Germany Prepares for Climate Clash With Tillerson at G-20 Talks

  • U.S. Secretary of State to meet foreign ministers Thursday
  • Envoys to discuss climate policy on UN targets for 2030

Germany fixed climate change as a key topic for foreign ministers from the Group of 20 nations meeting Thursday, according to an official in Berlin, setting up for a clash with Donald Trump’s lead Cabinet minister on the issue.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet envoys from the rest of the G-20 in Bonn to discuss Agenda 2030, a United Nations catalogue of global sustainability goals agreed on in 2015, Germany’s Foreign Office said Wednesday in a statement. Germany, which as host of the meeting helps set the topics for discussion, is ready to challenge the U.S. administration on the issue, according to the official, who asked not to be named because the discussions about preparing for the meeting remain confidential.

“You can’t fight climate change by putting up barbed wire,” Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in a briefing document released ahead of the meeting, making a barely-disguised swipe at Trump’s ambition to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

While European nations led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel have been at the forefront of the international effort to rein in global warming, Trump has called climate science a hoax, vowing to slash environmental rules restricting coal and pull out of the Paris climate deal agreed at a UN meeting in 2015.

Exxon’s Support

Since he won the election in November, Trump and his officials have sent mixed signals about how they might act. While continuing to emphasize the importance of coal, Trump has said he will keep an open mind about the Paris agreement. Tillerson has said the U.S. should keep a seat at the table of the UN talks, which involve more than 190 nations.

Germany hasn’t had a clear signal about how the U.S. will respond to G-20 initiatives or the broader Paris Climate accord, according to the government official. The official said Germany isn’t certain how much sway Tillerson will have.

Tillerson supported the Paris agreement when he was chairman of the biggest U.S. oil company, Exxon Mobil Corp. The State Department represents the U.S. at the UN climate talks, though domestic policies limiting emissions are controlled mostly by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and other bodies.

Signatories of the UN’s Agenda 2030, including the U.S., need to be well prepared for new challenges like climate change, conflict prevention and poverty, the Foreign Ministry in Berlin said.

Exxon, the U.S. oil giant that’s facing investigations over what it knew and when about climate change, sees the Paris agreement as a “monumental” achievement, William M. Colton, the company’s vice president for corporate strategic planning, said in an interview last month.

Symbolic Location

Germany’s plan to test G-20 unity on measures to combat ills from climate change to global poverty marks a shift in its strategy as holder of the group’s rotating presidency. Presenting its schedule and G-20 goals in December, Germany said it would forgo holding a separate environment summit and focus climate debate on touting how cleaning up pollution can create jobs.

The meeting in Bonn is one of the discussions leading up to the G-20 leaders summit in Hamburg in July, which the U.S. president usually attends. The foreign ministers meeting will take up where China’s presidency of the group left off last year where an action plan was agreed, the German government said on its web site.

The officials in Bonn will assess progress on implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals on the UN’s Agenda 2030, according to the German document. The targets cover environmental, social and economic issues.

The choice of venue for this week’s meeting may be no coincidence -- the city on the Rhine is the home of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the secretariat established by a 1992 treaty establishing the global warming talks that resulted both in the Paris deal and its predecessor, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

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