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OPINION | Donald Trump's Trade Row Overshadows Climate Change Agenda at G7 Summit

President Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ policy alienates traditional trade and political allies of the US and may put the fight against climate change into jeopardy.

Harjeet Singh |

Updated:June 11, 2018, 9:51 AM IST
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OPINION | Donald Trump's Trade Row Overshadows Climate Change Agenda at G7 Summit
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the G-7 summit, Saturday, June 9, 2018, in La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
The G7 summit in Canada’s rural Quebec ended on an acrimonious note. US President Donald Trump arrived late on the first day and left the two-day summit midway on the pretext of his upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore. Soon after the summit host Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released the joint G7 communiqué, announcing that all seven countries signed it, Trump lashed out on Twitter calling him “dishonest and weak”. He further declared that he has instructed his representatives not to endorse the communiqué.

The unprecedented public spat between world leaders on social media that preceded G7 was triggered by Trump hitting France and Canada of “unfair” trade practices against US companies. French President Macron sharply reacted in the backdrop of heavy import tariffs imposed by Trump on steel and aluminium, under the garb of national security threat, just weeks before the summit.

The step has angered America’s trading partners. The European Union and major Asian nations have now threatened to take reciprocal actions. While defending high tariffs on aluminium and steel arriving on US soil, Trump at G7 Summit oddly called for an end to tariffs, trade barriers and subsidies.

Traditional allies of the US have already been fuming over his decisions to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and pulling the biggest historical emitter out of Paris Agreement on climate change.

“President Trump’s wrecking ball approach to international diplomacy left him utterly isolated at the G7 summit. Leaders from the other six countries didn’t even try to paper over their strong disagreements with Trump on trade, climate change and other important issues,” said Alden Meyer, Director of Strategy and Policy, Union of Concerned Scientists, USA.

Climate Talks Overshadowed

At this juncture, the world requires undivided attention and concerted global efforts to solve the existential crisis of our times — climate change.

The wealth amassed by Western countries from the industrial revolution occurred at the cost of shared environment and oceans. The unregulated carbon emissions not only warmed but altered the complex climate system. The emissions also led to the accelerated acidification of the oceans, which produce 70-80% of the world’s oxygen and provide food for animal and human populations. Rising sea level, glacial retreat and extreme weather events such as floods and storms are a direct consequence of the warming climate.

Climate change and oceans, therefore, was one of the five themes for this year’s summit, others being — inclusive economic growth; gender equality and women's empowerment; world security; and jobs of the future.

But the dispute over tariffs diverted world’s attention from the mounting challenges of climate change and polluted oceans. G7 leaders, sans Trump, joined by the European Union tried to salvage the situation.

The climate change, oceans and clean energy section of the communiqué stated, “Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the European Union reaffirm their strong commitment to implement the Paris Agreement, through ambitious climate action; in particular through reducing emissions while stimulating innovation, enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening and financing resilience and reducing vulnerability; as well as ensuring a just transition, including increasing efforts to mobilize climate finance from a wide variety of sources.”

On the contrary, the US blatantly promoted the use of climate damaging fossil fuels mentioning that it “will endeavour to work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently.”

G6 RAISES HOPE

Like the last G7 Summit in Italy, the US refused to associate itself with the climate change text of the G7 communiqué. Trump, who withdrew from the Paris Agreement last June didn’t even attend the climate change discussion in Quebec and other leaders too did not care much.

“Today Canada stood its ground as president of the G7 and showed that U.S. President Donald Trump is profoundly alone on the world stage. The other G7 leaders presented a united front to Trump, confirming that his administration’s position on climate change leaves the United States isolated from its peers,” Catherine Abreu, Executive Director of Climate Action Network Canada.

The climate summit this December is a significant moment to agree on implementation guidelines of the Paris Agreement — commonly referred to as “Paris Rulebook”; increase ambition on emission reduction; delivering on US $100 billion goal by developed countries by 2020; and provide protection to people affected by climate disasters.

Two months prior to the summit, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release a special report on global warming of 1.5 degree Celsius highlighting the impacts of the warming and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways.

“The joint commitment to climate action forged in Paris remains at the top of the geopolitical agenda despite the US administration’s repeated attempts to demolish it. The ambition and resolve shown today by some leaders must now result in real, committed action to address the shared climate threat,” said Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director, Greenpeace International.

G6 leaders, she stressed, “now have to demonstrate their commitment in practice by accelerating the decarbonisation of the economy, scaling up climate finance, responding to the findings of the upcoming IPCC 1.5°C special report, completing the Paris Rulebook at COP24 and actively engaging in the Talanoa Dialogue (on raising mitigation ambition)”.

The issue of climate finance remains critical as developing countries who have already submitted their plans to adopt green development strategies and adapting to climate impacts have not seen clear commitment from developed countries. Obama administration committed US$3 billion as its initial contribution for climate action but only delivered one-third of the amount before its term ended.

Meena Raman, of the Third World Network, told CNN-News18, “US has been recalcitrant in not honouring its previous commitments and has also taken a decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. The cumulative emissions from rich countries, like the US, are mainly responsible for climate change but developing countries are facing the brunt of it.”

“Despite being the biggest historical polluter, the US government has shown no regard to the global climate agreement and is not even providing its obligatory fair share of climate finance to poorer countries to tackle grave climate impacts,” she charged.

(Harjeet Singh is a global expert on Climate Change, based in New Delhi. He tweets @harjeet11. Views are personal.)

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| Edited by: Mayur Borah
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