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G20 summit ends with Trump at odds over climate change

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump board Air Force One prior to departure from Hamburg Airport in Hamburg, Germany, July 8, 2017, following the G20 Summit.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The Group of 20 summit has ended without a consensus on the key issues of climate change and trade, leaving deep divisions between U.S. President Donald Trump and the rest of the developed world.

The final communique, released Saturday, left Mr. Trump isolated on both issues and raised questions about how effective the G20 will be going forward without U.S. leadership. Mr. Trump didn't speak to reporters after the summit concluded on Saturday, leaving it to other leaders to offer an assessment of the two-day gathering.

While the leaders agreed on many topics discussed during the meeting, the final wording of the communique reflected a 19-1 split on trade and climate change. On trade, the communique said the G20 backed free trade and pledged to "continue to fight protectionism". But in a concession to the U.S., it also said members recognized "the role of legitimate trade defence instruments". That's a clear reference to Mr. Trump's 'America First' agenda and his vow to slap on steep tariffs on imports that he believes are unfair to U.S. companies. G20 leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, are particularly concerned about a trade war brewing over steel and indications the U.S. will impose tariffs on steel to counter allegations of dumping by China.

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On climate change, 19 leaders agreed that the Paris Agreement on climate change was "irreversible" and they pledged to fulfill the commitments made as part of that accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, in an extraordinary move, the document noted that the U.S. was withdrawing from the Paris agreement and has decided to pursue an approach to climate change "that lowers emissions while supporting economic growth and improving energy security needs." It also said the U.S. will work with countries to "to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently."

The summit's host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, labelled the meeting satisfactory, but she acknowledged the failure of the leaders to come to a common position on the big matters and said she "deplored" the U.S. decision to pull out of the Paris accord. "I always said that this wouldn't be easy and that we shouldn't hide areas of discord," Ms. Merkel told reporters after the meeting. "I think it's very clear that we could not reach consensus, but the differences were not papered over, they were clearly stated."

Mr. Trudeau tried to put a brave face on the disagreements, saying that it was a "big success" that 19 countries stuck together on climate change and trade.

"The United States made it very clear that at this point they are looking in a different direction but the fact that the G20 stayed strong and committed, even with the United States stepping aside, is a strong indication that the global community in general is committed and united," he told reporters. "I think that we can look at the global community holding together so strongly on the topic of climate change is a credit to the G20."

He also acknowledged that even though the other 19 countries backed a call for free trade, there are still substantial barriers to trade in areas like agriculture. When asked how Canada could endorse a commitment to free trade given our supply management system for dairy and poultry products, Mr. Trudeau said Canada has "signed many different free trade deals over the past decades while recognizing that we have protections in place for certain vulnerable industries particularly in agriculture."

"Let's not pretend that even with all the free trade around, there is a global free market when it comes to agriculture," he added.

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Mr. Trudeau expressed confidence if the U.S. takes action on steel and introduces tariffs, Canadian steel will not be impacted. He said he'd had several meetings with Mr. Trump and Canada is "comfortable that the [U.S. trade action on steel] will not apply to the Canadian steel industry, which is extraordinarily well integrated into the U.S. steel industry as well."

Former Canadian diplomat Tom Bernes said the summit accomplished little but also didn't fail, as many expected. "There was no great forward progress but there was no retreat, which was the big risk," he said labelling the meeting "indifferent". However, he added that the G20 "is left trying to find the leadership that in the past the United States has provided as an anchor to the system."

Some other groups were less charitable and slammed Mr. Trump for not siding with the other leaders.

"Trump has lost another collision between fantasy and reality. No other global leader shares his fantasy that climate change is a hoax," said Tom Burke, chairman of E3G, a London-based think tank on energy and environmental issues. "Other governments, cities, businesses, entrepreneurs and communities, including many in his own country, will carry on with the serious business of tackling the greatest strategic threat to our prosperity."

French President Emmanuel Macron also kept up the pressure on Mr. Trump, announcing that he would host a summit in December on how to move the Paris deal forward. "On Dec. 12, two years after the Paris (climate) agreement, I will therefore convene a summit to take further action on climate, notably on the financial front," Mr. Macron told reporters. He added that he was still committed to changing Mr. Trump's mind on the issue. "I never despair to convince, because I think it is a duty, given my position, and it is a trait of my character".

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