Following is the transcript from my July 8 discussion on Sky News with presenter Kimberley Leonard and fellow guest Keith Stewart of Greenpeace on the topic of how the G20 summit will respond to the U.S. pulling out of the Paris climate accord:
KIMBERLEY LEONARD, Sky News World News presenter
Let’s stay with the G20 summit and, at the top of the agenda, trade, migrants, and climate change. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, called for compromise at the start of the meeting. But when it comes to climate change, with Donald Trump recently pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, compromise could prove difficult.
To discuss just how important the climate change discussions are in Hamburg, I’m joined by the director of regulatory studies from the John Locke Foundation, Jon Sanders, and Keith Stewart, who is a senior energy strategist at Greenpeace in Canada. Good evening, gentlemen. Thank you so much for joining me. Keith, I’d like to begin with you. How important do you think it is that climate change is on the agenda in Hamburg?
KEITH STEWART, senior energy strategist, Greenpeace
Well, it’s clearly one of the major issues facing the world right now. It’s important that it’s there. We’re really calling on the “G19” to come together to continue to move forward on climate change, and I think a lot of these leaders — and certainly here in Canada — we’re working with our colleagues south of the border in the United States at the state level and city level to continue to move forward, because we can’t let Donald Trump stand in the way of progress.
OK, Jon, what do you think, should climate change be discussed by the G20?
JON SANDERS, director of regulatory studies, John Locke Foundation
Of course it should be discussed, but I think what is being lost in the discussion so far is that we are already moving forward with reducing emissions. In fact, this century 35 nations including the United States have been able to decouple their energy based emissions from their GDP, and I think that is a wonderful development that is not getting enough discussion.
So if we look at the communiqué, usually there’s very strong language that comes out of these G20 meetings. Do you think we’re going to see that kind of strong language? Jon, what do you think?
I am not certain what kind of language we’ll see come out of that. I’m hopeful we will see a push toward more freedom, toward more market freedom and technological innovation, and protection of that.
I want to pick up on the word “freedom” you used there, because when Donald Trump pulled out of the Paris accord, he said it was infringing on American sovereignty. So Keith, what do you think about that? Do you think that that was a valid reason to pull out of the accord?
Well, first of all, climate change knows no boundaries. It’s not like, if you decide not to participate, you’re somehow sheltered from the impacts that scientists have said are coming or already here. But also, I think, the Paris agreement is not as strong an agreement that we would like. It’s entirely voluntary. Countries decide what their target is going to be, what they’re going to do to meet them, and it’s basically an honor system for meeting that target — [feed cuts out]
OK, well, we have lost Keith Stewart there, unfortunately, he was from Greenpeace. But Jon Sanders is still with us. So Jon, what do you think? Let’s talk about this meeting.
Do you think that there should be consensus in the communiqué which comes out? We’ve got the G19 minus the U.S. who say they’re all behind this deal. Do you think that they should use language that is strong, should they condemn the U.S. for pulling out of the Paris accord, or should they use more concialiatory language and say yes, this is how we are going to move forward with the U.S. moving out of the accord?
Well, I am hard pressed to give the other 19 nations advice on how to come after the United States. I would not want to see hard language. I would reiterate where Keith was going, which is to say that this Paris agreement was really not that strong. So to act as if the United States pulling out of it — and the United States is the one nation in the agreement where it was not a ratified treaty; it was an agreement with the previous administration — so where I am going with that, even if all the nations followed through with what they wanted to do, an MIT concluded that it would have reduce a 0.2 degree difference in expected warming, which is nothing. A very expensive nothing.
OK, Keith is back with us. Keith, over to you.
When Donald Trump cited the MIT study in his comment when he withdrew from Paris, the authors of that study came out immediately and said that is incorrect, he is misrepresenting our research, that the Paris agreement is an important step towards keeping warming below 2 degrees, with an aim of keeping it to 1.5, which is in the Paris agreement.
The commitments aren’t enough to get there yet, but they are significant, and it is vital that we moved on those actions quickly to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, which frankly, the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has said if we don’t do this, if we don’t act on climate change, it is going to cause a major financial shock to the world economy, and that’s going to exacerbate many of the problems. This is why the Pentagon calls climate change a threat multiplier. We need to act on this, we need to move quickly, and that can actually help build stronger, fairer, greener economies.
Jon, what do you think? If they don’t push for implementation of the Paris accord in the communiqué at the end of the summit, what do you think will happen?
I think nothing will happen. I don’t think it’s going to make a big deal at all. We’ve seen 35 nations in this century being able to reduce their energy-based emissions on the basis of being wealthy. They’re able to have technological change and consumer preferences changing. They’re changing over their economies to more of a service-based economy. And importantly, we have seeing a major technological change in hydraulic fracturing married with horizontal drilling that has led to cheaper oil and gas prices that, especially with natural gas, has produced lower emissions in energy.
The developing nations are going to need to produce more emissions, which was represented in the Paris accord; however, the developed nations have already begun cutting, and that’s been through market procedures, not through government processes.
OK, Keith, what do you think? Should we just do away with the Paris accord? It’s a nonbinding agreement, anyway.
Well, I think the Paris accord is an agreement on the direction of travel, and it’s something that countries can hold each other to. We know we’re in this together, and you can feel confident in making those shifts in your economy. Here in Canada, where I’m from, oil is our biggest export, and we have reduced emissions per unit of GDP — so have many countries — but our absolute emissions have grown. And what, frankly, the physics of global warming care about is the absolute emissions, and we need to bring them down very quickly.
And Paris is about saying to each other, we’re going to work together on this. It’s about creating a level playing field for companies, for countries so that no one can sort of cheat and not face consequences. It’s an important step, so what we’re hoping is that the statement will stay strong, and we might see something similar to what we saw with the G7 where, you had the G6 basically say we’re going to continue forward with Paris, we’re going to step up efforts, and the United States was relegated to a footnote. And that might be simply the case for the next three and a half years.
Keith, should the communiqué go as far as condemning the U.S. decision to pull out of the Paris accord?
I think countries around the world have, I think our prime minister has expressed his disappointment. We need the U.S. to be a part of this. We want the U.S. to be a part of this. If they can’t lead, they can’t follow, they need to get out of the way. That is the message that needs to be sent at this G20 meeting.