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Trump acting as climate 'bully' galvanises work at UN talks

Thursday, May 18, 2017 - 16:41

[LONDON] President Donald Trump's threat to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement on climate change has catalysed envoys from much of the rest of the world working to give the deal a boost at United Nations talks in Germany this week.

Diplomats from more than 190 nations gathered in Bonn are due Thursday to conclude two weeks of discussions putting finer details on measures agreed in Paris in 2015 to curb the pollution behind global warming. 

Known for bickering over fine details and recurring divisions between richer and poorer nations over how to pay for the impact of warmer temperatures, the envoys have been unusually cooperative in reaching a deal this week, delegates and observers gathered in Bonn said.

"We're very concerned about what's going to happen if the US pulls out," William Calvo, adjunct chief negotiator at Costa Rica's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in an interview.

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"However, we're all together on this. You can see in the room - we're together, we're working. Things are moving."

Their willingness to cooperate may be driven by the potential for the richest nation at the talks to withdraw from the deal. Mr Trump has called climate change a "hoax" and vowed to scrap Paris, though his advisers are divided on the issue and the administration hasn't yet confirmed its policy. In the absence of a new stance from the US, the UN envoys are moving forward. 

"We're actually not preparing for that, and we're rather hoping they stay in the talks," said Patricia Espinosa, the United Nations climate change chief, in an interview in Bonn on Wednesday.

"We know that we need to wait and see what kind of decisions are taken."

On Thursday the European Union said it would contribute 800 million euros (S$1.24 billion) as part of a partnership with 79 nations from the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States to support the Paris Accord.

"We, developed and developing countries together, will defend the Paris Agreement," Miguel Arias Canete, European commissioner for climate action and energy, said in an emailed statement about the partnership.

"We are all in, and our joint commitment to this agreement today is as in Paris: irreversible and non-negotiable."

As they adjourn on Thursday, the envoys are likely to agree on: The outline of draft negotiation text for the "Paris rulebook", a set of guidelines for implementing the 2015 deal. This would be a sort of operating manual for countries on how to use the agreement to advance climate action over the coming decades.

Preparations for a global stocktaking of emissions in 2018, known as the Facilitative Dialogue. This is a key moment that will help countries get ready for 2020 when they are required to submit more ambitious climate action plans.

Work toward a two-year budget for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which will affect support from the secretariat for the talks.

Mr Trump's advisers are divided on the issue. Several of Mr Trump's top advisers are pushing him to exit, including chief strategist Stephen Bannon and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. The president's daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have been urging him to remain in the deal.

Businesses including Alphabet Inc's Google, Apple Inc, Facebook Inc and big oil companies like Exxon Mobil Corp, Chevron Corp and Royal Dutch Shell Plc as well as ex-military brass have all been putting pressure on Trump to stay in the Paris agreement.

"The US has been playing hardball, saying it doesn't have a position on certain elements of the talks, and that's been rubbing a lot of people up the wrong way," said Alden Meyer, director of strategy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group.

"Countries are showing they are not going to bow down to pressure, not wanting to cower before a bully."

American View

A handful of US State Department officials are engaged in the talks in Bonn but sidestepped questions about the direction of Mr Trump's policy. Trigg Talley, the lead US envoy from Washington, said at a briefing on May 12 that the overarching priority of the US is to strengthen its economy and national security.

"In this broader context our climate policies are under review" Mr Talley told reporters in Bonn on May 12.

"The administration had not yet developed a formal policy on climate change, and that includes both domestic and international climate change issues generally." He declined to provide any new details in Bonn on Wednesday.

Roadblock

Any decision by the US to pull out of Paris or stay in and water down its targets would be a major roadblock to the agreement's success. On Friday, the US confirmed it won't give any money this year to the Green Climate Fund, which enables rich countries to help poorer ones deal with the worst impacts of climate change.

"There may be changes in the future, but we are optimistic of the existing situation," said Debasu Bayleyegn Eyasu, director general of the climate change coordination directorate and the environment ministry of Ethiopia.

Oil exporter Nigeria on Wednesday became the 146th country to ratify the Paris deal, and India last week said it would pursue clean energy "irrespective of what others do".

The coal-reliant country also announced that it plans to sell only electric cars by the end of the next decade.

Negotiation Strategy

Some countries panicked earlier this month when the Trump administration raised a debate about Article 4.11 in the Paris deal, which says a nation "may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition".

Rather than be drawn into a debate about whether the words are meant to ratchet up ambition for fighting climate change, negotiators sidestepped the issue.

"After a while they realised it's a trick and they need to be smarter in their response," Yamide Dagnet, senior associate at the World Resources Institute, said in an interview. As a result, the talks haven't seen the "agenda fight" that usually occurs at intersession talks that come with UN gatherings of the envoys who discuss global climate deals.

"The mood is pretty good, and everybody's is on board and working pretty hard,"  said Aziz Mekouar, the lead negotiations for Morocco.

"We've made a lot of progress. This session has been very positive."

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