The Energy 202: Trump stands alone at G-20 on Paris climate accords

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US President Donald Trump (L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend the panel discussion “Launch Event Women’s Entrepreneur Finance Initiative” on the second day of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 8, 2017. REUTERS/Patrik STOLLARZ/Pool

When the leaders of 20 of the world’s largest economies gathered in Germany over the weekend, they were presented with their first opportunity to join President Donald Trump in rejecting the Paris climate accord – or at the very least, signal that they too were wavering in their commitment to it.

But at the end of what observers deemed the “G-19+1” summit, the balance of that equation stayed the same. Nineteen of the 20 attendee nations at the annual Group of 20 meeting reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris accord. The United States stood alone in abandoning it.

Days before the meeting, it was unclear that this would be the case. “Saudi Arabia has indicated it is unlikely to climb on board,” the New York Times reported last week, “and Russia, Turkey and Indonesia are sending mixed signals about how forcefully they will declare their support for the Paris deal.”

But for now, each of those nations, which like the United States have fossil fuel resources they would be loath to leave untapped, signed on to the final G-20 communique promising that each would aim to meet their nationally determined emissions targets.

“The Leaders of the other G-20 members state that the Paris Agreement is irreversible,” the document read. It continued: “We reaffirm our strong commitment to the Paris Agreement.”

Meanwhile, the United States contribution to the climate section of the declaration noted that the U.S. would help others “access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently,” seemingly referring to U.S. efforts to ship liquefied natural gas to South Korea, India and Eastern Europe. The United States also did not sign onto the “Climate and Energy Action Plan” that came out of the meeting.

In that, the White House achieved a minor victory: The language in the final statement promoting U.S. fossil fuels was sharply opposed by European leaders, The Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum and Damian Paletta reported on Saturday. Nevertheless, it made its way into the communique.

But overall, the G-20 summit was a win for the leader of the host nation, German Chancellor Angela Merkel – at least on the climate issue – despite the White House’s efforts to portray it as otherwise.

“The one crucial issue was climate and energy,” Merkel said, adding that the United States “unfortunately, left the climate agreement.”

French President Emmanuel Macron was even more pointed in his remarks.

“I will not concede anything in the direction of those who are pushing against multilateralism,” Macron said at the summit. Punctuating global unity on climate change – minus the United States – Macron announced there would be another climate summit in Paris in December to mark the two-year anniversary of the accord.

Meanwhile, in other sign of Trump’s shrinking stature abroad, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom, used Trump as a political cudgel against British Prime Minister Theresa May, saying he would have confronted Trump himself had he been present for the global summit.

“I would be very strongly challenging Donald Trump on his wish to walk away from the Paris climate change accords,” he said, according to Sky News. “I hope he will understand that unless all the nations of the world get together to reduce emissions and try to preserve and protect our planet then the next generation are going to have more climate disasters.”

Of course, the final written declaration is just that – words. The real test of the Paris agreement, and of the resolve of the world minus the United States to stick to it, will come if and when nations actually ratchet down emissions.