G20 split as US refuses to sign joint statement on climate change

  • But there was no mention of unilateralism in the leaders’ declaration, despite Beijing’s focus on opposing it
  • Wrangling over the part on tackling greenhouse gas emissions continued into the early hours of Saturday
Topic |   G20

The United States was again the only G20 member not to sign the climate change part of the communique at the end of this year’s summit in Osaka, Japan, as the others reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement on Saturday.

But Washington did manage to avoid any mention of unilateralism in the leaders’ declaration, despite strong criticism from Beijing on the subject.

At one stage it appeared the leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies may not agree to a final joint statement, with the US seeking support from other members to oppose the 2015 Paris Agreement.

In the end, the climate change section was presented in what German Chancellor Angela Merkel described as “a 19 to 1 declaration”, similar to the situation at the previous G20 summits after President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the Paris pact in 2017.

“Signatories to the Paris Agreement who confirmed at Buenos Aires its irreversibility and are determined to implement it, reaffirm their commitment to its full implementation, reflecting common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances,” the joint declaration read.

It added that the US “reiterates its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement because it disadvantages American workers and taxpayers”.

But the declaration also praised US achievements in reducing emissions and related technology, saying Washington had reaffirmed its “strong commitment to promoting economic growth, energy security and access, and environmental protection”.

Wang Xiaolong, China’s special envoy on G20 affairs with the foreign ministry, said arranging the communique in that way came “at the last minute”, which was a “good thing”.

“At this Osaka summit, climate change was the very last issue on which the leaders reached consensus, but they managed to reach a consensus after all,” Wang told reporters.

Beneath the smiles and handshakes, tensions simmer as world leaders meet for G20

The declaration was made after wrangling between the European and American leaders over the climate change part extended into the early hours of Saturday.

“We’ve succeeded after days and nights of negotiation,” Merkel said, according to POLITICO.

British Prime Minister Theresa May also said that the fact there was a communique from the summit at all was important. “Nineteen countries have come together, reaffirmed our commitment, the irreversibility of the Paris Agreement, and our commitment to put the agreement into place,” she said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said 19 countries “reaffirmed our commitment to the irreversibility of the Paris Agreement”. Photo: EPA-EFE
British Prime Minister Theresa May said 19 countries “reaffirmed our commitment to the irreversibility of the Paris Agreement”. Photo: EPA-EFE

But French President Emmanuel Macron slammed the United States for trying to water down the climate commitments and said the G20 was “increasingly disconnected from the rest of the world”.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s focus was “to work with relevant sides to firmly uphold multilateralism and oppose unilateralism and protectionism”, according to the foreign ministry.

Beijing has repeatedly accused Washington of unilateralism and protectionism – which Xi on Friday said had “severely affected global stability and economic growth” – as it seeks to rally support amid its year-long trade war with the US.

After making the point in his keynote speech on Friday, he repeated it in bilateral and multilateral meetings on the sidelines of the summit.

Donald Trump ‘ready to lift US ban’ on selling equipment to Chinese tech giant Huawei

But there were diverging views among leaders when it came to the thorny issue of trade protectionism, according to Japan’s foreign press secretary Takeshi Osuga.

In the communique, they agreed only to a “free, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade environment” and urged “necessary reform” of the World Trade Organisation – in particular the dispute settlement system, which has been paralysed in the face of the trade war between the world’s top two economies.

They also endorsed the G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment – a document seen as targeting China’s lending practices for building roads, railways and ports overseas via its Belt and Road Initiative. The principles were signed off by G20 finance leaders at a summit earlier this month in Fukuoka, with this year’s chair, Japan, spearheading a campaign to address concerns about developing nations being saddled with massive debts to China for infrastructure.

Additional reporting by Catherine Wong in Osaka

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