Strengthening Sources of Success
for the Halifax G7 Environment Ministers' Meeting
John Kirton, Director, G7 Research Group
September 10, 2018
In just over a week, G7 ministers for climate change and the environment, oceans and energy will gather in Halifax, Canada, for the annual environment ministerial meeting (EMM) that supports their leaders' summit (see Appendices A and B). Expectations of success for this EMM are mounting, following the frustrating failure at the start of September of the week-long United Nations climate negotiations in Bangkok and the slow pace of negotiations on ocean marine diversity in New York City (Darby 2018). These hopes and expectations are appropriate, for the Halifax G7 EMM promises to be a very productive event, given the strengthening propellers of success that have proven their worth in the past. Indeed, the Halifax G7 EMM has already made history in several ways.
First, for the first time since G7 environment ministers started meeting in 1992, Canada, as the G7 host in 2018, is assembling not just ministers of the environment but also those responsible for the closely connected subjects of oceans and energy. The previous four ministerial meetings under Canada's presidency in 2018 combined only two portfolios each. Never before has any G7 ministerial meeting on any subject joined three. This has already catalyzed an unusually intense degree of interdepartmental communications and coordination among the G7 members' departments or agencies responsible for the environment, oceans and energy, both internationally and domestically as the preparatory process for Halifax gathers steam.
Second, Halifax takes place just over three months after the leaders' G7 summit in Charlevoix on June 8-9. It serves as the last, and thus culminating, ministerial in Canada's year as host. Of the 20 previous EMMs, only four took place after the annual summit in the same year. And few of these served as the culminating ministerial of the country's year as host.
Third, in their public outcome documents G7 leaders at Charlevoix gave their ministers an unprecedentedly large number of explicit mandates to guide their work at Halifax. This represented an unusually strong expression of confidence in the ministers and a vote of support in advance for what they do there. Although some members' environment ministers have changed since Charlevoix, notably in the United States on July 5 and in France on August 28, the leaders and the support of these leaders endures.
Fourth, Halifax has been preceded and will be accompanied by a high number of events to bring civil society into the process in a meaningful way. Canada was somewhat of a pioneer in this regard when it hosted the EMM in Banff as G7 chair in 2002 (see Civil Society Engagement: A Case Study of the 2002 G8 Environment Ministers Meeting by Sheila Risbud in Sustainability, Civil Society and International Governance, 2006). Yet at Halifax Canada has taken civil society engagement to a new high. Its many initiatives in the lead-up have included a Meech Lake retreat for female leaders and a youth innovation challenge. At Halifax itself there will days of pre-ministerial side events and an oceans dialogue for about 200 invited civil society representatives on the second day.
Joining these innovative preparations are the propellers of performance that are highlighted by the concert equality model of G7 governance and that have proven their worth in spurring G7 success on climate change, oceans and energy and elsewhere in the past (see Kirton 2013; Kirton, Kokotsis and Hudson 2018; Kirton and Larionova 2018).
The first is shock-activated vulnerability, a sequence of sharp, sudden surprising events that bring death and destruction to citizens of G7 members and those beyond. The weeks leading up to Halifax have seen historically high temperatures and searing heat in most G7 members, notably the United States, Japan and Europe. These have sparked or intensified many extreme weather events, such as historically large and long forest fires in California, British Columbia and parts of Europe.
In the United States and the Caribbean territories of the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands, the 2018 hurricane season had been modest, until September 9. Then Tropical Storm Florence became a category one hurricane and was forecast to hit the southeastern Atlantic U.S. states as a catastrophic category four hurricane by September 13. Two other hurricanes were following in its wake.
As the governors of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia declared states of emergency, Florence's approach revived memories of the ravages of the unusually deadly and damaging ones last year. The Halifax ministerial marks the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the Caribbean and Atlantic territories of the United States, United Kingdom, France and European Union's Netherlands. Figures just released show that Maria killed almost 3,000 people in Puerto Rico, making it one of the most deadly hurricanes in the United States in recent times.
In Japan, the most deadly typhoon in 25 years, Tornado Jebi, struck the western part of the country on September 4, leaving six dead and disabling the Kansai Airport serving Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe (Lewis 2018). It followed a prolonged heat wave and heavy flooding near Hiroshima. It reminded many that 12 of the world's major airports are less than five metres from sea level, including those in New York City, San Francisco and Shanghai (Tabuchi 2018). It was followed by a major earthquake that killed many in northern Japan.
The second propeller is multilateral organizational failure, notably that of the universal, hard law, development-oriented United Nations to act with sufficient ambition, speed and success to control climate change, and create clean oceans and energy. This has left it to the G7 to fill the global environmental governance gap (Kirton and Kokotsis 2015).
