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Sat May 27 11:46:51 SAST 2017

All eyes on Washington as climate talks begin to compile guiding ‘rulebook’ for member states

AFP | 2017-05-09 07:00:14.0
President Donald Trump talks to the media next to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue
U.S. President Donald Trump. File photo.
Image by: YURI GRIPAS / REUTERS

Uncertainty over the US's future in the climate-rescue Paris Agreement loomed large over the United Nations' talks that opened in Bonn yesterday to work out the nuts and bolts of implementing the hard-fought international deal.

US President Donald Trump has yet to say whether he intends keeping a campaign promise to withdraw Washington from the pact in the birth of which his predecessor, Barack Obama, was instrumental.

"There's no question that if the US withdraws it is going to create difficulties in the negotiations," Paula Caballero of the World Resources Institute think-tank said as climate envoys met for their first session since Trump's arrival in the White House.

Caballero was confident, though, that these challenges would not be "unsurmountable", noting that businesses, cities and individual US states were firmly on track to a green energy future.

A total of 196 nations - all except Nicaragua and Syria - are parties to the 2015 deal which Trump threatened to "cancel".

The 11-day Bonn haggle is meant to start drafting a "rulebook" to guide member nations in the practical execution of the pact, which seeks to brake global warming by curbing fossil-fuel emissions.

But the negotiations risk being overshadowed by fears that the world's No2 carbon polluter will withdraw and throw the entire process into disarray.

The US did send a delegation to the talks, though smaller than in previous years.

Delegation head Trigg Talley, who represented the US under Obama, declined to answer questions on the team's new brief.

A state department official said: "We are focused on ensuring that decisions are not taken at these meetings that would prejudice our future policy, undermine the competitiveness of US businesses, or hamper our broader objective of advancing US economic growth and prosperity."

Obama and President Xi Jinping of China led a diplomatic push which saw the deal sealed in the French capital in 2015, after years of tough bartering.

Widely hailed as the last chance to stave off worst-case scenario global warming, the pact was savaged by a campaigning Trump, who called climate change a "hoax" perpetrated by China. With the rest of the world on tenterhooks ever since, Trump has said he will make his decision before the next G7 meeting on May 26-27 in Sicily, Italy.

Some fear a US withdrawal from the agreement would dampen enthusiasm among other signatories for ramping up national emissions-cutting targets.

Current pledges place the world on track for average global warming of about 3°C over pre-Industrial Revolution levels - far above the limit of 2°C targeted in the Paris deal. The Trump administration has already proposed slashing funds for the UN climate science panel, for the Green Climate Fund that helps poor nations combat global warming, and for the UN climate forum under whose auspices the negotiations take place.

There has been a chorus of appeals from US and foreign business leaders, politicians and nongovernmental organisations for Washington not to abandon the agreement.

Yesterday 200 global investors managing more than $15-trillion in assets, urged the G7 rich nation group, which includes the US, to "stand by their commitments to the Paris Agreement".

"Global investors are eager to open their wallets to a low-carbon future," said Mindy Lubber, president of CERES, a nonprofit organisation that works with North American companies on sustainable projects. "But it won't happen without clear, stable policy signals from countries worldwide - in particular, the US government whose waffling on the Paris Climate Agreement is hugely troubling."

The key mission of the May 8-18 meeting in Bonn is to start drafting "rules" for putting the agreement into action. The rulebook must be finished by next year.

"In Bonn this week it's important that progressive forces come together to manage any fallout resulting from any US retreat," said analyst Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid.

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