This weekend the 2018 G20 summit was held in Buenos Aires, and unlike any other summit this year, it managed to put together a statement of intent signed by all attendees. The document, however, doesn’t signify unification or agreement on all things discussed. Instead, it highlights just how very separate the US is right now, from the rest of its allies.
And the main sticking point? Climate change, of course.
Over the course of the year, two other summits, the G7 meeting in Canada and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit held in Papua New Guinea, both failed to produce a communique – a statement or blueprint for how nations plan to work together to fix the world’s problems – that everybody could sign off on.
Admittedly, the US did sign off initially on the G7 communique, however, Trump later withdrew US support after Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, criticized the US’ tariffs in a press conference. Trump didn’t attend the APEC summit this year, he sent Vice President Mike Pence in his stead.
This G20 summit, however, got the US to agree, of sorts, on one of the most contentious points, trade, but not climate change.
The non-binding document addressed the current global issues on trade, stating: “We welcome the strong global economic growth while recognizing it has been increasingly less synchronized between countries…We also note current trade issues.”
In a bid to diffuse a potential trade war brewing between the US and China, the document vaguely commits to a reform of the World Trade Organisation [WTO], promising to review it at the next summit. This is a boon for the US, as Trump has been very vocal about the US being treated “very badly” by the WTO, and threatening to leave if it doesn’t “shape up”.
However, climate change was one of the most important subjects tackled at the summit, and it was here the separation began. The joint statement of 19 of the world’s leaders, united in reiterating the importance of the Paris Agreement being upheld, and the need to mitigate climate change to save the planet and the people who occupy it, jarred quite conspicuously with Trump’s agenda to put America and its economy first.
In fact, separate language was required in the Paris climate accord section to get Trump to sign it at all.
“Signatories to the Paris Agreement… reaffirm that the Paris Agreement is irreversible and commit to its full implementation, reflecting common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances,” the statement reads. “We will continue to tackle climate change, while promoting sustainable development and economic growth.”
A separate paragraph adds:
“The United States reiterates its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and affirms its strong commitment to economic growth and energy access and security, utilizing all energy sources and technologies, while protecting the environment.”
The United States, of course, is the only country in the world currently wanting to pull out of the Paris Agreement, something it can’t officially do until 2020. However, a senior White House official told reporters they may not be on their own for long.
“There really wasn’t any disputing that the US was going to recognize its position,” the source said. “But what was interesting is that this was one of the last issues to close because the countries who typically might agree couldn’t agree with each other. What you’re starting to see is you’re seeing a little bit of the coalition fraying.”
The US did, however, join a separate energy-focused section that sort of mentions climate change without actually mentioning it.
“We recognize the crucial role of energy in helping shape our shared future and we encourage energy transitions that combine growth with decreasing greenhouse gas emissions towards cleaner, more flexible and transparent systems, and cooperation in energy efficiency," it states.
In an email to reporters, Trump himself has claimed credit for the language used in the section that states: "We acknowledge the role of all energy sources and technologies in the energy mix and different possible national paths to achieve cleaner energy systems.”
Despite once again setting his country on a different path from the rest of the world, Trump seemed pretty pleased with the outcome of this meeting. However, he apparently didn't want to stick around longer than he had to. Before the official G20 "family photo", Trump supposedly misunderstood a photo op with Argentine president Mauricio Macri, and walked off stage, only to be corralled back on. Later audio revealed him muttering to his aides "get me out of here".