G20 summit: Hopes of climate action dashed

Image copyright AFP Image caption Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin came to terms with the summit’s ‘focus’ on climate change The G20 summit was supposed to lay down a new direction for the world…

G20 summit: Hopes of climate action dashed

Image copyright AFP Image caption Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin came to terms with the summit’s ‘focus’ on climate change

The G20 summit was supposed to lay down a new direction for the world after years of arguing over climate change.

Instead it disappointed and fell short of expectations.

Many observers saw the summits, which ended in Buenos Aires on Friday, as a halfway house between two extremes: either a continuation of the previous administrations’ reluctance to confront the climate change crisis, or a long-term, sweeping climate change strategy.

No-one was expecting a breakthrough because Donald Trump had used his presidency to pull the US out of the Paris accord, but some optimists hoped to reach consensus by extracting concessions from the country.

The environmentalists’ basic demands were met. Presidents Trump and Vladimir Putin agreed the fight against climate change was a shared global challenge, and both countries said they would strive to stabilise carbon emissions around 2050, a move Mr Trump called “modest”.

Image copyright EPA Image caption The environmental movement was dismayed by its failure to secure a deal

But on the hardest questions of how to implement the Paris agreement, notably finance for climate-vulnerable countries, disagreements remained and gaps remained.

A transition to carbon neutral societies in 2030 became a political issue, a position rejected by Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

And African countries were left disheartened by the lack of influence they had after being overlooked when world leaders signed off on a report on the transition.

All this underlines the need for a stronger accord following the COP24 talks in Katowice in December, when the countries agreed to formally adopt the Paris agreement by 2030.

Image copyright AFP

Many said the Buenos Aires summit was a launchpad for that new agreement, with reports emerging from the venue that major countries, such as China and India, were in favour of some form of legally binding deal.

That might have succeeded in making the declarations of the two-day G20 summit a stepping stone in getting more countries to do more, but failed to produce a real high-level political solution to global warming.

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Steeped in liberal ideals, the Paris accord has been the subject of intense debate – from both within the organisation, led by American activist Bill McKibben, and on the edge of the G20, where Turkish and Egyptian leaders raised objections.

The summit had been understood to be an important venue to further a united front by the emerging economies on the global environmental threat.

But countries divided by poverty, gas markets and poor basic sanitation have fought with each other over the line in the sand for climate action.

Russia and Saudi Arabia’s grip on oil may have helped secure the deal in China – by giving it added influence among economies whose currency is controlled in way Russia’s is not – but Saudi Arabia sought to protect its stake at home.

Even Brazil was dragged to the negotiating table by its global warming champions, with negotiations between government representatives inflaming the relationship between the Latin American country and Iran, in dispute over a host of issues, including the Assad regime in Syria and the rights of Syrian refugees.

The lack of US involvement led to a sense of raw injustice to anyone involved in the Paris accord, including activists with the international climate movement which flew in from around the world.

Image copyright EPA Image caption The meeting had been seen as a launching pad for the COP24 negotiations in Katowice

Despite the body blow, there were some signs that climate could still be moving forward.

Yvo de Boer, who organised the summit as the head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, says that while COP26 lacked unity, there is an emerging “need and demand for a global framework for sustainable development”, in which climate change will play a key role.

And Philip Mudd, the US assistant treasury secretary who headed up the coalition of countries that developed the KYFO (KYC) coalition in Paris, told the BBC on Friday that part of the problem with the G20 was that the US left it on the fringes, in a room without its loud voice.

Even if COP26 was short on consensus, Mr Mudd said, “the G20 has still been a landmark and I think it will be remembered for quite a long time”.

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