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CLIMATE SCIENCE
UN climate envoys agree on way forward, despite Trump
By Mariette le Roux and Marlowe Hood
Bonn (AFP) Nov 18, 2017


What is the Paris Agreement?
Paris (AFP) Nov 17, 2017 - On December 12, 2015, 195 countries gathered in the French capital to conclude the first truly universal climate treaty, the Paris Agreement, aimed at preventing worst-case-scenario global warming.

The Palestinian Authority has since joined the UN's climate convention and the Paris Agreement, bringing the total to 196.

In June 2016, President Donald Trump announced the United States would pull out of the Paris pact, which his predecessor, Barack Obama, had ratified the year before.

The United States is now the only country to opt out, though it cannot formally withdraw until November 2020.

- The goal -

Nations agreed to hold global warming to "well below" two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels, and "pursuing efforts" to keep it to 1.5 C.

The lower goal was a demand of poor countries and island states at high risk of climate change effects such as sea-level rise.

But experts say keeping temperature rise under the two-degree ceiling is a tall order, requiring an immediate and deep reduction in emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Based on voluntary national pledges to reduce emissions, the planet is on track for warming of about three degrees, scientists warn -- a recipe for more frequent and intense floods, droughts and superstorms.

- Getting there -

Signatories will aim for emissions to peak "as soon as possible", with "rapid reductions" thereafter.

By the second half of this century, states the pact, emissions from human activities such as energy production and farming, and the amount that can be absorbed by carbon-absorbing "sinks" such as forests or storage technology, must be in balance.

The UN's climate science panel says greenhouse gas emissions have to drop 40-70 percent between 2010 and 2050, and to zero by 2100, for any chance of hitting the 2 C target.

- Tracking progress -

In 2018, and every five years thereafter, countries will take stock of the overall impact of their efforts to rein in global warming.

It "urges" and "requests" all countries to update emissions-cutting pledges by 2020 and every five years after that.

Some nations, including the United States, set emissions-curbing targets for 2025, others for 2030.

- Financing -

Rich countries are expected to provide funding to help developing countries make the costly shift to cleaner energy sources and shore up their defences against the impacts of climate change.

Donor nations must report every two years on their financing levels -- current and intended.

In a non-binding "decision" that accompanies the treaty, the $100 billion (85 billion euros) per year that rich countries have pledged to muster from 2020 is referred to as a "floor" -- meaning it can only go up.

The amount must be updated by 2025.

On current trends, climate grants and loans from governments -- both bilateral and through development banks -- suggest total public financing would reach about $67 billion in 2020, according to the OECD.

But Trump has said the United States -- which had pledged $3 billion towards the Green Climate Fund, of which it delivered $1 billion under Barack Obama -- would not fulfil its financing commitments.

Negotiations to bolster the climate-saving Paris Agreement, crafted over two decades, closed in Bonn Saturday, deflated but not derailed by Donald Trump's rejection of the treaty and defence of fossil fuels.

The US President's decision to yank the United States from the hard-fought global pact cast a long shadow over the talks, which ran deep into overtime. Negotiations were marked by revived divisions between developing countries and rich ones.

With a wary eye on America, which sent negotiators to a forum it intends to quit, envoys from nearly 200 countries got on with the business of designing a "rule book" for enacting the agreement, which enters into full force in three years' time.

"The Trump administration failed to stop the global climate talks from moving forward," said Greenpeace observer Jens Mattias Clausen.

Closing two weeks of talks, negotiators agreed in the early hours of Saturday to hold a stocktake in 2018 of national efforts to cut fossil fuel emissions.

The Paris treaty calls for limiting average global warming to "well under" two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial levels, or 1.5 C if possible.

Anything over 2 C, experts say, dooms the world to calamitous climate change, with more extreme superstorms, droughts, floods, and land-gobbling sea level rise.

A report this week warned that emissions of carbon dioxide, the main planet-warming gas, were set to rise by two percent in 2017 after three years of hardly any growth.

"Starting now, emissions need to decrease to zero over the next 40 years to prevent us breaching the 1.5 C threshold," Piers Forster, a professor of climate change at the University of Leeds, said.

Nations have submitted voluntary emissions-cutting commitments under the Paris pact championed by Trump's predecessor Barack Obama.

But scientists say current pledges place the world on course for warming of 3 C or more, and counsel an urgent upgrade of the global commitment to phasing out greenhouse gases produced by burning coal, oil and natural gas.

- Islands in peril -

"While the Paris Agreement represents a remarkable diplomatic achievement, it will be judged by history as little more than words on paper if the world fails to take the level of action needed to prevent the loss of entire island nations," Maldives environment minister Thoriq Ibrahim told delegates Friday.

The stocktake agreed Saturday must quantify the shortfall to determine what more needs to be done.

In Bonn, negotiators also worked on a nuts-and-bolts rulebook, to be finalised at the next UN climate conference in Katowice, Poland in December 2018, for putting the Paris Agreement into action.

Some progress was made, but observers and delegates complained that things were moving too slowly.

Many lamented the void in "political leadership" left by the departure of Obama, and by German Chancellor Angela Merkel's failure to set a timetable for phasing out coal-fired power plants, which produce 40 percent of Germany's electricity.

The talks saw rich and poor nations butt heads on several issues -- mainly money.

Developing countries demand detailed progress reports on rich nations' promise to boost climate finance to $100 billion (85 billion euros) per year by 2020.

The world's poorer nations -- often the first to feel the sting of climate change impacts -- need cash to make the costly shift away from atmosphere-fouling coal, and to shore up their defences against extreme weather.

Donor nations, in turn, insists that emissions cuts by developing countries be subject to verification.

- Act, soon -

The United States, which under Trump has slashed funding for climate bodies and projects, took a tough stance in the finance negotiations in Bonn, a position that angered some delegates.

Adding to the tension, White House officials and energy company executives hosted an event on the conference margins to defend the use of fossil fuels.

On Thursday, 20 governments from both wealthy and developing nations, led by Britain and Canada, countered with the launch of a coal phase-out initiative.

The United States is the world's biggest historical greenhouse gas polluter, second only to China.

"In a year marked by extreme weather disasters and potentially the first increase in carbon emissions in four years, the paradox between what we are doing and need to be delivering is clear," WWF climate head Manuel Pulgar-Vidal said of the talks.

"Countries must act with greater climate ambition, and soon."

Observers hope that the "One Planet Summit" hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on December 12 will boost momentum.

Macron has invited some 100 heads of state and government, but not Trump, as well as business leaders, to discuss finance for climate projects.

CLIMATE SCIENCE
Climate envoy slams rejection of Paris deal; WH says US will cut on own terms
Bonn (AFP) Nov 16, 2017
The Obama-era official who helped deliver the 2015 Paris Agreement, lashed out Thursday at the Donald Trump administration's "wrongheaded" decision to abandon the first-ever pact committing all countries to limiting climate change. Todd Stern, who was Barack Obama's special envoy for climate change, said he was "annoyed, frustrated" by the new president's rejection of a deal that took the wo ... read more

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