UN climate talks wrap up under threat of US exodus

BONN • United Nations climate talks concluded in Bonn, Germany, on Thursday with envoys putting on a brave face, despite the threat of an American exodus hanging over their prized global pact to stem global warming.

"We are all vulnerable and we all need to act," said Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who has repeatedly urged United States President Donald Trump to keep America on the right climate track.

First World coastal cities such as Miami and New York face serious threats from climate change-induced sea level rise, just like low-lying islands like Fiji, said Mr Bainimarama, who will preside over the next round of ministerial-level climate negotiations in November. "No one, no matter who they are or where they live, will ultimately escape the impact of climate change," he said.

Distracted negotiators from nearly 200 country signatories to the climate-rescue Paris Agreement kept a close eye on Washington throughout their 10-day huddle for any signs of the new US President's intentions.

On the campaign trail, Mr Trump had threatened to "cancel" the hard-fought pact, which his predecessor, Mr Barack Obama, played an instrumental role in dragging over the finish line in 2015.

On the second day of the Bonn talks, held from May 8 till Thursday, the White House announced the postponement of a meeting to weigh America's future role in the deal. A small US delegation at the technical negotiations was, thus, left in the dark.

"I personally have met with the head of the (US) delegation a couple of times and... he's just very open in repeating: 'Our position is under review'," UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa said on Thursday.

But negotiators insisted that work progressed on outlining a nuts-and-bolts "rule book" for implementing the agreement's goals, despite the ever-present "sword of Damocles", as one put it.

Many commented that the mood was positive, and said the American delegation participated in the talks, though cautiously. There is a fear that whatever progress is made now can easily be swept off the table when the negotiators get together next, perhaps encountering a new US team with a different brief.

Observers pointed to the importance of upcoming meetings of the Group of Seven and Group of 20, strategic country groupings of which the US is a member, in putting pressure on Mr Trump, who has described climate change as a "hoax" perpetrated by China.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2017, with the headline 'UN climate talks wrap up under threat of US exodus'. Print Edition | Subscribe