The United States and other major economies are nearing a compromise on climate change, one of the thorniest issues facing world leaders at the G-20 summit in Germany.
After days of preliminary talks, G-20 negotiators are increasingly hopeful they can settle on a joint communique in which the United States underscores its intent to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement while the other nations emphasize their support for the pact, according to a senior diplomat involved in the discussions.
Diplomats stressed that the text remains fluid and could be rewritten at the insistence of President Donald Trump and other world leaders, who will join the closed-door discussions in Hamburg over the next 48 hours.
But if it holds, the unity among the 19 other members of the G-20 would be a coup for German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders who support strong action to tackle climate change. And it would further isolate the United States on the issue, underscoring that it is one of the few countries in the world that don’t back the 2015 Paris deal.
There has long been speculation that fossil fuel-dependent countries in the G-20 might hesitate to forcefully back the Paris agreement, and that nations like Turkey and Saudi Arabia might refuse to sign onto a separate action plan that details steps countries should take to reduce their emissions.
Instead, diplomats said, both countries are expected to join other nations in endorsing the Paris deal and backing the action plan — unless the tone of the talks shifts dramatically in the coming days. The action plan, which was written by German officials and will be referenced in the communique, is the product of months of negotiation, and some news reports say it was watered down in an attempt to win broader support.
“It seems that the G-19 is all on board,” the diplomat said.
The joint communique will include several paragraphs on energy and climate issues, including a U.S.-backed section touting sustainability and the importance of improving energy security, according to diplomats and drafts reviewed by POLITICO.
According to new language shared with POLITICO, the communique will “take note” of the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement and to “immediately cease the implementation” of former President Barack Obama’s domestic emissions reduction plan, known in United Nations jargon as a “nationally-determined contribution.”
The draft says the U.S. is committed to an “approach that … lowers emissions while supporting economic growth and improving energy security needs.” An earlier draft used the phrase “global approach,” but the latest version removed the word “global” because countries worried it left room for some nations to form an alternative international mechanism to reduce emissions beyond the Paris agreement.
“Given the importance of energy access and security in the nationally-determined contributions of other countries, the United States of America will endeavor to work closely with other partners to help their access to and use of fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently and help deploy renewable and other clean energy sources,” the draft continues.
As it stands now, the U.S.-centric portion of the communique is incorporated into the full text, rather than added as a footnote as it was in a statement issued at the close of a June G-7 meeting of environmental ministers.
The current G-20 draft communique includes some new hints at the Trump administration’s Paris strategy. Trump’s June announcement that he intends to withdraw from the agreement left many international diplomats scratching their heads, unsure about the United States’ next steps.
One diplomat told POLITICO that the draft communique language leaves room for the U.S. to write a new domestic emissions reduction plan and then announce plans to stay in the agreement under those new terms. Trump could frame the decision as a victory, while also pleasing U.S. allies.
In conversations with diplomats, some in the Trump administration have indicated that the president is open to that approach. But it remains unclear what the president will ultimately decide.
Still, outside experts and climate advocates say any broad show of support for Paris and Germany’s climate action plan will be a reminder that Trump is increasingly on his own when it comes to climate change.
“That’s really the top line on what’s important coming out of this: another clear indication that the U.S. has isolated itself, and is falling back while the other major parties step up and compete in the clean energy marketplace worth trillions of dollars,” said former State Department climate change adviser Andrew Light, now a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute.