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U.N. climate talks wrap up under threat of U.S. exodus

AFP-JIJI

U.N. climate talks concluded in Bonn Thursday with envoys putting on a brave face despite the threat of an American exodus from the 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 U.S. 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 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 told delegates gathered in Germany.

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 signal about the U.S. president’s intentions.

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

On the second day of the May 8-18 Bonn talks, the White House announced the postponement of a meeting to weigh America’s future role in the deal, compounding the uncertainty.

A small U.S. delegation at the technical negotiations was thus also left in the dark.

“I personally have met with the head of the (U.S.) delegation a couple of times and … he’s just very open in repeating, ‘Our position is under review,’ ” U.N. 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 U.S. team with a different brief.

“The rest of the world must continue to work towards progress together,” insisted Fiji’s chief negotiator Nazhat Shameem Khan.

“We shouldn’t give up because one of the community, one of the family, has decided that they will not walk with us.”

Observers pointed to the importance of upcoming meetings of the Group of Seven and the Group of 20, of which the U.S. is a member, in putting pressure on Trump, who has described climate change as a “hoax” perpetrated by China.

“We work very hard together with many other friends in the world to convince the U.S. that staying in the Paris Agreement is the right way to go,” Jochen Flasbarth, Germany’s state secretary for the environment, told journalists.

“Germany stays committed to the international U.N. climate process. We believe that it is irreversible and many, many countries indicate to us that nobody has the intention of thinking about another format, another track apart from the U.N.”

There are fears in some quarters that an American withdrawal from the Paris Agreement may encourage others to follow suit, or at least harm the collective will, painstakingly crafted over two decades of tough negotiations, to act on climate change.

The pact commits signatories to limiting average global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

This will be achieved by limiting emissions from burning coal, oil and gas. But the fossil fuel lobby in America exerts a strong influence over climate politics, both national and international.

A study in Nature Scientific Reports Thursday said sea level rise of “only 10 cm (4 inches)” doubles flooding potential for cities on the North American west coast — citing Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles — as well as the European Atlantic coast.

And American scientists said the January-to-April global temperature was the second-highest since records began in 1880.

“We don’t know,” what Trump will eventually decide, “but we won’t stop our work even if the result is a negative one,” insisted Khan.

“We hope very much that they will remain in the Paris Agreement and that they will walk with the rest of the family towards this very urgent goal that the planet is facing.”