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G20 to focus on climate change despite Trump’s resistance

Participants of the 'G20 Protest Wave' demonstration gather in Hamburg, Germany, Sunday to protest again the upcoming G20 summit on July 7 and July 8.

Markus Scholz/The Associated Press

Group of 20 leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, are expected to endorse new action to battle climate change at their summit in Germany this week over the opposition of U.S. President Donald Trump.

As chair of this year's summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made it clear that she intends to focus on furthering the goals of the Paris climate accord, while Mr. Trump has set in motion the United States' withdrawal from the treaty.

Over the past several weeks, Mr. Trudeau has spoken to several G20 leaders – including Ms. Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After each call, the Prime Minister's Office in Ottawa released a "read-out," in every case reporting that Mr. Trudeau and the other leader had reaffirmed their commitment to the international effort to fight climate change.

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He also spoke to Mr. Trump, but his office gave no indication that climate change was discussed.

As was the case at the recent G7 summit in Italy, the G20 now faces the choice of allowing Mr. Trump to veto any wording that would support the Paris accord, or making that endorsement without him.

"The outcome clearly matters," said Andrew Light, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute in Washington and former State Department official.

"It matters because one of the biggest emitters in the world and one of the parties that was pushing hardest and longest to achieve the Paris accord has announced its intention to withdraw. So in the face of that, you absolutely need a statement of solidarity – a G19 or as close as you can get to a G19 commitment on climate change."

He said a G20 statement would be an important counterpoint to Mr. Trump's dismissal of the issue and his complaint that meeting Paris treaty commitments on climate change would cripple the U.S. economy.

"This is the right forum to say that is a false narrative; it is just not true," Mr. Light said. "And to highlight the fact that there are countries ready to step into the leadership gap on climate change. It's not because they're good guys on climate but because they realize the clean-energy market is absolutely booming now."

On Sunday, some 10,000 anti-globalization activists took to the streets in Hamburg, where the summit will take place.

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Meanwhile, in her weekly podcast, Ms. Merkel said that G20 leaders will have to focus on sustainable and inclusive economic growth rather than their own prosperity.

"If we simply try to carry on as we have in the past, the worldwide developments will definitely not be sustainable and inclusive," she said. "We need the climate-protection agreement, open markets and improved trade agreements in which consumer protection, social and environmental standards are upheld."

Germany is proposing a "G20 action plan on climate and energy for growth" that would see leaders commit to a co-ordinated effort to speed up the transition to a low-carbon energy system in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit the rise in average global temperatures.

"Only an energy system that secures sustainable energy services for all at affordable prices, in line with the objectives of the Paris agreement, can create the basis for the prosperity of future generations," said the draft plan that was released this spring.

In contrast, Mr. Trump spent last week extolling the benefits of coal, oil and natural gas – as well as nuclear power – and proclaimed the goal of "energy dominance" based on growing American exports of those traditional energy sources.

Business leaders around the world will be watching G20 leaders to see whether other countries will backslide in their commitments in response to Mr. Trump's reversal, said Erin Flanagan, federal policy director for Calgary-based Pembina Institute, an environmental organization.

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"So it is an important moment," she said. "It does very much matter what the G19 says on Paris because we are still looking for clarity from the major economies in response to Trump's decision," she said.

Mr. Trudeau – who will be chairing next year's G7 meeting – faces a tough balancing act as he promotes climate action and touts the economic opportunities in the transition to a lower-carbon economy, but faces concerns from existing energy-intensive businesses over competitiveness with the United States.

During the summit, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney will be looking for an endorsement of the task-force report on climate-related financial disclosure, which urged companies and capital market players to adopt a clear and comparable framework for assessing and disclosing the risk and opportunities that climate change poses to their businesses and investments.

The G20 initiated the task force, which was chaired by Bloomberg L.P. founder Michael Bloomberg. Its endorsement would send a strong signal to the private sector – and to capital market regulators – that climate risk should be taken seriously and considered a mainstream financial issue, said Céline Bak, a fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a think tank based in Waterloo, Ont.

"It's important that the G20 acknowledge this work because it mandated it," Ms. Bak said. "Capital markets are global markets and it will slow down everything if there isn't a consensus everyone can point to."

Ms. Bak said the Chinese government is now moving to make disclosure of climate risk mandatory for its publicly traded companies, though the Bloomberg report – which was endorsed by a wide array of corporate leaders and institutional investors – recommended a voluntary approach.

Canadian securities regulators are reviewing the disclosure regime in this country to determine whether companies are reporting "material risks" that arise from climate change and policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

With a report from Reuters

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About the Author
Global Energy Reporter

Shawn McCarthy is an Ottawa-based, national business correspondent for The Globe and Mail, covering a global energy beat. He writes on various aspects of the international energy industry, from oil and gas production and refining, to the development of new technologies, to the business implications of climate-change regulations. More

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