Editorial – The Guardian
The climate crisis underlines the need for effective global economic leadership. The US president makes this harder, but so do China and several others
Ever since the G20 of leading global economies was founded, its summits have mostly been convergent occasions, marked by attempts to find common ground and remembered for nothing more unseemly than a bit of jostling among the heads of government to be on the front row of the group photograph. Japan’s prime minister Shinz? Abe clearly takes this traditional view about the G20 summit which he will host in Osaka on Friday and Saturday. “We want to make it a meeting that focuses on where we can agree and cooperate rather than highlighting differences,” he said recently.
But there is a balloon-puncturing problem with Mr Abe’s approach, and it answers to the name of Donald Trump. If there is one issue on which this year’s summit clearly ought to be showing global leadership, it is the climate crisis. The subject is indeed on the Osaka agenda but, in spite of efforts by countries including France, there is no prospect of serious or effective action. That is no surprise from a group of nations which almost tripled the subsidies they gave to coal-fired power plants between 2013 and 2017, with China, India and Japan itself leading the way. But it is Mr Trump’s decision to walk away from climate accords and to back fossil fuels that creates the wider permission for these other terrible derelictions.
Mr Trump’s disruptions do not end there. The US president uses these gatherings not to build alliances to solve common problems but to knock his adversaries – and sometimes his supposed allies – off their stride. He is not looking for general agreement, which he thinks is for wimps. He is looking for American advantage over friend and foe. That’s the reason why the summit is already overshadowed by the increasingly serious trade war between the United States and China (Mr Trump will have an all-smiles bilateral with Xi Jinping on Saturday). And it is certainly the reason why Mr Trump has used the run-up to Osaka to have a pop at his hosts, whom he claimed would respond to an attack on the US by watching it “on a Sony television”, attacking India for raising tariffs and then, inventing false figures, berating Germany as a “security freeloader”.
Since Mr Trump’s Friday schedule involves one-on-ones with Mr Abe, India’s Narendra Modi and Germany’s Angela Merkel, it seems these mind games are part of a deliberate strategy of disruption. This is not a novel conclusion. Mr Trump used the same approach before his recent visit to Britain, when he praised Boris Johnson and attacked Sadiq Khan and the Duchess of Sussex. If Mr Johnson becomes prime minister and Britain were to back off from supporting European opposition to the White House’s Iran strategy, Mr Trump would count this a job well done.
Mr Trump’s bullying is also selective. Among the world leaders whom Mr Trump has not attacked in advance – but with whom he will also be meeting in Osaka bilaterals – are Vladimir Putin of Russia, whose country systematically interfered in the 2016 US election, and Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who has just been accused by the United Nations of orchestrating the murder and dismemberment of the opposition journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Some would argue that Mr Trump’s bullying approach gets results in cases such as Latin America, where the administration slapped unilateral tariffs on all Mexican imports to the US in an attempt to curb migration. Mexico’s subsequent agreement to send more troops to guard its own southern border was portrayed by the White House as a vindication of Mr Trump’s tactics. But it was not a long-term solution to a deep-seated issue of regional inequality, and the tragic photograph of the drowned bodies of the Salvadorans Óscar Ramirez and his daughter Valeria underscores that it has in fact solved nothing.
Like the UN, the G20 is a deeply frustrating forum. The limits of an organisation that cannot lead the way on the climate crisis, which struggles to contain the globally damaging US-China trade war, and which is happy to hold its 2020 summit in Riyadh are stark. But we inhabit a global society and economy, as Japanese warnings about a no-deal Brexit this week underline. Forms of global governance are needed more than ever, and it remains the case that an imperfect G20 is still better than none at all.
Tensions simmer at G20 summit in Osaka over trade and climate change
by Eric Johnston, Staff Writer – The Japan Times
OSAKA – Tensions over trade and climate change simmered Friday as the Group of 20 summit commenced in Osaka.
The two-day summit brings together 37 presidents, prime ministers, and heads of international organizations.
It opens as world leaders are expressing increased concern over potential damage to the world economy if a trade war escalates between the United States and China, and over growing protectionist sentiment in many G20 member states where multilateral forums like the G20 are blamed for job loss and wealth inequality.
In addition, anger among some countries, France in particular, over attempts by the United States to weaken language approved at past summits on the importance of the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change is likely to create a headache for Japan.
As the G20 host — in charge of forging a final agreement — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces the task of placating U.S. President Donald Trump, who pulled the U.S. out of the Paris agreement, and the rest of the G20, which insists on strong group support for the agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
The leaders seemed only slightly more aligned on issues related to trade and the global economy, which they met to discuss on Friday afternoon.
Japanese officials said a number of countries indicated significant worries about the world economy, with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker all expressing concern and calling on Trump and Xi to work things out rather than risk economic disaster by seeing the U.S. apply further tariffs on Chinese goods.
On the other hand, reform of the World Trade Organization, a long-held goal for Tokyo, seems on track to make some progress Saturday, with a number of G20 members committed to the idea of revising and updating WTO rules to take e-commerce into account.
Innovation, the digital economy and artificial intelligence were also discussed Friday. Abe is pushing for G20 approval of what he called the “Osaka Track” for digital data governance, which would allow electronic data to freely cross borders rather than being kept, and possibly hoarded, in one location.
“Development of the digital economy leads to innovation in a variety of social sectors, and freedom of data is essential, as is securing the trust of consumers and companies on over privacy and security issues,” Abe told the leaders Friday.
“To promote the creation of international rules for the maximum use of data is what I propose under the ‘Osaka Track,’” he added.
But given deep differences between member states on the idea of international data transfer, how that Osaka Track will proceed — or the extent to which agreement can be reached to even talk about it — remained unclear.
Japan’s leadership was also questioned by environmental groups, who expressed disappointment after reports Friday that the U.S. had been pressing the host nation to weaken the summit’s wording regarding the Paris agreement.
Differences over agreements on climate change as well as the Paris agreement have plagued the G20 for the past two years since the U.S. decision to withdraw from the 2015 climate pact.
“What is under discussion in Osaka on climate change is not ambitious, and the language being considered is very weak. The G20 needs to provide irreversible support for the Paris agreement,” said Kimiko Hirata, international director of Kiko Network, an environmental group working on climate change.