At the G20 meeting in Osaka, Japan, this week, Donald Trump failed in his effort to get several nations to back off their support of the Paris climate accord. If he had succeeded, this likely would have killed the final communiqué usually issued at the end of each G20 meeting. Three senior officials told Politico reporters that Trump had been pressuring Australia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and Turkey to withdraw their support for the G20’s commitment to the 2015 climate accord. It didn’t work. In fact, French President Emmanuel Macron gave notice early on that he would veto the final communiqué if it weakened the G20’s support for the accord.
As it turned out, Trump’s arm-twisting lost out, and the communiqué’s language declares similar support for the accord as it has in the past, with an “agree to disagree” carve-out for the United States in the document like those that have been included since 2017.
Two EU negotiators reportedly argued with U.S. negotiators until 4 a.m. Saturday without making a dent. That only came when the issue was put directly to the top leaders in Osaka, with 19 of them agreeing to stick to the old format. This was given a boost when China supported the EU’s firm stance in the matter.
British Prime Minister Theresa May praised the result, while noting that getting there had not been easy:
Ms May made a strongly worded intervention in the discussion on climate change at Osaka, urging other nations to follow the UK’s lead in legislating for a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
She said: “In recent months we have heard hundreds of thousands of young people urge us—their leaders—to act on climate change before it’s too late.
“I am proud that the UK has now enshrined in law our world-leading net zero commitment to reduce emissions. And I have called on other countries to raise their ambition and embrace this target.”
According to a senior French government official, Macron had spoken directly to the presidents of Turkey and Brazil to counter Trump’s efforts, saying that “no backtracking on the Paris agreement was imaginable.”
“We [the G20] are increasingly disconnected from the rest of the world … Our scientists every day remind us of our duty in matters of climate change and biodiversity, our youth every week in France and many countries remind us of our duty, while we at the G20 continue having debates on whether we can still cite the Paris agreement.”
German Prime Minister Angela Merkel weighed in as well:
“We’ve succeeded after days and nights of negotiations to have again, after all, a 19 to 1 declaration, where the 19 signatory countries of the Paris agreement commit to the same things as we did in Buenos Aires,” Merkel said. “We say that this process is ‘irreversible’ and we say that we have made our commitments [to cut greenhouse gas emissions] and will do a review again in 2020 to see whether we must make new commitments.”
The G20 leaders presumably toned down what they would liked to have said about Trump’s stubborn backwardness. His national and international retreat on dealing with the climate crisis has been one of the most egregiously pernicious hallmarks of his regime, a stance motivated by greed, myopia, and ignorance that deserves constant excoriation and litigation.
Environmental activists have noted that the Paris accord is flawed. But that’s not because it does too much, as Trump would have it, but because it doesn’t do enough.
This was made clear last October when the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change described three scenarios for economic losses from climate change by 2100: $54 trillion at 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming; $69 trillion at 2 degrees; and $551 trillion at 3.7 degrees. For reference, all the wealth in the world is estimated at about $500 trillion. Right now, according to a November 2018 report from the World Meteorological Organization, we’re on a trajectory to hit 3-5 degrees Celsius by century’s end.
The predicted economic tally is grim enough. But those statistics don’t do justice to the toll that will be taken on humans and other species, and will include the destruction of entire ecosystems, including the oceans that cover three-fourths of our planet. Abandoning the Paris accord supported by 195 nations would be the exactly wrong path to take. This is especially so since the agreement contains a self-correcting mechanism designed to improve nations’ pledges to take action to ameliorate and adapt to the impacts of the climate crisis. The smart people at the G20 know that. The dumb one continues on his usual path.