Countries’ inability to move forward with international talks – even on the basis of a potential deal reached by members at the G20 – is regrettable, while providing no support for calls for a climate summit by President Emmanuel Macron.
The European Union is going through a bumpy period, with a succession of near-misses, derailments and failures leaving it badly weakened both within and outside of Brussels.
Prime Minister Theresa May continues to lash out at the European Union, with the prime minister again warning on Saturday that Britain might leave the bloc without an exit deal, while she will later this month visit Germany to discuss the transition period into a new UK relationship with the EU.
Then there is Austria, which is now facing a potentially debilitating referendum on the latest Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s bid to amend the country’s constitution, a move that would boost his power further to the detriment of his Socialist predecessor Werner Faymann.
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Following such busy days, it is difficult to focus on anything else. But in Brussels, the events of the past 24 hours represent a timely reminder of the just how difficult things are and how challenging the process for reaching a resolution will be.
This is why it is so concerning that President Trump’s administration has essentially thrown the entire process of holding an international climate summit into disarray, publicly considering how it will not be attending to lend a hand to the 2018 Major Economies Forum, a global gathering of countries representing 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions that the US itself had previously attended.
Rather than signalling a willingness to end their own role in creating the mess at the G20 summit, a move that seems a little like breaking off from a team after a haemorrhage and refusing to receive medical attention, the White House’s apparent objections to the meeting represent a clear sign that they think there is no point to even attending.
The reason for the lack of progress at the G20 is self-evident, with the European Union not taking all that seriously whether President Trump shows up or not. Trump, of course, has only himself to blame for the the US’ own failure to come to a successful conclusion to the talks, but his administration’s objections to the meeting represent a political stance that is misguided and counterproductive to any attempts at climate change – and other agreements – going forward.
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The US is out of step with international agreements in very many respects, and not in a particularly good place to reach consensus. When it comes to climate change, Donald Trump’s administration is in the top 10 countries for allowing “only” 15.9m tonnes of carbon dioxide to be emitted into the atmosphere in 2017, putting the US in 41st place when it comes to the world’s most carbon-intensive country, according to a new report from the World Resources Institute.
Washington’s strong economic growth and population growth – itself partly responsible for the emissions growth – are among the biggest contributors to an increase in world emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the past five years. But it is particularly alarming that the United States cannot even be taken seriously as a leader on the issue of climate change.
As part of a Paris climate deal that the US rejected, a US pledge to reduce its emissions would fall far short of the 2030 limits laid out by the world’s leading polluters. In addition, the US has also tried to paint itself as an example of good governance at the G20, but a day after attending the summit, the Trump administration has failed to display leadership on any matter.
If the Trump administration is looking for help in finding a way out of the negotiations and the challenges posed by climate change, then China could be a powerful signal that they are taking the issue of climate change very seriously.
The Chinese, who are responsible for 21 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, should be the US’s biggest hope on this. They could also use their increasing influence to negotiate themselves a role in a way that would significantly enhance global co-operation on other matters of global concern.
But as China is finally catching up to the US in terms of emissions, it will be interesting to see if it too will back the convening of COP26 and decarbonisation of the global economy over the next few years.