Climate talks set end-2018 deadline to finalise rule book

Celebrating the Marrakesh summit are (from left) UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa, Moroccan Foreign Minister Mr Mezouar and Council of Europe goodwill ambassador Bianca Jagger.
Celebrating the Marrakesh summit are (from left) UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa, Moroccan Foreign Minister Mr Mezouar and Council of Europe goodwill ambassador Bianca Jagger.PHOTO: REUTERS

Summit also turns to ways to punish US economy if Trump pulls out of Paris pact

MARRAKESH • Nearly 200 nations have agreed to work out the rules for a landmark 2015 deal to tackle climate change within two years in a new sign of international support for the pact opposed by US President-elect Donald Trump.

At the end of the two-week UN talks in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh yesterday, many nations appealed to Mr Trump, who has called climate change a hoax, to reconsider his threat to tear up the Paris Agreement, the world's first global deal for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from industry, power stations, transport and agriculture.

Showing determination to keep the Paris Agreement on track, the conference agreed to work out a rule book by December 2018, at the latest. A rule book is needed because the Paris accord left many details vague, such as how countries will report and monitor their pledges to curb the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for heating up the planet, triggering more extreme weather and rising sea levels.

Two years might sound like a long time, but it took four to work out detailed rules for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement's predecessor, which obliged only developed countries to cut their emissions. Paris requires commitments by all.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar said Marrakesh is the start of turning promises made in Paris into action. "We will continue on the path," he said, urging Mr Trump to join other nations in acting to limit emissions.

RIPPLE EFFECT

The Paris Agreement is meant to get everyone on board in one structure where you can address climate change together. But if one big country backs out, it could trigger a whole wave of trade responses.

MR DIRK FORRISTER, president and chief executive of the non-profit International Emissions Trading Organisation, which consults with governments and companies.

Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, host of next year's climate meeting in Germany, invited Mr Trump to drop his scepticism and visit the South Pacific nation to see the effects of stronger storms and rising seas.

Mr Bainimarama urged the US to play its part in rescuing his Pacific island state - and the world at large - from climate change.

Ministers and diplomats, however, insist that a Trump administration cannot derail the massive momentum of the global transition to a low-carbon economy, already well under way.

On the sidelines of the negotiations, some diplomats turned from talking of rising seas and climbing temperatures to how to punish the US if Mr Trump follows through, possibly with a carbon-pollution tax on imports of US-made goods.

"A carbon tariff against the United States is an option for us," said Mexico's Undersecretary for Environmental Policy and Planning Rodolfo Lacy Tamayo.

He added: "We will apply any kind of policy necessary to defend the quality of life for our people, to protect our environment and to protect our industries."

Forcing US industries to turn to cleaner energy sources with the hammer of an import tariff is not far-fetched.

Countries imposing costs on their own industries to control carbon emissions could tell the World Trade Organisation that US industries are operating under an unfair trade advantage by avoiding any cost for their pollution.

The tax would be calculated based on the amount of carbon pollution associated with the manufacturing of each product. That would impose a painful cost on the heaviest industrial polluters, particularly on exporters of products containing steel and cement.

"The Paris Agreement is meant to get everyone on board in one structure where you can address climate change together," said Mr Dirk Forrister, president and chief executive of the non-profit International Emissions Trading Organisation, which consults with governments and companies. "But if one big country backs out, it could trigger a whole wave of trade responses."

He added: "There is no need to start a trade war over climate change. But it might happen."

REUTERS, NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 20, 2016, with the headline 'Climate talks set end-2018 deadline to finalise rule book'. Print Edition | Subscribe