Germany treads carefully toward climate confrontation with Trump

The German government will release next week a plan for the Group of 20 economies to address climate change, taking a cautious step toward confronting U.S. President Donald Trump on an issue that puts him at odds with most world leaders.

The 23-page draft, obtained by Bloomberg News, outlines how the most prosperous nations can lead by example, cutting their own greenhouse-gas emissions, financing efforts to curb pollution in poorer countries and take other steps to support the landmark Paris climate accord.

The plan appears to tread carefully. It makes no mention of cutting coal production, which Trump has vowed to increase, nor does it address automotive fuel standards, which he plans to review. And while the plan is expected to be distributed to all G-20 nations, Germany hasn’t scheduled formal meetings for environment ministers, avoiding the risk of a clash over global warming.

“The Germans are trying to find a way to move their climate change and energy agenda, and at the same time not raise red flags for President Trump,” John Kirton, co-director of the University of Toronto’s G-20 Research Group, said in an interview.

‘Core Issue’

With Angela Merkel scheduled to meet Trump Friday in Washington, Nina Wettern, a spokeswoman for the Federal Environment Ministry, said Germany’s chancellor remains committed to using the summit meeting to promote efforts to combat global warming. “Climate protection is a core issue of Germany’s G-20 presidency,” Wettern said by email.

Germany will present the climate plan next week as energy and environment officials gather in Berlin for the G-20 Sustainability Working Group meeting, laying the groundwork for when Trump and other heads of state gather in July for the summit. Two German officials confirmed the authenticity of the document obtained by Bloomberg but declined to comment further.

The plan calls for transitioning to low-emission energy systems by mid-century. It acknowledges that the 2015 Paris Agreement is unlikely to succeed in limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above temperatures at the outset of the industrial revolution — even if every nation meets their emissions targets. And it endorses a push for public companies to disclose climate-related risks to shareholders.

Peter Bakker, chief executive officer of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, which counts dozens of corporate giants as members, said he welcomed the G-20 support for the Paris accord. The key step for the world’s biggest economies is to back efforts that would compel companies to disclose the risks posed by rising seas, violent weather and other impacts of global warming.

That support “will transform corporate governance, and will shift trillions in investment toward the low carbon economy,” Bakker said in an emailed statement.

Fine Line

The G-20 climate plan comes as Trump follows through on his promises to roll back environmental regulations. On Wednesday, the Republican called for relaxing fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks, which along with other vehicles are the U.S.’s largest source of greenhouse gases. And on Thursday, Trump released a budget with sweeping cuts to climate change research and grants for clean energy development.

Trump vowed during his campaign to “cancel” the Paris agreement but has said little about the deal since taking office. Germany and other nations that have been at the forefront of combating global warming have been reluctant to force the president’s hand.

A statement drafted for this week’s G-20 finance ministers meeting made little mention of the Paris accord, marking a significant departure from the past. And in breaking with G-20 tradition, Germany scuttled formal environment and energy meetings — where global warming might have been a flash point — and instead invited ministers to a separate climate conference in Berlin.

Patrick Graichen, director of the Berlin-based energy and climate policy researcher Agora Energiewende, said the moves underscore the fine line Merkel is walking through the G-20 as she carefully pushes climate while seeking to avoid discord.

Prime Time

“Climate policy is not a battlefield of choice for Germany’s G-20 presidency,” Graichen said. “Merkel doesn’t want that battle with Trump. Her priority is simple: to maintain the general readiness of the group to cooperate, avoid division. That doesn’t mean Germany doesn’t have a G-20 climate agenda. It does.”

The G-20 may not be Merkel’s first choice to debate climate. But the plan Germany is preparing to propose is bound to work its way through ministerial meetings and ultimately come to the fore when Trump, Merkel and other heads of state gather in July, Kirton said.

“This is destined to go prime time at the summit in Hamburg,” he said.

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