G20 summit: Theresa May pushes for climate change action

News, Science

World leaders are at odds over climate change and trade, with the process of agreeing a joint statement at the G20 summit running into difficulties.

US president Donald Trump has reportedly been pushing to water down the summit communique’s language on climate change – but Theresa May wants “the strongest wording we can deliver”.


The Prime Minister will lead a session on climate change at the G20 summit in Osaka, calling on her counterparts to set their own targets to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions because the crisis requires an urgent international response.

The UK has enshrined in law a commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

A senior British government official acknowledged that the process of drawing up the summit communique was “challenging”.

The “sherpas” – officials who do the groundwork for national leaders at major summits – were still trying to find a way through the difficulties.

“I think it was a long night for the sherpas and I think it’s definitely a challenging process but work is ongoing in relation to the communique so we’ll have to see where we end up,” the official said.

“There have been a number of areas, trade is obviously one, climate would be another.”

The US president is at odds with Western allies including Mrs May over climate change after pulling out of the international Paris agreement on the subject.

Before the G20 summit, Mrs May had stressed the importance of cooperation, in comments apparently aimed at the US president.

“We have led the world in terms of the net zero target but we need to work together on climate change in particular, so you can expect us to be making the case for the strongest wording we can deliver on climate change,” the British official said.

Leaders of the G20 pose for a family photo at the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)

In an effort to show her commitment to the green agenda, Mrs May has committed that UK aid spending will be aligned with the conditions of the Paris climate change agreement.

Officials said that would mean that when roads or energy infrastructure are funded from the aid budget, the UK will consider the greenest way to do this and use the best materials and design to manage the impacts of climate change.

Mrs May was using the summit to tell her counterparts “we are running out of time to act” on climate change.


“I urge everyone here to push for ambition and consider setting their own net zero targets,” she said.

The UK is bidding in partnership with Italy to host the COP26 climate summit in 2020, a major gathering expected to attract up 30,000 delegates including 150 world leaders.

Turkey has a rival bid to host the summit and Mrs May will meet the country’s president Recep Tayyep Erdogan on the margins of the G20 on Saturday.

Mrs May’s Government has said it has the advantage because the UK has the world’s most concentrated grouping of scientific, civil society and business expertise on climate change that would help develop the programme and objectives for the summit.

Setting out the UK’s position, Mrs May told the G20: “Our citizens – and our youth in particular, whose lives will be shaped immeasurably by climate change – demand action. We will be judged by history on how we act in the next few years.”

Chris Price