Leaders from the world’s leading economies broke with U.S. President Donald Trump on climate policy at a G20 summit on Saturday, in a rare public admission of disagreement and blow to multilateral cooperation.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, keen to show off her skills as a mediator two months before a German election, achieved her primary goal at the meeting in Hamburg, convincing her fellow leaders to support a single communique with pledges on trade, finance, energy and Africa.
But the divide between Trump, elected on a pledge to put “America First”, and the 19 other members of the club, including countries as diverse as Japan, Saudi Arabia and Argentina, was stark.
Last month Trump announced he was pulling the United States out of a landmark international climate accord clinched two years ago in Paris.
“In the end, the negotiations on climate reflect dissent – all against the United States of America,” Merkel told reporters at the end of the meeting.
“And the fact that negotiations on trade were extraordinarily difficult is due to specific positions that the United States has taken.”
The summit, marred by violent protests that left the streets of Hamburg littered with burning cars and broken shop windows, brought together a volatile mix of leaders at a time of major change in the global geo-political landscape.
Trump’s shift to a more unilateral, transactional diplomacy has left a void in global leadership, unsettling traditional allies in Europe and opening the door to rising powers like China to assume a bigger role.
Tensions between Washington and Beijing dominated the run-up to the meeting, with the Trump administration ratcheting up pressure on President Xi Jinping to rein in North Korea and threatening punitive trade measures on steel.
In support of the communique which touched on conflicted African countries, President Donald Trump promised $639 million in aid to feed people left starving because of drought and conflict in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen.
Trump’s pledge came during a working session of the G20 summit of world leaders in Hamburg, providing a “godsend” to the United Nations’ World Food Programme, the group’s executive director, David Beasley said on the sidelines of the meeting.
“We’re facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two,” said Beasley, a Republican and former South Carolina governor who was nominated by Trump to head the U.N. agency fighting hunger worldwide.
The new funding brings to over $1.8 billion aid promised by the United States for fiscal year 2017 for the crises in the four countries, where the United Nations has estimated more than 30 million people need urgent food assistance.
“With this new assistance, the United States is providing additional emergency food and nutrition assistance, life-saving medical care, improved sanitation, emergency shelter and protection for those who have been affected by conflict,” USAID said in a statement.
Rob Jenkins, acting head of the USAID’s bureau of democracy, conflict and humanitarian assistance, said of the funding, over $191 million would go to Yemen, $199 million to South Sudan, $121 million to Nigeria and almost $126 million for Somalia.
Conflict in all four countries had made it difficult to reach some communities in need of food, he noted.
“We’re in a dire situation right now,” said Jenkins, adding that USAID was also concerned with the situation in southern Ethiopia.
“The situation in southern Ethiopia fortunately does not rise to the dire situation of the other four, but the situation is deteriorating and might very well be catastrophic without additional interventions,” he said, adding that Washington had already provided some $252 million this year to Ethiopia, “but the needs continue to grow.”
Beasley said the U.S. funding was about a third of what the WFP estimated was required this year to deal with urgent food needs in the four countries in crisis as well as in other areas.
The WFP estimates that 109 million people around the world will need food assistance this year, up from 80 million last year, with 10 of the 13 worst-affected zones stemming from wars and “man-made” crises, Beasley said.
“We estimated that if we didn’t receive the funding we needed immediately that 400,000 to 600,000 children would be dying in the next four months,” he said.
Trump’s announcement came after his administration proposed sharp cuts in funding for the U.S. State Department and other humanitarian missions as part of his “America First” policy.
Beasley said the agency had worked hard with the White House and the U.S. government to secure the funding, but Trump would insist that other countries contributed more as well.
A WFP spokesman said Germany recently pledged an additional 200 million euros for food relief.
Trump met Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time in Hamburg, a hotly anticipated encounter after the former real estate mogul promised a rapprochement with Moscow during his campaign, only to be thwarted by accusations of Russian meddling in the vote and investigations into the Russia ties of Trump associates.
Putin said at the conclusion of the summit on Saturday that Trump had quizzed him on the alleged meddling in a meeting that lasted over two hours but seemed to have been satisfied with the Kremlin leader’s denials of interference.
Trump had accused Russia of destabilizing behavior in Ukraine and Syria before the summit. But in Hamburg he struck a conciliatory tone, describing it as an honor to meet Putin and signaling, through Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, that he preferred to focus on future ties and not dwell on the past.
“It was an extraordinarily important meeting,” Tillerson said, describing a “very clear positive chemistry” between Trump and the former KGB agent.
In the final communique, the 19 other leaders took note of the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord and declared it “irreversible”.
For its part, the United States injected a contentious line saying that it would “endeavor to work closely with other countries to help them access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently.”
French President Emmanuel Macron led a push to soften the U.S. language.
“There is a clear consensus absent the United States,” said Thomas Bernes, a distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation. “But that is a problem. Without the largest economy in the world how far can you go?”
Jennifer Morgan, executive director at Greenpeace, said the G19 had “held the line” against Trump’s “backward decision” to withdraw from Paris.
On trade, another sticking point, the leaders agreed they would “fight protectionism including all unfair trade practices and recognize the role of legitimate trade defense instruments in this regard.”
The leaders also pledged to work together to foster economic development in Africa, a priority project for Merkel.
Merkel chose to host the summit in Hamburg, the port city where she was born, to send a signal about Germany’s openness to the world, including its tolerance of peaceful protests.
It was held only a few hundred meters from one of Germany’s most potent symbols of left-wing resistance, a former theater called the “Rote Flora” which was taken over by anti-capitalist squatters nearly three decades ago.
Over the three days of the summit, radicals looted shops, torched cars and lorries. More than 200 police were injured and some 143 people have been arrested and 122 taken into custody.
Some of the worst damage was done as Merkel hosted other leaders at for a concert and lavish dinner at the Elbphilharmonie, a modernist glass concert hall overlooking the Elbe River.
Merkel met police and security force after the summit to thank them, and condemned the “unbridled brutality” of some of the protestors, but she was forced to answer tough questions about hosting the summit in Hamburg during her closing press conference.