The environment ministers of the world’s seven most powerful industrialized economies met in Bologna this week. This was the first G7 gathering since U.S. President Donald Trump announced his plan to pull out of the Paris Agreement. The ministers managed to issue a joint communiqué – even though the United States disagreed with the other six countries on two Paris-related provisions in the statement. While the U.S. continued to isolate itself in that regard, the meeting demonstrated the unwavering commitment of other countries to the agreement and a continued interest in international dialogue and cooperation on other issues.
Disagreement over Paris Pact
There was disagreement between the U.S. and other members on two sections in the communiqué: climate change and multilateral development banks’ (MDBs) support for implementation of the Paris Agreement and Agenda 2030.
In the climate change section, six members reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement, calling the landmark pact and the transition to low-carbon economies “irreversible.” This signals the strength of the consensus among the “G6” and the isolation of the U.S. The section is the longest part of the communiqué, containing various current and planned efforts to strengthen their own actions and support others in implementation. For example, the section included extensive references aligning and mobilizing finance for climate action, including a full confirmation of mobilizing $100 billion annually in climate finance by 2020.
The United States did not join the section on MDBs (a topic WRI supported and presented on at the meeting) because it focused heavily on their role in supporting the Paris Agreement and the need for them to take further steps to support implementation and avoid investments in high carbon assets. G7 countries are significant shareholders of the MDBs, financial institutions that play a crucial role in enabling developing countries to finance the infrastructure and energy systems of the future.
Environment ministries have not traditionally wielded heavy influence over board decisions at these institutions (board members are typically representatives from finance ministries). The communiqué makes it clear that environment ministries are going to pay more attention to MDBs as a means to support achievement of the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Rather than issue a chair’s statement on behalf of six of the seven members, the communiqué included a footnote from the United States saying it would not join those two sections, “reflecting our recent announcement to withdraw and immediately cease implementation of the Paris Agreement and associated financial commitments.”
Still Some Common Ground
While the footnote represents discord, the broader communiqué reflects continued willingness for the group to work together on a number of other environmental objectives, each of which were outlined under their own separate sections of the communiqué focusing on:
Sustainable finance: increasing flows of sustainable finance, for instance, through financial centers for sustainability and strategic support for small and medium enterprises.
Resource efficiency, 3Rs [reduce, reuse, recycle], circular economy and sustainable material management: adopting the “5-year Bologna Roadmap” aimed at advancing common activities on resource efficiency.
Marine litter: addressing marine litter, in particular through activities under the Regional Seas Programmes.
Environmental fiscal reform and sustainable development: contributing to the implementation of the commitment adopted at the 2016 G7 summit for the elimination of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies by 2025. This is particularly interesting given the Trump administration’s other efforts to increase the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Environmental policies and employment: supporting a transition toward a sustainable development through environment policies that can spur economic growth and job creation, while paying special attention to impacted regions and sectors to help with the transition (for example, investing in new skills training programs for coal-mining communities).
Africa: recognizing the impact of climate change and environmental degradation on Africa’s agricultural production and food security, water availability, as well as on stability and economic growth in the region; and the importance of increasing access to affordable, modern, sustainable and reliable energy.
What’s Next for Future International Cooperation?
Canada has already laid out its main priorities for its G7 Presidency for 2018: strengthening the middle class, advancing gender equity, fighting climate change and promoting respect for diversity and inclusion. As climate change remains at the top of the agenda, the U.S. will continue to isolate itself. In addition to not joining sections of the communiqué that explicitly mentioned the Paris Agreement, the United States was the only G7 member to remain notably silent during the post-meeting press conference.
We will not have to wait until the next round of G7 discussions in 2018 to see how this divide continues to play out on the international stage. The G20 is set to meet in Hamburg in three weeks, with climate change and clean energy on the agenda. We should expect the other G7 members to once again play a strong role to isolate the U.S. on its position, but it may be more difficult; the key countries to watch for any indication of fragmentation will be China, India, Saudi Arabia, and Russia.
Looking at the areas where the G7 reached consensus, there are signs that coordinated progress on climate and environmental issues could still be possible within the group, albeit to a limited extent. Throughout the discussions, the common underlying theme was the link between the economy, environment and society. In particular, G7 environment ministries are actively seeking policies that drive economic growth and create jobs, while effectively mobilizing the private sector to provide solutions to environmental challenges. And while the U.S. may have pulled out of the Paris Agreement, the rest of the G7 countries—like many others—remain committed to greater ambition.