Politics of Poverty

‘Don’t mention the ‘c-word!’’ Three ways the G20 should stand up for climate in the face of Trump

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The G20 Germany logo outside the World Conference Center in Bonn, Germany. (Photo: AP http://bit.ly/2n7auP7)

Trump rhetoric seems to have had an effect on G20 governments’ willingness to bring up climate change. Such reluctance can’t remain.

This year’s G20 represents one of the first and best opportunities for a global response to the reckless and immoral climate backsliding we are seeing by the Trump administration.

And it’s off to a pathetic start.

Recent statements coming out of the G20 barely mention the words ‘climate change.’ Things need to change FAST between now and the Leader’s Summit in July which Trump is expected to attend as one of his first major international trips.

The G20 of Christmas’ past

Over the weekend, the G2O Finance Ministers met to discuss the financial agenda in the lead up to the G20 Leaders’ Summit where climate action is expected to have a lead role. The Ministers’ meeting precedes a special working group on sustainability happening this week which is expected to have high-level participation from Energy and Environment Ministers. As in past years, the G20 sets important direction for action on climate change.

At least that was the plan. Trump’s anti-climate agenda ranging from his inhumane budget, to dismantling hugely successful, beneficial and cost effective domestic climate initiatives, and threats to ‘pull out’ of the Paris agreement altogether (whatever that means), are seeing global leaders and traditional climate champions tread so carefully that climate doesn’t even get an honorable mention. The recent finance ministers Statement didn’t even reference the Paris Agreement, climate finance, let alone climate change even once. Since when did the G20 take its cues from Florida?

Here are three simple reasons why the G20 was wrong to blink first, and how things can easily be fixed between now and July.

  1. Don’t be scared of words

Words are powerful. So the omission of climate-related language from G20 statements will send a message. That said, G20 statements are voluntary and are never binding declarations – so what exactly are governments scared of? “You said back in 2009 that you would work to end fossil fuel subsidies, and you didn’t, so please pay two billion dollars to this punitive fund” – SAID NO ONE. EVER.

It doesn’t actually cost anything to have the words ‘reaffirmation of the Paris Agreement’ and ‘action on climate change’, yet their omission could have a big impact and send the wrong signals to the rest of the world.

  1. Don’t throw $19 trillion away

Action on climate change has become decidedly easier and cheaper to implement with huge short and long term pay-offs (to the tune of 19 trillion dollars in savings based on new estimates). The clean energy economy is charging ahead unabated. Clean energy employs 8 million people globally and is growing (likely 24 million jobs by 2030), it’s increasingly cheap, and better for people’s immediate health and long-term economic growth when compared to fossil fuels.

A long overdue ask of the G20 was to act on past commitments and set an end date for phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. The Finance Ministers’ statement failed to include an end date, and this key provision must be included come July. Anything less signals the willingness of nations to throw money away in the face of the growing clean energy revolution.

  1. Don’t turn your back on those in need

Handshakes (or petty lack of handshakes!) and political declarations are one thing, but language that undoes common-sense measures on fighting climate change has serious impacts on the poor. The poorest and most vulnerable are already getting hit the hardest by climate change and are going to need an increase in support, not selfish retreats on promises by the nations who have caused the most damage.

The G20 Finance Ministers’ statement has failed to make any references to climate finance, which is a core pillar of wealthier nation’s respective commitments and moral obligations to protect those who cannot help themselves. This must be brought back into the final leader’s statement.

The influencing power of the US is on full display here, but it is one nation among many. Indeed, sub-national actors within the US are charging ahead on meaningful action on climate change in spite of the President; they know – like the G20 – that it is in the best interest of all to accelerate ambitious action on climate. For the G20, this isn’t the final communique, so there is time for the Leaders’ statement to heed the power of words to improve its climate language in the coming months. Articulating the no-brainer, non-punitive, nature of meaningful language on climate change will be critical in order to get the right words back into the conversation, and ultimately raise ambition.

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