How world leaders have dealt with Trump’s Paris withdrawal

Source: By Jean Chemnick, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, August 23, 2019

 President Trump walking in front of flags. Photo credit: Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom

President Trump arriving for a June Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan. Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom

French President Emmanuel Macron may test a new tactic this weekend in an apparent bid to outmaneuver President Trump on climate change and other contentious issues.

The strategy highlights divergences in the global response to Trump’s plan to withdraw the United States from the landmark Paris Agreement.

Macron will host the leaders of six other developed democracies, the European Union and observer nations for a Group of Seven meeting this weekend in Biarritz, a seaside town in southwestern France.

He’s signaled a willingness to skip the negotiated statement that’s typically issued at the end of such summits. Instead, Macron has floated a less-formal “chair’s summary,” which would give him free rein to frame any disagreements that arise without negotiation or buy-in from other members.

It would make this weekend’s summit the first in the G-7’s four-decade history not to deliver a formal communiqué. And it would be a departure from what has become the established way presidents of the G-7 and Group of 20 have managed Trump’s Paris position.

Over the last two years, the United States has consistently been granted its own real estate within negotiated communiqués. Since Trump announced plans to exit Paris — a week after a G-7 summit in Taormina, Italy, where leaders begged him to stay — the U.S. paragraphs have denounced the climate agreement, called for fossil fuels “access” and trumpeted U.S. carbon reductions.

The quid pro quo has been that other countries — including G-20 members like Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Australia — have been given paragraphs of their own to reaffirm Paris and show continuity on fossil fuels subsidy reform, promotion of green growth and job creation, and the transition away from fossil fuels.

But without a negotiated text, Macron would have the weekend summit’s top platform to himself. His statement would almost certainly reiterate the importance and irrevocability of the climate deal reached outside Paris in 2015.

“It’s about reporting the different positions of the countries,” said a former Italian diplomat who worked for the 2017 G-7 presidency. “This gives a bit more freedom to the president to describe how the conversation went, which, to be honest — instead of diplomatic language to make everyone happy — it’s probably more accurate to report the conversation, and it’s easier to report where there is some disagreement on certain issues.”

Other countries could opt to sign the statement, leaving the United States left to offer an alternative to the French president’s interpretation of the summit.

“Macron is wisely saying he does not need or want a communiqué, as a tactic to induce Trump’s U.S. to give him one,” said John Kirton, a University of Toronto expert on the G-7, in an email to E&E News. Rather than lose the opportunity to veto the G-7 statement, Kirton said, the United States might make concessions on items on Macron’s environmental wish list it finds less objectionable.

Climate finance, biodiversity, “scientific warnings” on climate and biodiversity, and “inequality and an inclusive ecological transition” rounded out the French G-7 agenda on the environment this year. They are issues designed to provide avenues for agreement — including with Trump.

At a May meeting of environment ministers in the French city of Metz, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler raised eyebrows in a formal communiqué by disputing established methods of modeling climate change. But in the same document, he accepted joint language calling climate change and environmental degradation “complex and pressing global challenges,” and welcoming the Paris Agreement’s newly negotiated rulebook and a process for ratcheting up the deal’s ambition.

Macron took an aggressive stance ahead of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, in June. He promised to refuse to sign a communiqué that didn’t reaffirm Paris and pledged to use his turn as G-7 president to focus on creating coalitions and initiatives on climate change rather than negotiating language.

“The main objective is to show that action for climate is accelerating, whatever negative move some governments decide to make, and to show that at least some of the G-7 governments and some of the so-called ‘outreach countries’ invited from outside the G-7 are committed to do what they can to take their part in such initiatives,” said Sébastien Treyer, executive director of Paris-based think tank Instituto de Desarrollo Sostenible y Relaciones Internacionales, or IDDRI, which advises the French government.

Macron, for instance, is meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of this weekend’s summit, and climate and solar issues are reportedly on the agenda.

The U.S. versus ‘G-19’

But Andrew Light, distinguished senior fellow in the global climate program at the World Resources Institute, said a negotiated text was the best way to highlight U.S. isolation on climate change in the age of Trump.

“You need a firm resolution against the United States on this issue for every year the United States stays outside the consensus, that’s absolutely clear,” he said.

“This is too important to allow the United States to stop a consensus position from the other countries,” he said. “It’s really important to have other countries on record that they are not following the United States down this destructive path.”

The bifurcated communiqués that have been issued in the past two years would have been unthinkable before Trump, according to former officials who have experience with the G-7 and G-20. They don’t show common ground between countries.

But experts say the “G-6” and “G-19” paragraphs have become powerful statements against backsliding.