The September UN climate change negotiations in Bangkok made little progress in preparing the rule book to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement, as they were paralyzed by the traditional divides that flourish within the United Nations (Darby 2018). China sought to allow poorer countries have lower standards than rich ones, a proposal vetoed by the United States. Also progress was stopped on other key issues as well, such as climate finance and, above all, the information that countries should submit in updating their climate change commitments. Here too, the UN's divided regimes failed, as China and emerging countries wanted mandatory rules to apply only to traditionally developed countries, while the umbrella group of the United States, Canada and Australia, supported by the United Nations, sought a single, high-standards regime. As a result, at Bangkok officials produced no consensus text that was ready for ministers to work with, leaving the Patricia Espinosa, head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to point to the need for political-level intervention to resolve the impasse before the deadline to produce the rule book at the 24th Conference of the Parties meeting in Katowice, Poland, in December.
UN efforts to protect the marine biodiversity of the world's oceans beyond national jurisdiction, covering 45% of the planet, were also moving at a very slow pace (UN 2018). An intergovernmental conference underway in New York City until September 17 sought to develop a text for a legally binding instrument within the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, pursuant to UN General Assembly Resolution 72/249. Most speakers highlighted the urgent need to create such an instrument, and some were encouraged by the organizational meeting in April and the non-paper "aid to discussions document" that the Singaporese chair had produced. But most were comfortable with a pre-defined UN process that would move on to the second and third phase of the conference in 2019 and the fourth and final session in the first half of 2020, when the United States is scheduled to be the G7's host and chair. As of September 5, it was unclear if the current meeting would produce even a "zero draft" as basis for negotiations on a text to begin, even though the recently produced first Global Integrated Marine Assessment had highlighted the urgency of the threat and need to act.
The third propeller is the strong global predominance and internal equality that G7 members have in the specialized capabilities most relevant to the agenda of the Halifax meeting.
Host Canada is the G7's least powerful member in overall terms, as measured by gross domestic product at current market exchange rates. Yet it is the leading ecological superpower in the G7 and the world. This is largely due, as the creator of the concept of "superpower" noted, to its place in the privileged set of being a country of transcontinental reach, bordering the three great oceanic theatres of international politics, the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic (Fox 1944). Canada's previous prime minister had in 2006 correctly identified Canada as an emerging energy superpower (Taber 2006). Yet it is far more of an established ecological superpower to this day. It has the world's longest coastline, largest boreal forests and largest body freshwater (thanks to the Great Lakes, which it shares with the neighbouring United States). Canada is by far the G7 leader and stands fourth in the world as a source of cobalt, the critical ingredient in the batteries required for electric cars (Sanderson 2018). The United States, while the most powerful G7 member overall, as a cobalt power stands far behind Canada as second in the G7 and 12th in the world.
The fourth propeller is the strengthening support in G7 members' mass public opinion for action to control these shocks and their underlying cause of climate change.
In host Canada, citizens in an Abacus Data poll taken on August 15-20 placed climate change second among the issues they were extremely concerned about, with 34% respondents behind only the 48% who chose Donald Trump (Anderson and Coletto 2018). Canadians also put extreme weather in sixth place, showing that the summer's shock-activated vulnerability was hitting home.
In similar fashion, Environics Research found that a majority of Canadians believe that environmental protection and economic growth are and should be mutually supportive (Coulson 2018). Indeed, three quarters think environmental protection increases economic growth and jobs while only one quarter think it reduces them. They also support the construction of new pipelines, including the proposal expansion of the Trans-Mountain pipeline from Alberta to British Columbia, and believe this can be done with reasonable environmental protection. Even a slight majority of those in British Columbia agree.
The Canadian government was also bolstered by rising political support in the public opinion polls. The Nanos poll that had showed the opposition Conservative Party leading the Liberal party of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and environment minister Catherine McKenna on July 20 put the Liberals in first place at 38.8% and Conservatives in second at 34.4% by August 24 (Nanos 2018a, 2018b). Their Liberal Party lead increased by August 31 to 39.9% against the Conservatives 32.4%, the New Democratic Party's 15.8% and the Greens 6.7%.
In the United States, public concern about climate change is strong and rising. The Yale Climate Opinion Map finds that 70% of U.S. adults believe that global warming is underway. A majority 57% think that humans cause it (Marlon et al. 2018). And 61% worry about it now. In 2014, only 63% of them had believed global warming was underway. Moreover, a majority of U.S. residents believe that environmental protection is more important than economic growth. These views of the public acquire more importance as the U.S. mid-term congressional elections approach on November 6, with polls showing Donald Trump's Republican Party already due to lose control of the House of Representatives then.
In the United Kingdom, 80% of Britons indicate they are concerned about and want urgent action against the use of single use plastics (Pritchard 2018). In Scotland, in the annual Scottish Household Survey, adults seeing climate change as an urgent, serious concern, rose to 61% in 2017, a rise from 55% in 2016 (Duncanson 2018).
In France, which will host the G7 in 2019, support for President Emanuel Macron, whose party has a legislative majority, stood at a record low of 31% in by September 4 and at 34% in a poll on August 29-30, a decline of 5% since July (Keohane and Agnew 2018; Group BVA 2018). It was only 21% among those supporting Europe-Écologie-les-Verts, a decline of 18 points. However, recently resigned environment minister Nicolas Hulot stood first as the most influential figure at 38%, a gain of three points. This suggested that the French sought strong action on environmental protection and climate change.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel, the longest serving G7 leader and a former environment minister, leads a coalition whose CDU party is 44 percentage points more popular than the populist AfD (Mudde 2018).
