By Paul Davies, Michael Green  and Ei Nge Htut

On 8 July 2017, the G20 summit in Hamburg issued a Climate and Energy Action Plan for Growth (the Plan). The Plan reaffirms the commitment of the countries (excluding the United States (US) — which announced its intended withdrawal from the Paris Agreement) to work together to implement the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Paris Agreement, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In summary, the Plan promotes the following measures:

  • The main commitments under the Paris Agreement, including the target to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius and commitments to implement nationally determined contributions (NDCs)
  • Drafting long-term greenhouse gas (GHG) emission development strategies by 2020, for the period to 2050
  • Working towards affordable, reliable, sustainable, and low GHG emission energy systems as soon as is feasible
  • Promoting energy efficiency and improving international collaboration on energy efficiency
  • Scaling up renewable energy and other sustainable energy sources
  • Promoting access to modern and sustainable energy use for all
  • Enhancing climate resilience and climate adaption efforts
  • Aligning finance flows with the goals of the Paris Agreement
  • Mobilising climate finance by multilateral development banks (for example, the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development)
  • Phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies

All countries, other than the US, acknowledged their commitment to these climate change goals. The communique published at the end of the summit also stated:

“We take note of the decision of the USA to withdraw from the Paris Agreement … the leaders of the other G20 members state that the Paris Agreement is irreversible … we reaffirm our strong commitment to the Paris Agreement.”

While the US has said that it will withdraw from the Paris Agreement in November 2020, President Donald Trump recently hinted at a possible modification of the US position, stating that “something could happen with respect to the Paris accords, let’s see what happens … if it happens, that will be wonderful, and if it doesn’t, that’ll be ok too.”

Andrew Steer, President of the World Resources Institute, commented that this statement “was a landslide victory for countries voicing support for global climate action. Chancellor Merkel demonstrated deft leadership in rallying 19 of the world’s largest economies to deliver an unmistakable message behind climate action.”

Whether the potential absence of the US will have a material effect on the implementation of the measures outlined in the Plan remains to be seen.