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The G7 Fails on Climate Change at Biarritz

Brittaney Warren, Director of Compliance and Lead Researcher on Climate Change, G7 Research Group
August 31, 2019

The G7 leaders met for their 45th annual summit for a three-day meeting in Biarritz from August 24 to 26, 2019. The host, French president Emmanuel Macron, announced early on that climate change and environmental issues, namely biodiversity and oceans, would be at the centre of the agenda, under the overarching summit theme of inequality. It was clear that on climate change there would be a 6+1 outcome, in keeping with the trend since U.S. president Donald Trump's first summit in 2017. What was not expected, however, was that there would be no commitments made on climate change in the publicly available documents released by the summit.

G7 leaders released eight pre-negotiated, collectively endorsed documents and two chair's summaries, one on inequality and the other on climate change, biodiversity and oceans. Not one of these 10 documents, including the one dedicated to the environment, included a single commitment on climate change. Moreover, only four environment commitments appeared among the 71 commitments overall. All four were in the stand-alone Chair's Summary on Climate, Biodiversity and Oceans. Three were on marine litter. One was an endorsement of the Metz Charter on Biodiversity, produced at the G7 environment ministers' meeting on May 6.

This endorsement is welcome, as the Metz Charter contained 30 collective, politically binding, future-oriented commitments. These included commitments linking biodiversity loss with climate change. It included commitments to recognize both the economic and non-economic value of biodiversity, to mobilize resources for conservation, to work on a process for monitoring and reviewing implementation, to mainstream biodiversity in government decisions and to support the global governance institutions, led by the United Nations, working to prevent biodiversity loss, including through a post-2020 biodiversity framework.

The Metz Charter also references Indigenous peoples three times. It recognizes the "important role of indigenous peoples … with regard to biodiversity, and the need to engage with them to advance efforts towards its conservation and sustainable use." The ministers, and leaders through their endorsement, state that their commitments "will enhance the benefits which biodiversity and ecosystems provide to all, especially the most vulnerable, including … members of indigenous communities." They continued by "encourage[ing] the engagement of other actors and stakeholders, including … indigenous peoples."

Yet to label these references to Indigenous peoples as positive misses the fact that Indigenous people are not mere stakeholders or interest groups in land management or global environmental governance. Rather, they are sovereign nations that have lived on the land and have been caretakers of the land for millennia, taking only what is needed without overexploiting what the land has to give. They are on the frontlines of resistance to anti-environment policies and projects, including fossil fuel expansion. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and other research and literature, recognizes that securing land rights of Indigenous people and local communities is essential for adapting to the climate crisis and to mitigating its effects. Yet there is no commitment in the Metz Charter or in the leaders' document on climate change, biodiversity and oceans to endorse the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

The only reference to Indigenous peoples in the leaders' environment document was from French G7 presidency itself, which "commended the active mobilization of youth, … embodied by concrete multi-stakeholder coalitions and projects involving … indigenous communities." There was therefore a second misnomer of Indigenous nations labelled as stakeholders, combined with a condescending congratulatory note to Indigenous communities that lacked recognition of their long fight against colonization and the right to live free from interference or invasion. There was no acknowledgment of the Indigenous nations of the Amazon being pushed out by the fires set by the agriculture sector with political permission from Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro.

The one response of value that the G7 managed to offer was €20 million to fight the Amazon fires. This was promptly rejected by Bolsonaro, who has since said he would accept it. Yet many observers criticized the small amount of money raised, pointing out that the global community immediately raised over $1 billion for the Notre Dame Cathedral and that €20 million is far less than the value of all that has been extracted from the Amazon for economic gain. Moreover, Canada and celebrity Leonardo DiCaprio, through his not-for-profit organization Earth Alliance, alone raised at least that much money. Canada announced an additional CAD15 million plus water bombers, and DiCaprio gave $5 million, all of which is for "Indigenous communities and local partners working to protect the life-sustaining biodiversity of the Amazon against the surge of fires currently burning across the region."

Any work the G7 leaders did to build on the past work of the G7 on climate change and environmental issues was lacking. In the publicly available documents, four marine litter commitments reiterated past ones. They did not build on the work done at the 2018 G7 Charlevoix Summit or the 2019 G20 Osaka Summit on marine litter nor did they endorse the action plans established there. The sustainable fashion pact that was released on the eve of the Biarritz Summit, while welcome and positive, came from a coalition of companies and did not include the G7 leaders. Similarly, the coalition for a carbon-neutral economy by 2050 presented at the summit, while also positive, does not add anything to the calls of the UN's Security General António Guterres for the same goal. Given the crisis in the Amazon, there was one promising reference acknowledging that the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land links global warming, land management, food security and diets. The acknowledgment of diets and global heating is new and needed. But this recognition came only from the host and not the other G7 members, as reported in the Chair's Summary on Climate, Biodiversity and Oceans.

Thus despite Emmanuel Macron at the helm championing climate action and bringing the Amazon fires to the attention of the global community and global media, at a moment where the multilateral order is being challenged even a climate-champion host among mostly like-minded countries was not able to achieve consensus or make significant advances on climate governance. This does not bode well for 2020, with the G7 to be under the leadership of U.S. president Donald Trump, one of the world's leading climate deniers, combined with the incoming G20 presidency of Saudi Arabia.

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