“I think there’s much more concern about the other countries, making sure that they are still standing strong on their commitments to Paris and commitments to climate change,” said a former EPA official who worked on multilateral engagement. “And the only way is to say, ‘All right, U.S., you can say whatever you want. We’re not going to water down our commitment because you’re not going to stand with us.'”

The G-7 is saying less about climate change overall since Trump took office.

An analysis by the G-7/8 Research Group at the University of Toronto shows that words devoted to climate change in the process’s official communications peaked in 2009 at 5,559. With Trump’s Paris decision pending in 2017, that word count fell to 201. It only rebounded to 1,696 during the Canadian G-7 presidency last year.

‘Diplomatic style’

While U.S. climate sections have become the norm in recent years, the process of negotiating has varied depending on who is leading the summit.

“In my experience it comes down to the diplomatic style of the presidency,” said the Italian diplomat. “This is about how confident a president is and how much they want to push or support their own national interests as opposed to finding census and living with a watered-down version of the final communiqué.”

European presidencies in particular have shown a willingness to isolate Trump on climate. Macron is likely to be no exception.

The Taormina G-7 summit in Italy, which Trump attended as part of his first foreign trip as president, was followed in July 2017 by the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Europe’s most experienced head of state who was herself a scientist, helmed that meeting.

By then, the dust had settled on Trump’s decision to withdraw from Paris. In Hamburg emerged the “G-19” group on climate change and energy.

“In the end, the negotiations on climate reflect dissent — all against the United States of America,” said Merkel at the closing press conference.

Europeans said Trump had been outmaneuvered in his bid to find partners for a pro-fossil fuels agenda (Climatewire, July 10, 2017). The White House pushed back, arguing that the United States had cooperated with Saudi Arabia and Russia on negotiations over finance (Climatewire, July 14, 2017).

When Canada hosted the G-7 in 2018, Trump left early and missed the climate negotiations. He later withdrew his endorsement of the communiqué — via tweet — after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confronted him on trade tariffs.

Catherine Abreu, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, said that showed the futility of avoiding aggressive climate language to keep Trump on a communiqué.

“What did we learn last year? We learned that even when you work to produce a consensus outcome, still the U.S. can walk away and blow it up with a tweet,” she said.

Peter Boehm, a former civil servant who served as Trudeau’s “Sherpa” during the G-7 process last year, said Canada expected Trump would miss the leaders’ discussion on climate change. The U.S. paragraph had already been accepted by the other nations ahead of the meeting in Charlevoix, Quebec, he told E&E News by email.

“Attempting modified language would have diluted our [six-plus-E.U. language] too much,” said Boehm, who is now a Canadian senator. “The writing was on the wall already at the previous summit in Taormina before the Trump administration had decided to bail on Paris.”

Boehm said it was the French, Germans and Japanese who pressed Trudeau for a formal communiqué last year for tradition’s sake.

“I think the French are bowing to the inevitable: Why waste time finding consensus when the result will be weak and not credible?” he said.

Kirton, the University of Toronto G-7 expert, praised Catherine McKenna, Canada’s minister of environment and climate change and a former student of his, for managing the environment and natural resources track of the negotiations. She had a pre-meeting dinner with Wheeler, who in September 2018 was still acting EPA administrator, which helped lay the groundwork for a harmonious if not very aggressive ministerial meeting.

She also brought energy, environment and natural resources ministers together in the process for the first time.

“The cluster wasn’t designed for the U.S. but a general formula for all ministerial in 2018. But it did add subjects — oceans and energy — where the U.S. could and did more easily agree,” Kirton said.

‘Middleman’

If European presidencies haven’t minded ruffling feathers, the Japanese and Argentine G-20 presidencies have been considerably more cautious.

Both have shied away from angering Trump, including on climate. Mauricio Macri, president of Argentina, needed U.S. support for a massive infusion of capital to prop up his country’s faltering economy. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe prioritized trade and Pacific region security above climate change.

“Japan is focused on its own territory and security from the looming Chinese challenge in security terms,” Kirton said. “So [Abe] has a broad set of reasons to pull his punches. And that’s even before we get to the Dear Leader with his nuclear weapons in North Korea.”

Macri decided that the Argentine presidency would focus on environmental concerns on land rather than in the air — deftly avoiding a focus on carbon emissions.

Abe joined with Trump at the 2018 G-7 summit in Charlevoix, Ontario, to reject Trudeau’s initiative on plastics and was surprised at the intensity of the pushback he got from Europeans and others. So Abe has made plastics a focus of his G-20 presidency.

The United States ended up signing on to Japan’s plastics charter this year.

“Japan has been ‘caught’ between these two positions,” said Miranda Schreurs, a professor at the Technical University of Munich. With strong trade ties to both the United States and Europe, she said, Japan tends to try to find ways to act as a “middleman.”