The G20 was more like a meeting of the G19 + 1 as the United States played an exceptionally diminished role. President Trump has a markedly different worldview than his European counterparts, and the rift is particularly pronounced on the issue of climate change. President Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord sent shockwaves around the world. The global community immediately made its anger apparent, using the highly anticipated G20 summit to criticize America’s withdrawal. The resulting standoff between the G19 and the U.S., in which the other 19 nations reaffirmed their commitment to curb carbon emissions and tackle climate change – with or without America.
French President Emmanuel Macron set the increasingly combative tone, snapping at one point that the whole world knew it was a mistake for the U.S. to withdraw from the Paris agreement. “In the end, the negotiations on climate reflect dissent — all against the United States of America,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters following the summit.
For climate activists, the G19’s dedication to address climate change was a relief. In the months leading up to the G20 summit, many expressed concerns that U.S. withdrawal would mean a weaker agreement on climate change. Others worried that nations such as Russia, Turkey or Saudi Arabia might similarly renege on their commitments or be persuaded by U.S. officials to water down their support. Luckily, that did not happen. The climate commitments made in Hamburg are consistent with the Paris Agreement and the guiding principles for future action are listed in the resulting communiqué.
The G-19’s rebuke to the U.S. and staunch defense of the Paris agreement are the big takeaways, but while a crisis was most certainly averted, there are clear political setbacks. The G20 did not draft more ambitious agreements nor did it push for higher aspiring national climate action plans in the final communique. An opportunity was lost to push for tighter emissions reduction targets. Certainly, member states took remarkable initiative on their own: France announced it would ban all diesel and gasoline vehicles by 2040 as part of President Macron’s platform to “make the planet great again.” The French government has stated it will offer financial incentives to its citizens to make the change. Germany, India, the Netherlands, and Norway are also aiming to ban combustion-powered vehicles. But the responsibility to discuss and decide for a broader coalition falls onto the G20, which did not push towards requiring all participating nations to ramp up efforts particularly to curb carbon emissions. As pointed out by leading climate researchers, current formulas in participating nations “only take us about one-third of the way on the emissions reductions we need to be on course for a 2C world. And the world needs 1.5C to be the clear, achievable target limit for temperature rise to be remotely safe, particularly for the poorest countries.”
For most participating nations, the goal of the G20’s efforts on climate was to unequivocally reaffirm commitment to combat the effects of climate change and underscore continued cooperation. While it was a success in this regard, climate change simply cannot be adequately addressed without increased awareness and more ambitious targets. It is in these moments where lack of American vision, leverage, and capable leadership is most keenly felt. This was laid bare for the world to see in Hamburg.
Sana Ali studied International Relations and International Economics at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. She is a freelance journalist with experience covering the diplomacy, national security and identities beats for multiple international outlets. She is currently based in Washington, DC. Her Twitter is @sanaali_
Photo Courtesy of Kremlin.ru