G7 Ministers Discuss Environment, Climate Change in Wake of Trump Decision

15 June 2017

Differences between the US and other G7 members over how to approach international climate action returned to the fore this week, as Washington opted out of a climate pledge in a joint statement issued by the coalition’s environment ministers.

At a meeting in Bologna, Italy, from 11-12 June, the environment chiefs of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the EU reaffirmed their commitment to the UN’s Paris Agreement on climate change.

“Implementing the Paris Agreement, coherently with and in the context of the 2030 Agenda, is essential and can provide us with significant opportunities for modernising our economies, for enhancing competitiveness, and stimulating employment and growth, while securing social inclusion,” they said.

However, the US delegation opted out of the statement’s climate section, saying in a footnote that the move is a reflection of President Donald Trump’s recent announcement to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement.

“We the United States of America continue to demonstrate through action, having reduced our [carbon] footprint as demonstrated by achieving pre-1994 [carbon] levels domestically. The United States will continue to engage with key international partners in a manner that is consistent with our domestic priorities, preserving both a strong economy and a healthy environment,” said the footnote.

Trump said earlier this month that his country would leave the agreement, stop implementing Washington’s nationally determined contribution, and end financial support for a UN climate fund. In addition, he said that he would start “negotiations to re-enter the Paris accord or a new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States.” (See Bridges Weekly, 8 June 2017)

He has also moved to undo a series of climate and environment-related executive actions taken under the administration of previous President Barack Obama, and has repeatedly derided what he has termed “job-killing regulations,” despite concerns raised by critics that these same regulations could yield valuable environmental benefits. (See Bridges Weekly, 30 March 2017)

At the G7 meeting, Trump’s Paris-related announcement was echoed by US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, who said that Washington is “resetting the dialogue to say Paris is not the only way forward to making progress.”

European leaders have disagreed with Trump before over his assertion that the climate deal can be redrafted. This was reportedly reaffirmed this week by the host, Italian environment minister Gian Luca Galletti.

According to comments reported by Reuters, the Italian official told journalists that “a dialogue had been kept open with the US to see if there were the conditions for Washington to re-enter the Paris accord. But one thing is clear, the accord is irreversible, non-negotiable and the only instrument for fighting climate change.”

Along similar lines, EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs, and Fisheries Karmenu Vellasaidthat the European Union will not renegotiate the Paris Agreement” and Canadian Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna told Reuters that “the US is now left as a footnote to climate action and that's very sad.”

In the run-up to the summit, German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks met with California Governor Jerry Brown to demonstrate Berlin’s interest in collaborating with individual US states and other sub-national actors on climate action going forward, despite the decision made at the federal level.

This cooperation would be under the framework of the “Under 2 Coalition,” referring to the goal of limiting global temperature rises to two degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels.

In addition to the climate section of the communiqué, the US also abstained from a paragraph on multilateral development banks and their role in supporting the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda. The new US leadership has also confirmed that it will not be following through with various climate finance commitments made under the previous administration.

Other environment outcomes

Apart from climate change, the environment ministers also discussed issues such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, sustainable finance, resource efficiency, fossil fuel subsidies, environment policies and employment, and marine litter – areas where they ultimately agreed to a consensus text.

While at last year's G7 leaders' summit, the group committed to eliminating inefficient fossil fuel subsidies by 2025, the language on this subject is slightly different in the new environment ministers' communique. Instead, their language on fossil fuel subsidies refers to the “intent to contribute” to the 2025 commitment.

Ministers also reaffirmed their support of two other climate-related deals reached last year, saying that they “welcomed” the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer relating to hydrofluorocarbons and the deal to offsetting aviation emissions under the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). (See Bridges Weekly, 20 October 2016 and 13 October 2016)

They also lent their backing to ongoing efforts under the UN’s shipping body, the International Maritime Organization, to address related carbon emissions.

ICTSD reporting; “U.S. left as 'footnote' in G7 climate talks,” REUTERS, 12 June, 2017; “Germany and California agree joint fight against climate change,” DEUTSCHE WELLE, 10 June 2017.

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