Don't wake the Trump 'bear' at UN climate change talks

  • Environment
  • Tuesday, 07 Nov 2017

A protester with a Trump mask and others dressed as polar bears (which are endangered by global warming) protesting before the UN climate change talks. - Reuters

As fragile United Nations climate change talks get underway in Bonn, Germany this week, there is anxiety that Donald Trump could derail everything.

“The fragility of the political compromise of the Paris (Climate Change Agreement of 2015) has sometimes not been emphasised because we are all nervous,” a senior negotiator told Climate Home News. “But there’s also a lot of nervousness that that package can unravel very quickly.”

“We don’t really yet know what the US will do. They could act with benign neglect and disinterest. Or they could be very disruptive. Or they could be a little bit of a mixture of all of those things.”

The material of the talks in Bonn which began on Nov 6 is technical, and concrete outcomes are only expected two weeks later. That’s what has negotiators worried. This is a consensus body, and to function it needs the US. Trump could utterly derail the talks if he chose to. The fear is that this fragile peace is just one fit of Oval Office pique away from shattering.

The presence of California governor Jerry Brown and other leading Democratic Party politicians at the talks will be provocative. They claim to be "neutering" Trump with their own regulatory and technical advances to reduce climate change at state and city level.

Diplomats and activists are briefing journalists against reporting on the expected positive US contributions at the talks. They are apprehensive that such reports could antagonise Trump or his fossil fuel-friendly acolytes, and cause him to direct officials to obstruct progress in Bonn. “You don’t want to wake the bear,” another senior negotiator said.

Children at a climate march before the opening session of the UN climate talks. - Reuters

Fossil Fuel Friends

The New York Times has reported that the US will use the climate change meeting to promote fossil fuels as a climate solution. The invitation of Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, into the heart of UN climate change negotiations has already outraged many who will be in Bonn. It's a way for Trump to show how he's using the talks to push US interests.

Would it be raised with the US delegation in the talks? A Costa Rican expert said: “I think most would not dignify it by bringing it up. We have actual work to do, and I hope we can avoid getting distracted by the sideshow.”

But the world’s poorer countries who will suffer the hardest edge of climate change believe they made enormous concessions when agreeing to the Paris deal – allowing wealthy countries to weaken key passages of the final text for example.

People of the Pacific ocean island of Kiritimati building a stone wall against rising sea levels. Poorer countries will bear the brunt of climate change. - AFP

Yet after all these concessions, they see a wealthy world and big polluters still wriggling away from their commitments. This is not limited to Trump’s US. Germany, the country hosting the talks, is going to miss its 2020 emissions reduction targets by a mile. This, in the words of the environment ministry, is “a disaster for Germany’s international reputation as a climate change leader”.

The most recent UN Environment Programme Emissions Gap report found the promises made to the Paris deal remain just one third of what's necessary to keep the world below 2°C.

The UN climate body has said that countries are expected to not only meet (greenhouse gas emission) targets set for 2020, but raise their longer term pledges to the Paris deal over the next year. But Indian officials launched a preemptive strike against this last week, flat-out rejecting any talk of increasing their ambition.

Such rancour sticks in the wheels like molasses. The real fear is not a reversal of the Paris deal, but a deceleration at a time when the planet and every major scientific institution says we need to go faster. – Climate Home News

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