Observers who were hoping for more discussions on the environment, plastic waste, and how to deal with climate change in general during the 2019 G20 Summit were in for some disappointment.
As the two-day summit drew to a close on Saturday, June 29, in Osaka, Japan, United States President Donald Trump — in both the Leaders’ Declaration and a consequent press conference — insisted on carving out an exception from the language in the declaration that the other 19 member countries had earlier agreed on.
General popular opinion had veered towards a more sustainable way of life in recent years, with consensus growing around the goal to reduce single use plastic in particular. It didn’t seem unreasonable to hope for a strong statement on the matter out of the G20.
The Leaders’ Declaration
In closing remarks delivered just before 3.30 P.M. on Saturday, participating countries produced the Leaders’ Declaration, containing points of agreements, such as development and women empowerment. Some of the key, and perhaps most contentious, points were environment and climate change.
The declaration did take into consideration the combined efforts of all countries on development of new technologies and cleaner cities, for example. The wording became relatively vague when it came to discussing the concrete commitment of G20 countries, resorting instead to referencing the terms of the Paris agreement:
To the signatories of the Paris agreement, reaffirm their commitment to its full implementation, reflecting common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.
This therefore marked only a relative step forward, as the signatories to the Paris agreement haven’t yet implemented their “commitments” or agreed on the needs of different countries.
It also pointed at the U.S., which has refused to sign the Paris Agreement.
Winning a Commitment to Reduce Ocean Plastic
The big win for the environment came in a specific clause on ocean plastic in the Leaders’ Declaration.
Calling the initiative the “Osaka Blue Vision,” the parties aimed to “reduce additional pollution by marine plastic litter to zero by 2050 through a comprehensive life-cycle approach that includes reducing the discharge of mismanaged plastic litter by improved waste management and innovative solutions while recognizing the important role of plastics for society.”
‘The Cleanest Waters We’ve ever Had’
The harder sell was an effort to get the U.S. to commit to the Paris climate agreement. Commentators understandably dubbed the G20 language on the Paris agreement G19+1. A total of 196 countries participated in the Paris climate accord negotiations, out of which 186 have become signatories.
In order to reach a leaders’ agreement, a clause was added to the declaration, specifying, “The United States reiterates its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement because it disadvantages American workers and taxpayers.”
This stance was reiterated in the press conference following the G20 summit.
Referring to the other G20 leaders, President Trump explained: “They understand my stance. I am not looking to putting our companies out of business. I am not looking to create a standard that is so high that we will lose 20-25% of our production.”
He also appeared to flat out deny the impacts of climate change. Speaking to a member of the German media, he calmly explained, “We have the cleanest waters we’ve ever had…the cleanest air we’ve ever had.”
President Trump also seemed unimpressed by the idea of sustainable energy. He claimed that, in the first instance, the method itself was ineffective, as “it doesn’t always work with solar, the solar is just not strong enough.”
But also, President Trump seemed to oppose the idea of funding the development of sustainable energy, as he concluded: “Wind for the most part doesn’t work without subsidy. And I don’t want to be subsidizing things that don’t have to be subsidized.”
Macron’s Red Line
Talk of final wording in the Leaders’ Declaration on climate change was brought to the fore by Emmanuel Macron, the French president, who insisted on the endorsement of the Paris accord. He had claimed that the agreement would happen “without France” unless all parties agreed on the accord, and made it clear that the environmental language was “the red line” of the negotiations.
Macron led on environmental issues in the G20 discussions, which might have left commentators wondering why he agreed to proceed with such weak prospects. “We avoided going backwards…but we must go much further,” Macron said in Japan after the meetings.
The 2015 Paris accord agreed to limit the global rise in temperatures to below 2 degrees Centigrade this century. However, a 2018 United Nations report says that temperatures are set to rise by 3-5 degrees by the end of 2100.
It therefore remains to be seen whether the vague language and refusal of the top economy in the world to commit to the Paris terms will stand in the way of progress on the increasingly critical topic of climate change.
The G20 Summit in Osaka officially drew to a close with the announcement that the next G20 will be hosted by Saudi Arabia.
Author: Arielle Busetto