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World leaders clash over climate change at G20 as May pushes for action

Theresa May speaks at a news conference in Osaka. Credit: AP

World leaders have clashed over climate change at the G20 summit, with Theresa May pushing for urgent action on the issue.

The process of agreeing a joint statement at the G20 summit has run into difficulties with US president Donald Trump reportedly trying to water down the summit communique’s language on climate change – while the UK's Prime Minister wants “the strongest wording we can deliver”.

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.”

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

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

The Prime Minister called 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, and she urged others to follow suit.

In recent months we have heard hundreds of thousands of young people urge us – their leaders – to act on climate change before it’s too late,” she said.

I am proud that the UK has now enshrined in law our world-leading net zero commitment to reduce emissions and I have called on other countries to raise their ambition and embrace this target.

– Theresa May

Donald Trump has been left somewhat isolated by his stance on climate change, putting himself at odds with Western allies including Mrs May 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.

Theresa May will lead a session on climate change. Credit: AP

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.”

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.

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In the margins of the summit, Mrs May had a 20-minute meeting with Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman and raised the case of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The US intelligence community has concluded that the crown prince directed the killing of the Washington Post columnist at the Saudi consulate in Turkey last year.

“On accountability for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi the Prime Minister said the legal process needed to be open and transparent,” the British official said.

The Prime Minister held a news conference in which she thanked Japanese President Shinzō Abe for hosting the G20, and called for countries to pull together to ensure Iran's nuclear deal was kept in place.

She called for stronger action to tackle online threats, including the misuse of livestreaming by terrorists and criminals, and said there was ongoing work towards a political solution to end the conflict in Yemen.

She also said she had warned Russian President Vladimir Putin "there can only be a normalisation of our bilateral relationship if Russia stops the pattern of irresponsible activity that threatens the UK and its allies, such as the use of a deadly nerve agent on the streets of Salisbury".

"We remain open to a different relationship, but for that to happen the Russian government must choose a different path," Mrs May added.