Climate Talks Open in Bonn, With All Eyes on Washington
Uncertainty over America's future in the climate-rescue Paris Agreement loomed large over UN talks that opened in Bonn Monday to work out the nuts and bolts of implementing the hard-fought international deal.
US President Donald Trump has yet to announce whether he intends keeping a campaign promise to withdraw Washington from the pact in whose birth 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.
She 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 countries -- 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 countries 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 number two carbon polluter will withdraw and throw the entire process into disarray.
- Competitiveness -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.
Earlier, a State Department official told AFP: "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 China's Xi Jinping 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.
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 around three degrees Celsius over pre-Industrial Revolution levels -- far above the limit of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) 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 countries combat global warming, and for the UN climate forum under whose auspices the negotiations take place.
- US 'waffling' -There has been a chorus of appeals from US and foreign business leaders, politicians and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for Washington not to abandon the agreement.
On Monday, 200 global investors managing more than $15 trillion (13.7 trillion euros) in assets, urged the G7 rich country 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 non-profit 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," she said in a statement.
The key mission of the May 8-18 meeting in Bonn is to start drafting "rules" for putting the agreement into action: what information must countries include in their emissions updates, for example, and how must they report?
The rulebook must be finished by 2018.
"In Bonn this week it's important that progressive forces come together to manage any fall-out resulting from any US retreat," said analyst Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid, which tracks climate impacts on poor countries.