President Donald Trump emerged from the G-20 summit in Germany isolated from every other major economy on climate change, but the White House nonetheless scored small victories during the meeting.
After a tense round of negotiations, G-20 nations on Saturday reached a compromise on climate change, the last remaining issue of contention at the summit. Every country except the United States declared that the Paris climate change agreement is “irreversible” and must be implemented “swiftly.” The U.S., on the other hand, declared its intention to pull out of the 2015 deal, which has won the backing of nearly 200 nations.
Several countries, including France, had objected to the United States’ insistence on mentioning fossil fuels in the G-20’s joint communique, leading to an eleventh-hour round of talks.
In the end, the United States appeared to win that fight, keeping the reference to fossil fuels, while pairing it with a call to use renewable energy.
"The United States of America states it will endeavor to work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently and help deploy renewable and other clean energy sources, given the importance of energy access and security in their nationally-determined contributions,” the joint communique says.
Administration officials hailed the language as a victory, with one telling POLITICO the U.S. “scored big.”
Supporters of the Paris climate agreement disagreed.
“It’s nearly unprecedented to have text in a document like this one referring to what only one country believes. In that respect, it’s a vacuous victory for the U.S., since it only confirms what everyone already knew they believe,” said former State Department climate change adviser Andrew Light. “If anything, it only indicates the knots this administration will tie itself into in order to try to simultaneously appear to be appeasing their base and not alienating the rest of the world.”
The United States also used the G-20 communique to underscore its intention to withdraw from the Paris climate deal and scrap former President Barack Obama’s domestic emissions reduction plan (known in United Nations parlance as a “nationally determined contribution), while stressing that it hopes to continuing working with other countries.
“The United States of America announced it will immediately cease the implementation of its current nationally-determined contribution and affirms its strong commitment to an approach that lowers emissions while supporting economic growth and improving energy security needs,” the text says.
Foreign diplomats hope this language leaves room for the United States to remain in or rejoin the Paris deal if Trump writes a new domestic climate plan that reflects his priorities.
The 19 other G-20 nations all underscored their support for the Paris agreement, and endorsed a broad German-backed climate and energy plan, which includes a detailed roadmap for reducing emissions.
The unity is a coup for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who sought to minimize disagreements among the rest of the G-20 amid U.S. opposition to the Paris agreement. There had been some speculation that Saudi Arabia and Turkey might object to certain portions of the climate language, but Merkel and other leaders worked to ensure they were on board.
Still, that language was weakened slightly in the final negotiations, as part of what one diplomat called a “tit-for-tat” with the United States. A previous draft version of the text said countries “agree” that the Paris deal is “irreversible.” The final version uses less firm language, a seemingly minor tweak that caught the attention of some U.S. officials and foreign diplomats.
“The Leaders of the other G20 members state that the Paris Agreement is irreversible,” the communique says.
G-20 countries similarly insisted that the United States use the word “state” to characterize its position, worrying that stronger language could imply broader agreement among other nations.
The U.S. has been an outsider on climate change at international talks since Trump took office.
At the May G-7 meeting in Italy, the U.S. declined to join other countries in backing the Paris deal, saying it was in the process of reviewing its policies. After Trump’s June announcement that he intends to withdraw from the Paris agreement, the U.S. position was relegated to a footnote in a joint statement released after a G-7 environment ministers meeting in Germany last month.
David Herszenhorn contributed to this story.