The G20 is notorious for its secrecy — 20 of the most powerful leaders in the world meeting behind closed doors to discuss sensitive matters.
But at least one issue may be championed out in the open as leaders gather on Friday in Hamburg, Germany: climate change.
Following the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, countries around the world are eager to show that it’s still a functional framework. Every other member of the G20 is pledged to the Paris agreement, and the biggest emitters in the world, including China, India, and the EU, have all reasserted their commitment to sustainability in the weeks after US President Donald Trump’s announcement.
The sudden need to reinforce the agreement is giving climate change a more central role at the event. In fact, when the G7 failed earlier in the year to convince Trump to stay in the agreement, Germany drafted the “G20 Action Plan on Climate and Energy Growth” to make it the most comprehensive plan for climate change action ever presented at the summit.
And what might have otherwise been a minor point of discussion could take center stage as Germany, the host, looks to steer this year's objectives.
What happens at the summit could further underline the divide that’s emerging between the US and the rest of the world. As the US stalls on fighting climate change, other countries will continue to accelerate their actions and will become leaders in a field that’s expected to have $23 trillion worth of economic opportunities in the years ahead.
“To create a stable international regime on climate change, you need [G20 members] to signal that it’s as important as trade and national security issues,” Andrew Light, distinguished senior fellow at the World Resources Institute, told Global Citizen.
“It’s no longer a backwater thing that people don’t care about,” he said.
The G20, a group of 20 of the world’s wealthiest nations that meets semi-annually to discuss economic, security, and other issues, accounts for 80% of the world’s economic activity and 80% of its greenhouse gas emissions.
Coordination among such a powerful collective can shape the direction of economies around the world.
If 15 or 19 of these members publicly sign the G20 Action Plan on Climate and Energy Growth, it would send a resounding message to the US that it’s missing out on the economic opportunities of renewable energy, which will continue to flow toward other leaders like the European Union and China.
The plan covers areas including, energy efficiency, improving financing strategies for clean energy, bringing modern energy services to places lacking electricity, phasing out fossil fuels, sharing research and development, and other issues.
Each of these areas presents opportunities for collaboration for those who sign up.
“I think that [G20 members] are going to run the table there,” Light said, referring to the economic opportunities of renewable energy. “There’s a bunch of different ways that the Trump administration is essentially making this a foregone conclusion.”
According to Light, the Trump administration has already created two economic openings for other countries.
First, according to Light, the State Department has historically helped other countries compete for renewable energy contracts. The Trump administration is overhauling the priorities of the department, so these initiatives and the influence they buy could be abandoned.
Second, the Department of Energy has numerous programs that helped other countries develop their renewable energy sectors. Now those programs will be abandoned as well and the vast economic opportunity they offered may be ceded to other countries.
As the US recedes from climate change leadership, other countries are showing no signs of letting up.
“The Paris agreement created an additional boost to the already booming clean energy marketplace,” Light said. “It clearly shows the intention [of countries to act], because they believe in the framing of the problem and that the solutions side is no longer a problem but an opportunity.”
But there’s a chance the US might not fall too far behind. As other countries race ahead on the federal level, the US is working toward a renewable future in a more bottom-up, decentralized way.
All across the country, governors, mayors, CEOs, and more have announced their intention to work with their peers around the world to uphold the Paris climate agreement.
For them, it’s not just a matter of moving with the world, rather than against it. It’s also a matter of fully grasping the risks of climate change.
Other countries recognize there are other ways to work with the US beyond the federal level and Light thinks that overtures might be made throughout the event to these players, similar to how countries reached out to governors and companies following the US's withdrawal from the Paris agreement.
"I will be definitely looking to see if you get some other stronger statement to be made," Light said. "In the same way that the Chinese reached out to Governor Brown of California."
On July 6, Global Citizen will host our first festival in Hamburg alongside the G20 summit. There we will encourage world leaders to tackle issues related to the sustainable development goals. To learn more about Global Citizen’s campaign efforts in relation to the G20 go here.