Geithner, Obama, and Brown

Geithner, Obama, and Brown

As expected, the global economy took center stage at the G20 Summit held yesterday in London. Amidst the world economic crisis, G20 leaders met to discuss and put forth a global plan for recovery. Included amongst the six pledges made by the leaders of the Group of Twenty was a pledge for a green and sustainable recovery. However, despite this pledge and the hopes of many demonstrators, the public, and officials, climate change and plans for a green recovery featured little in the day’s discussions.

Over the weekend, the official G20 communiqué leaked to the press and included only vague language on the topic of climate change. According to paragraphs 27 and 28 in the official communiqué:

27. We agreed to make the best possible use of investment funded by fiscal stimulus programmes towards the goal of building a resilient, sustainable, and green recovery. We will make the transition towards clean, innovative, resource efficient, low carbon technologies and infrastructure. We encourage the MDBs to contribute fully to the achievement of this objective. We will identify and work together on further measures to build sustainable economies.

28. We reaffirm our commitment to address the threat of irreversible climate change, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, and to reach agreement at the UN Climate Change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009.

The vague language of the communiqué led to speculation that a “green stimulus” package might be less than concrete. This sentiment continued in the days leading up to the Summit.

Therefore, the day began with slightly lowered expectations for the one-day summit. Much of the morning for reporters was spent researching, writing, and watching leaders get their pictures taken. Anticipation and excitement began to grow as delegates sat down for their plenary session in the morning. However, not until close to 2:00 PM did green issues appear on the agenda with a press conference held by the UK Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband.

In the early afternoon, Miliband surprised reporters with a short press conference to brief them on the progress of climate change discussions and answer questions. Miliband stated that he was confident that the G20 Summit would provide forward movement towards Copenhagen in December. The discussions would serve to facilitate the process toward Copenhagen and would be used to make a statement to China and other developing countries that the United States, UK, and EU countries were committed to tackling climate change.

Climatico’s Simon Billett asked Miliband whether this talk of “first steps” was anything more than “agreeing to agree?” In response, Miliband stated that while the G20 summit was “essentially an economic summit,” among the G20 participants existed the understanding of the “mainstreaming [of] the green message.” Furthermore, Miliband said that countries such as Saudi Arabia and Russia are more likely to attach importance to renewables despite prior hesitation. “This is a significant step in mainstreaming low carbon development in economic recovery…The notion of low-carbon as a way out of recession has gone from being marginal to being mainstream.”

Miliband went on to say that forestry is a fundamental element in the climate program and will be discussed in Italy at the G8 meeting in July. Billett noted that forestry proved a major topic of conversation within the corridors of the Summit. Furthermore, private discussions between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd regarding the importance of including forestry in a global climate deal adds to the speculation that forestry will be a topic to watch in the months to come.

Despite Miliband’s press conference, the topic of climate change once again became quiet over much of the afternoon. During his speech, French President Nicholas Sarkozy failed to reference any discussion on the topic of the environment. And, despite Miliband’s enthusiasm, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown only restated that the G20 was committed to meet again later this year to discuss a Post-Kyoto climate deal.

Family photo

However, U.S. President Barack Obama brought climate change back onto the floor during his press conference late in the day. Obama’s trip to London included several bilateral meetings with the leaders in attendance outside of the context of the G20. In response to a reporter’s question from the Times of India, Obama addressed a bilateral meeting he had with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Amongst other points of discussion, Obama and Singh touched on the issue of “energy and how important it is for the United States to lead by example in reducing our carbon footprint so that we can help to forge agreements with countries like China and India…for our efforts to control climate change.”

Obama alluded to future discussions on the topic of climate change with China. In addition, he recognized the challenges that lie ahead for the topic amidst the current economic crisis. “In some ways, our…European counterparts have moved more quickly than we have on this issue, but I think even the Europeans have recognized that it’s not easy. It’s even harder during times of economic downturn.” He went on to add, “We’re going to have to combine the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency with rapid technological advances. And to the extent that in some cases we can get international cooperation and pool our scientific and technical knowledge around things like developing coal sequestration, for example, that can be extremely helpful.”

Obama’s speech wrapped up the events of the day. However, despite a long day of meetings and press conferences at the G20 Summit, action towards green growth remained largely undefined. As to be expected, the world economic crisis was the star of the show and, therefore, plans to repair the global economy held the spotlight. Yet, often this subject turned to the discussion of bank regulation and executive pay rather than outlining plans for green growth. Despite all of this, environmentalists can rest assured that the international dialogue on climate change has begun to move forward. Furthermore, as demonstrated in Obama’s press conference, the United States appears onboard for further discussions and acknowledges its role as a leader and partner in reaching a climate change deal come December. Between Obama’s acknowledgement that the US must lead by example and Miliband’s enthusiasm for momentum, hopefully the G20 will prove a success for environmentalists, after all, by bringing in greater participation, particularly by China and India, at Copenhagen later this year. We shall have to wait and see.

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