In Italy, the populist party M5S is in the governing coalition, and viewed most favourably, but only by 39% of adults (Mudde 2018).
More broadly, over the past year there has been a contagious tide of media attention and civil society action on preventing plastic pollution in the oceans, which is a central priority on the Halifax agenda. Initiated by Sir David Attenborough and the BBC, the spreading message to "free Willy" from plastic poisons offers an emotionally compelling rallying cry.
The fifth propeller is the attending ministers' continuity and resulting experience and their personal convictions and expertise.
Canada's chair of the key EMM, the Honourable Catherine McKenna, has been Canada's highly accomplished minister of the environment and climate change since the Trudeau government entered office with its parliamentary majority in November 2015. She participated in the G7 EMMs in Bologna in Italy in 2017 and Toyama in Japan in 2016. She attended the G7 summit in Lyon, France, as a journalist in 1996. She will be the only minister of a G7 country at Halifax who attended the previous two EMMs.
The only other EMM veteran is Karmenu Vella of Malta, as the European commissioner for the environment, maritime affairs and fisheries, who assumed the post on November 1, 2014.
The fact that all the others are newcomers offers to opportunities for them to make a fresh start, injecting innovation and ambition as never before.
In France, François de Rugy was appointed a environment minister on September 4, 2018, replacing Hulot who had suddenly resigned the week before (Keohane and Agnew 2018). de Rugy is an ecologist, a member of Macron's En Marche party and an early supporter of Macron, and was previously the president of the National Assembly. He thus brings experience in environmental issues and an expectation that France's environmental policy would not change. On his appointment, he posted on Facebook that it is no longer the time for analyzing speeches, but now requires action, more action and always action (L'écologie, cela ne peut pas être que des grands discours d'analyse, de dénonciation ou même de propositions mais bien de l'action, encore de l'action et toujours de l'action).
The sixth propeller of performance is the position of the G7 and its EMM as an interpersonal compact club at the hub of a global governance network. A key finding of social psychology is that "positive, intimate contact between members of rival groups across an extended period can produce compromise" (Bail 2018). With only eight G7 ministers at the table for the opening day, expanding to 16 on the second, the G7 EMM constitutes as compact K-group where all participate as equals, where transactions costs are low, where free, frank, flexible exchanges can flourish in private, and where psychological as well as rationally calculated instrument bonds can arise. It has met annually for the previous two years and its ministers encounter one another regularly in other forums.
Its status as the hub of a global network will be reinforced by well-chosen ministers from non-members coming as invited guests, including Jamaica to represent the Caribbean. More broadly, the dense array of side meetings with civil society will expand the reach.
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Ministers' Meeting Introduction
1:00 p.m.–1:20 p.m.
Session 1 – Enabling Conditions
1:20 p.m.–2:05 p.m.
Session 2 – Innovative Solutions
2:05 p.m.–3:00 p.m.
Session 3 – Mobilizing Capital
3:30 p.m.–4:50 p.m.
4:50 p.m.–5:00 p.m.
8:15 a.m.–8:25 a.m.
Plenary session 1 – Long-Term Economic Transition
8:25 a.m.–10:00 a.m.
Plenary session 2 – Near-Term Ambitious Action and Reduction Opportunities
10:30 a.m.–12:00 p.m.
Plenary session 3 – Adaptation
2:00 p.m.–3:30 p.m.
Closed session 3
4:15 p.m.–5:00 p.m.
Family photo of G7 Environment Ministers and media availability with Minister McKenna
8:30 a.m.–9:00 a.m.
Session 1 – Plastics and Marine Litter
9:30 a.m.–10:30 a.m.
Session 2 – Sustainable Oceans and Fisheries
10:45 a.m.–11:45 a.m.
Session 3 – Resilient Coasts and Communities
1:00 p.m.–2:00 p.m.
2:15 p.m.–3:45 p.m.
Family photo of G7 Environment, Oceans, and Energy Ministers and Press conference with Ministers McKenna, Wilkinson, and Sohi
4:00 p.m.–5:00 p.m.
Evening event and reception
Dinner with G7 Energy Ministers
7:00 p.m.–9:00 p.m.
Opening remarks by Minister Sohi
8:00 a.m.–8:20 a.m.
Roundtable on offshore energy development
8:20 a.m.–9:45 a.m.
Panel discussion on gender equality in the energy sector
9:45 a.m.–10:45 a.m.
Family photo of G7 Energy Ministers
10:45 a.m.–11:15 a.m.
Discussion on just transition in the energy sector
11:15 a.m.–12:15 p.m.
Building Energy Systems of Tomorrow
1:00 p.m.–4:00 p.m.
Media availability with Minister Sohi
4:00 p.m.–4:30 p.m.
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