IT WILL have come as no surprise to many people that last week’s G20 meeting in Germany of the countries with the world’s largest economies attracted even more media attention than is usual for such a significant gathering.
This is an inherently important international forum, since the nineteen individual countries, plus the European Union, which were represented, account for some eighty-five per cent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product and two-thirds of its population. But there was also extensive media coverage of violent anti-globalisation protests and the presence on this occasion of new US president Donald Trump will understandably have made a difference as well.
Not only is the US president newsworthy as an unconventional, unpredictable and deeply controversial figure, but, with issues like climate change, mass immigration and trade at the heart of the agenda, serious differences between him and his fellow leaders were bound to be exposed.
Add to that the prospect of his bilateral meetings with some of them – not least a much anticipated encounter with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, as well as with China’s President Xi Jinping – and the whole G20 summit will have whetted the appetite of the most world-weary of journalists.
Despite facing an endless barrage of criticism at home, Mr Trump has so far fared better on overseas trips. This time, he was praised for his statesman-like speech in Poland, for confronting Putin over alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US election and for brokering a ceasefire in Syria.
At the G20 itself, however, there were major differences on a number of issues to the extent that some are now calling into question the US’s role as a world leader.
Given his extreme views on controlling immigration, there was unlikely to be any meeting of minds with the German Chancellor over her open-door refugee policy. Nor, with his much vaunted economic nationalism – deemed by others to be inconsistent with the principles of free trade and therefore protectionist – was he in tune with other world leaders who are intent on boosting international trade and globalisation? However, the most significant division was in relation to climate change on which he became totally isolated.
His earlier decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement, because of doubts about the scientific evidence on climate change and on the grounds of likely damage to the US economy, was widely condemned at the time. Now, at the G20, he found himself at loggerheads on the issue with his fellow leaders.
The Paris accords laid out a framework for countries to adopt clean energy and phase out fossil fuels in order to put the world on track to avoid climate change by limiting global warming. But the door has apparently been left open insofar as the President has expressed a willingness, if necessary, to participate in new discussions on the subject even though all the signatories have said the Agreement is irreversible.
The impact of climate change and global warming leading to a rise of sea levels will be particularly significant for those countries classified as Small Island Developing States, known as SIDS, many of which are low lying.
For The Bahamas, which has ratified the Paris Agreement, even if the rise of global temperatures is limited to the target of two degrees Celsius the results could still be catastrophic. According to reports, some eighty per cent of our landmass is within one metre of sea levels which are already rising and thus coastal areas are prone to serious flooding and the resulting displacement of people and damage to infrastructure could be devastating.
Whatever view is taken of the detailed scientific evidence, it is clear to most people that the phenomenon of climate change and global warming is real to a greater or lesser extent. The Paris Agreement is surely a step in the right direction. But, in order to ensure its effective implementation US leadership, not isolation, is required.
Thus, if resources allow, we believe that the issue is so important to our country’s long-term survival that the Government should take the initiative in organising a joint SIDS lobbying exercise in Washington to persuade the US government to re-examine its policy. We were reminded less than a year ago of our extreme vulnerability when Hurricane Matthew made a direct hit on New Providence. The stakes remain high.