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Interview

“The G20 resolution fell far short of our expectations”

Foto: Roland Horn

Foto: Roland Horn

Interviewed by Astrid Dähn and Jörg-Rainer Zimmermann, 17.07.17
Simone Peter, co-chair of the German Green party, discusses the implications of the summit in Hamburg for climate change, the role of the US under Trump, and the prospect of further talks this autumn.

new energy: What did the G20 summit achieve in terms of climate action?

Simone Peter: First of all, it’s a good thing that at least the 19 participants besides US president Donald Trump reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris agreement on climate change, clearly stating their intention to fulfil the commitments they have made. But in light of the contribution the American economy could make to international climate efforts, the US president’s rejection of the agreement is of course a bitter pill to swallow. As a result of his stance, other nations are beginning to feel legitimised in gradually turning away from the pact.

new energy: You’re referring to Turkey?

Peter: Yes, shortly before the summit we heard that Turkey’s president Erdoğan is announcing his country’s parliament might not ratify the agreement. These are alarming signals. If this becomes a trend, the agreement will ultimately not be worth the paper it’s written on.

new energy: What can the other nations do to counter this?

Peter: They need to show that they are determined to follow through with the measures agreed, and that they want to benefit from the huge opportunities a green economy has to offer, both for human well-being and the environment. In this regard, the G20 resolution fell far short of our expectations. It is a vague document, full of good intentions but lacking a strategy detailing how the industrialised nations can take immediate action to promote climate action. These nations are responsible for three quarters of global carbon emissions. I was therefore pleased when France’s president Macron announced plans to host another climate summit this autumn. This is the kind of initiative that should have come from Mrs Merkel.

new energy: And what exactly do you hope another climate summit will achieve?

Peter: The industrialised nations need to discuss how the targets agreed in Paris are to be implemented, and set out a decarbonisation strategy with concrete measures. On this issue, Mrs Merkel sets a terrible example, despite having hosted the G20 summit. Our energy transition notwithstanding, Germany’s carbon emissions have failed to subside over the last nine years: there has been no coal phase-out to tackle emissions, no ambition to decarbonise the auto and agricultural sectors, and no strategy to boost energy efficiency in the building sector. The measures introduced by the chancellor have so far been woefully inadequate.

new energy: Could Trump’s rejection of the Paris agreement trigger a counter-reaction which is ultimately beneficial to the Green agenda?

Peter: No. Denying climate change and blocking climate action is beneficial to no one – it harms society as a whole and future generations. We need everyone on board if we are going to succeed in halting climate change. And that is why we haven’t given up on the US. Our party convention was attended by a researcher who is also an advisor to the governor of California, Jerry Brown. He made it clear that California will continue to seek alliances with other US states and regions beyond the US to promote climate action in the country, even under a Trump administration. This is good news, because we cannot afford to lose a country the size of the US in the fight against climate change.

new energy: Do you see any potential new partners for Germany in the international community which could help fill the gap left by the US?

Peter: First of all, Germany needs to make more of an effort to be a better partner to other nations. The auto industry is a good example: if Asian countries are taking action to introduce electric vehicles, Germany should support them by making these vehicles. Countries like China have a substantial contribution to make in terms of climate action. While it is true that China is still installing too much coal power, it is impressive how fast progress is being made in electromobility and the expansion of renewables. And if you look at how California, France and Norway are taking huge strides away from diesel and petrol, it is clear that we could be on the verge of falling far behind the curve. Germany has some catching up to do.

 

What the G20 summit means for climate action

The section on climate and energy in the final declaration from the G20 summit is marked by a deep split. 19 heads of state and government proclaim the Paris agreement to be “irreversible”, pledging to move towards swift implementation. The US expressly rejects this stance, proposing instead to help other countries “use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently” and “deploy renewable and other clean energy sources”. While the US does go along with the statement’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, concrete plans to this end are absent from the document. The same is true of the “Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth” signed by the other 19 G20 states. The plan includes numerous declarations of intent and pledges on matters such as energy efficiency, but the hoped-for schedule for the reduction of harmful subsidies – which has been promised by the G20 for years – failed to materialise.

G20 documents:

Leaders' Declaration

Action Plan for Climate and Energy (exluding the United States)

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