G20 summit shows strain over climate change


Strain over climate change marked the end of the Group of 20 summit in Argentina on Saturday as the United States celebrated what it called a victory for its holdout stance.

A final communique adopted at the summit in Argentina said all other G20 members agreed to implement the “irreversible” Paris Agreement on climate change.

A paragraph in the statement noted, “The United States reiterates its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.”

U.S. officials said they saw growing dissent against the agreement. The “coalition” against the United States on climate change is beginning to fray, a senior White House official said, adding that several countries, including Turkey, Russia and Saudi Arabia, had balked at signing the document before finally backing it.

“We had a paragraph where we specifically preserved and explained our position for why we’re withdrawing from the job-killing Paris Agreement,” the official said on condition of anonymity, repeating President Donald Trump’s denunciations of the accord as bad for U.S. business interests.

“What you’re starting to see is you’re seeing a little bit of the coalition fraying. Countries like Turkey, like Saudi Arabia, like Russia might be second-guessing some of that.”

“I think across the board it was really a resounding success.”

The differences laid bare in Buenos Aires came a day before U.N. climate talks were to get under way in the Polish mining city of Katowice.

The COP24 is seeking to breathe new life into the pact, in which nations agreed to hold global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels, and to strive for a lower limit of 1.5 C if possible.

The climate summit comes at a crucial juncture in mankind’s response to planetary warming. The smaller, poorer nations that will bear its devastating brunt are pushing for richer states to make good on the promises they made in the Paris Agreement.

With only a single degree Celsius of warming so far, the world has already seen a crescendo of deadly wildfires, heat waves and hurricanes made more destructive by rising seas.

Johan Rockstrom, designated director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said the talks are crucial in nailing down how the Paris promises will work in practice.

In Katowice, nations must agree to a rule book palatable to all 183 states that have ratified the Paris deal.

Even solid progress in Katowice on the Paris goals may not be enough to prevent runaway global warming, as a series of major climate reports have outlined.

Just this past week, the U.N.’s environment program said the voluntary national contributions agreed upon in Paris would have to triple if the world is to cap global warming below 2 C. For 1.5 C, they must increase fivefold.

A group of over 90 independent climate scientists said in October that fossil fuel use must be slashed by half in the next 12 years if there is to be any hope of hitting the 1.5-degree target.

While the data are clear, a global political consensus over how to tackle climate change remains elusive.

Outside the United States, which joined the Paris deal under former President Barack Obama, the biggest polluter not to have ratified the 2015 Paris Agreement is Russia, which ranks fifth. Turkey and Iran have also failed to ratify.

A French source close to the negotiations said earlier that “a certain number of countries” were hesitating “to confirm their commitment to the Paris accord, so it was one of the big battles of the night to keep the pack of 19.”

The feud comes despite mounting signs of the impact of climate change, with a major U.S. government report the previous week saying America’s economy could be sliced by 10 percent by the end of the century without major action.

Thomas Bernes, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Canada and a former G20 negotiator, also said that objections from Turkey and the Saudis had contributed to holding up the final communique.

The statement stressed the need to respect different paces of economic development, as developing economies balk at going further on their Paris pledges.

“But in the end, it’s still 19 versus one,” said Bernes.

He said Brazilian far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who will take office on Jan. 1, would be unlikely to help G20 consensus on climate.

Bolsonaro has threatened to follow Trump’s example and withdraw his country from the Paris Agreement.