UN climate talks resuming, with wary eyes on US

Washington firm about pulling out from pact even in face of disastrous climate events

PARIS • Nations that adopted the Paris Agreement with champagne two years ago regroup next week amid grim omens of climate peril and with an anxious eye on US President Donald Trump's America.

The Nov 6-17 meeting in Bonn, Germany, is the first for UN climate envoys since Mr Trump announced he will extricate Washington from the deal, carefully crafted over many years and helped over the finish line by his predecessor Barack Obama.

In a year of severe flooding in Asia, drought in Africa and an exceptional hurricane season in North America, the US' position is "unchanged". A State Department official said: "The United States intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement as soon as it is eligible to do so." This can officially happen no sooner than Nov 4, 2020.

In the meantime, the world's biggest historical greenhouse gas polluter will send a delegation "to represent US interests" at the 23rd round of annual United Nations talks, with Fiji as president, in the former German capital.

Fiji's top negotiator Nazhat Shameem Khan has said veteran US envoys have expressed the intention to continue to "take part constructively".

But Mr Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid, which lobbies for poor country interests at the two-decades-old UN process, warns: "We should not entertain the US as a destructive force in Bonn."

"Since they have already announced their decision to withdraw, they shouldn't be actively influencing an agreement they don't intend to be party to," he added.

A total of 195 nations agreed in Paris in 2015 to limit average global warming caused by greenhouse gases from fossil-fuel burning to under 2 deg C over pre-industrial levels, and to 1.5 deg C if possible. The 1 deg C mark has already been passed. Countries, including the US, made non-binding pledges of emissions cuts in support of the goal, though scientists say the shortfall is still far too great.

Some 20,000 people are due to attend the 23rd UN "Conference of Parties" or COP23, with UN chief Antonio Guterres, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, California Governor Jerry Brown, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, and actor-turned governor Arnold Schwarzenegger expected among them.

Many hope the Fijian presidency will breathe new life into a process that has struggled to focus ever since the election last November of Mr Trump, who has described climate change as a "hoax".

Bonn police have so far been notified of about a dozen marches planned for the duration of the conference, starting with an estimated 10,000 green activists taking to city's streets today.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2017, with the headline 'UN climate talks resuming, with wary eyes on US'. Subscribe