A case of Trump versus the world at COP23 talks
Publish date: 14 November 2017
Issue Number: 533
Diary: Legalbrief Environmental
Category: Climate Change
US President Donald Trump’s hard-line stance on climate change – at odds with major states and cities in the US as well as the rest of world – came into sharp focus at ongoing UN climate talks at Bonn, Germany, writes Legalbrief. The US will fail to meet its commitments for reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris climate treaty, according to a report released at the meeting. A News24 report notes that a crescendo of efforts at the sub-national level to shrink the country's carbon footprint will not fully compensate for Trump's decision to scrap his predecessor's climate policies and promote the use of fossil fuels, while withdrawing the US from the Paris Agreement, it found. ‘Given the stated policies of the present US administration, currently committed non-federal efforts are not sufficient to meet the US commitments under the Paris Agreement,’ concluded the analysis, entitled ‘America's Pledge’. California Governor Jerry Brown and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled the report in Bonn, flanked by UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa and Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who is presiding over the 12-day talks. According to a report in The Guardian, to date, 20 US states and more than 50 of its largest cities, along with more than 60 of the biggest businesses in the US, have committed to emissions reduction goals. Together, they have an economic power of about $10trn, placing this group behind only the US as a whole ($18.6trn) and China ($11trn) in terms of GDP. ‘This is very powerful,’ said Paul Bodnar, a former lead negotiator at the climate talks for the US under Barack Obama. ‘These states and cities would be larger than 195 out of the 197 countries signed up to the Paris Agreement.’ But there are limits to what non-state actors can do. They are excluded from many of the technical talks and cannot tap into federal funds that states use to finance commitments to slow climate change or reduce its impacts. More importantly, it is harder for them to set a course for the country.
Syria has become a signatory of the Paris Agreement, leaving the US as the only country in the world not to support the framework deal to combat greenhouse gas emissions. According to a report in The Independent, when Trump announced he intended to pull the US out of the agreement, it initially meant America would join Nicaragua and Syria on a small list of countries who were not part of the deal. The war-torn Middle East nation made the announcement at the COP 23 UN climate summit in Bonn last week. The Paris accord was signed by nearly 200 countries in December 2015 in an effort to curb global greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to within 2°C. Until recently Nicaragua was also a holdout nation, but only because the Central American country felt the agreement did not go far enough in putting limits on emissions and helping poorer countries adapt to an already-changed planet with solid financial commitments by wealthier nations. Nicaragua has been a haven for renewable energy – more than half of the nation’s energy comes from geothermic, wind, solar and wave energy. They plan on increasing that to a 90% share by 2020. Paula Caballero, global director of the climate programme at Washington DC-based think tank the World Resources Institute said that ‘with Syria on board, now the entire world is resolutely committed to advancing climate action – all save one country. This should make the Trump administration pause and reflect on their ill-advised announcement about withdrawing’.
Trump is not among the around 100 heads of state and government invited to next month's climate summit in Paris, a French presidential aide said last week. According to a News24 report, he said that Trump had not been invited, while noting that representatives of the US Government would attend. Trump announced his decision to withdraw the US from the historic 2015 Paris Agreement on limiting carbon emissions in June. The pact calls for capping global warming at ‘well under’ 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and 1.5°C if possible. Around 800 organisations and public stakeholders will be on hand for the 12 December event to be held on Ile Seguin, an island in the Seine River southwest of Paris. The Bonn meeting is dealing with mainly technical issues such as ensuring transparency and compliance, the reporting of emissions, and procedures for allocating climate funds. The Paris summit would aim to ‘build coalitions’ involving cities, investment funds and development banks to further the goals of the accord, French President Emmanuel Macron’s aide said.
SA's Minister of Environmental Affairs, Dr Edna Molewa, is leading the SA delegation to COP23 in Bonn. A News24 report notes that the department said that ‘its key to negotiations will be following the different negotiations streams that deal with the relevant matters like energy, science and technology, water and sanitation, agriculture, fishery and forestry as well as cooperative governance and traditional affairs, while international relations and cooperation will be playing a leading role in diplomacy and international legal aspects’. ‘All attending negotiators will be fully engaged on matters relating to their specific areas of responsibility within the National Development Plan’s (Agenda 2030),’ adds the department. ‘SA is hopeful that the Bonn Climate Change Conference will not only take stock of what is required to implement the Paris Agreement, but that it will provide assurances that the political balance of the Paris Agreement is upheld,’ said Molewa.
To prepare for the rising temperatures, strengthening storms and higher sea levels in the coming decades, Fiji must spend an amount equivalent to its entire yearly gross domestic product over the next 10 years. This is according to the first comprehensive assessment of the small island nation’s vulnerability to climate change, compiled by its government with the assistance of the World Bank. A report in The Guardian notes that the report released in Bonn highlights five major interventions and 125 actions that it says are necessary to achieve Fiji’s development objectives, while facing the potentially devastating impacts of climate change. Combined those actions would cost about $4.5bn over the next decade. In light of the results, the World Bank and Fiji called for the world to lift its ambitions in fighting climate change, and also for the developed world to help the world’s most vulnerable people adapt and build resilience to climate change.