The outcome of the 2017 G20 summit raised criticism and approval. Not everything has been achieved, but the worse has been avoided.
What is most needed now is a set of clear and effective policies to bring implementation.
In Hamburg, on July 7-8, while massive protests and riots hit the streets, world leaders met for the G20 summit.
As usual, the agenda was broad, including a variety of topics as international trade, development policy, labour market and employment policy, the spread of digital technology and, topically, counter-terrorism. Among the themes discussed, climate change certainly was a hot topic, especially given the recent decision of the U.S. administration to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Given Merkel’s long-term engagement in emission cuts expectations were high with regard to the possible results that the German G20 Presidency, started on December the 1st 2016, could have achieved on climate change.
Less than expected, more than expected
In the final G20 communiqué the group strongly states its commitment in greenhouse gas emissions mitigation through increased innovation on sustainable and clean energies along with energy efficiency. The document also stresses the willingness of the countries to cooperate closely to achieve these goals and the fundamental role of Multilateral Development Banks in facilitating sustainable energy access.
Despite international disfavour, the United States stuck to its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. In this context the U.S. administration still stressed its willingness to implement an approach capable of decreasing emissions, but only to the extent it is compatible with the primary goals of economic growth and energy security.
The outcome of the discussion and negotiation on climate change in Hamburg raised mixed reactions.
On the one hand some observers were expecting Merkel to make the Trump’s administration second-guessing its own decision to withdraw from the COP21 accords. The influential role of the German Chancellor and her engagement in climate change oriented policies kept the expectations very high and the critics defined the outcome of the G20 as a failure, as Merkel – along with the other countries – did not manage to make the US stick to the group’s decision.
On the other hand, many regarded the G20 as a success concerning climate change.
The main concern was that other countries could have decided to withdraw from the Paris accords, thus following the U.S. Some of the G20 members are not known for being very proactive in addressing climate change, as for example Saudi Arabia. Because of easily understandable motives, Saudi Arabia – besides the recent changes in its domestic energy policies – never made any concessions during IPCC sessions and strongly opposed every single piece of statement linking climate change to fossil fuels production.
Not only the remaining 19 states decided not to follow the U.S., but also defined the Paris Agreement as irreversible and stated their willingness to move towards full implementation.
The G20 summit has not reversed the U.S. decision, but nor it did change the mind of the rest of the group, proving how solid is their willingness to really address climate change.
The climate and energy action plan agreed by the group lists some essential elements such as international cooperation in facilitating the energy transition, the importance of eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, and of aligning financial flows with the goals of the Paris Agreement to allow infrastructure modernization.
However, once again, as in Paris, the declaration of the objectives has not being coupled with the concrete policies that are needed to bring implementation.
Leaving the U.S. isolated in its decision has been a strong signal of commitment. However, the group should design concrete policies to go beyond the declaration of intent and make significant steps forward in addressing climate change.