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A Meeting of Meaningful Momentum: The G7 Environment Ministers at Halifax

John Kirton, Director, G7 Research Group
September 19, 2018

At their meeting in Halifax on September 19, 2018, G7 environment ministers led by Canada's Catherine McKenna added meaningful momentum to efforts to address the top three global problems, and thus their top three priorities — Paris, plastics and power.

Paris

On the Paris Agreement, their goal was to foster a deal on the rule book for implementation at the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Katowice, Poland, in December, to help keep the global temperature increase under 2°C, and ideally 1.5°C more than its level in the pre-industrial age. At Halifax, G7 ministers agreed to work hard to close the rule book to implement agreement and made advances to that end.

Plastics

On preventing plastic pollution and poisons in the oceans, they agreed that this was a major problem. The United States and Japan showed that they were committed to tackling plastic pollution. All agreed that the solution lay in moving toward a circular economy. The call, as the British representative put it, was to move "from trash to cash." At Halifax the emphasis was to focus on serious, concrete action, and with the presence at the meeting of global firms such as Walmart, BASF and Unilever, meaningful steps were taken. In all, on day one the environment ministers got off to a good start for their joint meetings with G7 ministers of fisheries and oceans, where much more action is expected to come.

Power

On power, which is an integral part of the long-term transition to a sustainable economy, the environment ministers agreed on the need to move to clean energy, and the benefit for air quality that this would bring. Much more would be added on the second day and on the third day when G7 energy ministers would meet.

Putting It All Together

Above all, the G7 Halifax environment ministerial meeting (EMM) made history in several ways. Its pioneering innovative cluster of environment, oceans and energy ministers meeting over three days was a G7 first that already proved its worth. The involvement of so many diverse stakeholders beyond G7 governors, including the outreach countries of Jamaica, Marshall Islands, Norway, Vietnam, Kenya, Nauru, Seychelles Islands and Poland as well as business leaders and representatives from multilateral institutions, and around and inside the EMM itself, and the decision to let the media hear them and McKenna's opening remarks were other firsts that proved their worth. It also mobilized new money, with McKenna announcing $2 million to help developing countries adapt to the impacts of climate change, with the funds to be managed by the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

The Halifax environment ministers also heard from the Gender Equality Advisory Council and McKenna made the environment-gender connection far more broadly and deeply than any EMM before. In her closing statement McKenna also repeatedly made the climate-health connection, stating that "we see extreme heat that is killing people." It had been a long time since the G7 EMM and even the G7 leaders at their summit had made this vital link. In these important ways, Halifax was the best G7 EMM ever to take place.

More advances will come on the second day, when, for the first time in G7 history, environment ministers will joint their colleagues responsible for fisheries and oceans. Late in the afternoon of the first day, Canada's three ministers who would meet in Halifax told the world to wait for an important announcement from them at 10:15 am the following day. It is expected that it will mobilize money to support the advances the environment ministers had made.

While much is being done in Halifax, there is still much left to do. But Halifax's first day served as a strong step forward and an inspiration for those to build on its advances at COP 24 in December, the G20 summits in Buenos Aires in November and Osaka in June 2019, and the G7 summit in Biarritz in the summer of 2018.

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John KirtonJohn Kirton is director of the G7 Research Group, and co-director of the G20 Research Group, the Global Health Diplomacy Program and the BRICS Research Group, all based at Trinity College at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. He is also a Non-resident Senior Fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at China's Renmin University. A professor of political science, he teaches global governance and international relations and Canadian foreign policy. He has served as a member of Canada's National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, and has advised the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, estabished to implement the North American Free Trade Agreement. He as also advised Environment and Climate Change Canada. His most recent books include Accountability for Effectiveness in Global Governance, co-edited with Marina Larionova (Routledge 2018), China's G20 Leadership (Routledge, 2016), G20 Governance for a Globalized World (Ashgate, 2012) and (with Ella Kokotsis), The Global Governance of Climate Change: G7, G20 and UN Leadership (Ashgate, 2015), as well as The G8-G20 Relationship in Global Governance, co-edited with Marina Larionova (Ashgate, 2015), and Moving Health Sovereignty in Africa: Disease, Govenance, Climate Change, co-edted with Andrew F. Cooper, Franklyn Lisk and Hany Besada (Ashgate, 2014). Kirton is also co-editor with Madeline Koch of several publications on the G7/8, the G20 and the BRICS, including G7 Canada: The 2018 Charlevoix Summit, published by GT Media and the Global Governance Project.

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