaders worldwide have rejected that notion.

Instead, the “G-19” calls Paris “irreversible” in a section of the G-20 communiqué that excludes the United States.

Some even saw hints that the pro-Paris faction of Trump’s White House staff might have used the G-20 summit to signal a return to Paris with a weaker emissions reduction commitment.

“The United States of America announced it will immediately cease the implementation of its current nationally-determined contribution,” the communiqué states.

The word “current” could indicate that Trump might offer new emissions goals to replace those put in place by President Obama. A few observers say that could be a path by which Trump might try to remain in the global pact. Obama established that the United States would cut emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025 compared with 2005 levels.

World to ‘move on’

White House National Security Council climate adviser George David Banks championed the idea of changing the commitment before Trump made his decision on Paris. Banks and several other proponents of staying in the pact were present at the weekend meeting — including National Economic Council head Gary Cohn and Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump.

President Trump did sign onto language in the joint communiqué that touts the importance of clean energy and endorses the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which include combating climate change.

It was not a top priority of foreign leaders to engage Trump on Paris at the G-20, as it had been at the Group of Seven summit in May, where Merkel, Macron and others took turns imploring Trump not to leave Paris.

“I think what’s really good about the G-20 outcome is that the rest of the world said, ‘OK, deal with your internal problems. We’re going to move on,'” said Andrew Light, a distinguished senior fellow at the World Resources Institute.

Climate advocates celebrated the result, which saw 19 countries on all sides of the climate question present a united front, endorsing not only the communiqué but also the 13-page “Hamburg Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth.” Trump did not support it. That plan backed the long-term goal of keeping warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, with agreements on multinational development banks, energy infrastructure investment and other issues.

Merkel got much of the credit.

“She held together the 19 very well, very skillfully,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Advocates worried before the summit that a few countries might use the U.S. defection as an excuse to peel off, but none did.

“All these countries we were worried about — Indonesia, Turkey, Russia, Saudi Arabia — whatever they were doing in the room, it didn’t wind up with anything other than the strongest possible outcome you could see after the U.S. had pulled out of the Paris Agreement,” said Light. “I could not have imagined a stronger outcome than this one.”

That punctuated the isolationist perch of the United States.

“G-20 leaders were successful in isolating the U.S. position, reinforcing the centrality of the Paris agreement, and making clear that no other nations have any intention to leave it,” said Paul Bledsoe, a senior fellow on energy at the Progressive Policy Institute. “This creates an effective global firewall from the U.S. position.”

The G-19 section of the communiqué also renewed commitments to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer countries cope with climate change. With the United States expected to provide no further climate aid, Macron announced Saturday that he would host a meeting in December to chart a way forward. It will be held in Paris, two years after the global agreement was approved.

The White House, meanwhile, moved to minimize the G-20’s climate dispute.

“Look, there’s a debate on climate,” Cohn told reporters on the flight back from the summit aboard Air Force One. But he suggested the differences were small, even with the staunchest Paris allies.

“So the president clearly believes in the environment,” said Cohn. “You know, Macron and the president have somewhat different views on how to achieve the end goal, but I think the end goal is the same. And they were debating how to achieve the end goal.”