Casting a shadow?

  • How the US presents itself in UN negotiations and how other major players react will shape the future of climate politics
- Navin singh khadka

Nov 3, 2017-

It is that time of the year when climate change reports are continually issued, most of them with serious warnings. The release of most of these studies is timed with the annual climate change conference hosted by the United Nations.

The conference is being held in Bonn but unlike in the past, Germany, as the host country, will not be chairing the session. In a bid to send a strong message from low lying and very vulnerable island countries, whose threatened state was recently confirmed by devastating hurricanes and cyclones, the meeting, kicking off next week, will be chaired by Fiji. The main aim behind this year’s UN climate meet seems to be to conduct preparatory work towards shaping a rule-book for the implementation of the Paris global climate agreement. The deadline UN climate negotiators have to prepare this rule-book has been set for next year. The deal, signed in the French capital in 2015, aims to keep the average global temperature rise well within two degrees compared to temperatures in the pre-industrial period. 

Backing out in a big way

While the stage is being set for the conference, US President Donald Trump has declared what many feared following his victory last year. He announced that the US was pulling out of the Paris climate deal because, “It harmed his country’s interest and economy.” Some countries were not entirely averse to this decision; they argued that the US had mostly played an obstructive role in the past 20 years of negotiations for a global climate deal.

Not many days after Trump’s announcement to quit the Paris Treaty, the White House came out with a statement. It said the US would continue to participate in the UN climate discussions, including the one in Bonn, Germany, next week. According to the statement, America will maintain a presence at such talks to “protect US interests and ensure all future policy options remain open to the administration.”

What would that mean for the negotiations, particularly when scientists are saying that countries need to significantly raise their carbon cut ambitions because the pledges in the Paris agreement are only at one third of the level that it would take to avoid the worst impacts of climate change? That question is very important in the context of reduction of carbon emissions because the US is not only determined to use fossil fuels on its home front, but also aims to help other countries do so—although they did use the adjunct “cleanly and efficiently” in the White House statement.

Washington DC managed to insert a similar statement in the G20 communique earlier this year after it was isolated in the meet that saw the remaining 19 member countries standing together for the Paris agreement. 

The small bear the brunt

And just before the G20 meet in Germany, during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US visit in June, Washington DC and New Delhi brought out a joint statement saying that American fossil fuels will be exported to India.  

“President Trump affirmed that the United States continues to remove barriers to energy development and investment in the United States and to US energy exports so that more natural gas, clean coal, and renewable resources and technologies are available to fuel India’s economic growth and inclusive development,” the joint statement read.

Just last month, the Australian government rejected a Clean Energy Target (CET) recommended by the nation’s chief scientist, opting for a plan focusing on energy security. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the plan would still serve to lower emissions, ensuring that Australia meets its obligations under the Paris agreement. But, according to BBC reports, South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill called this move a “complete victory for the coal industry.”

A recent report by Pricewaterhouse-Coopers (PWC) said: Although countries such as the UK and China substantially reduced their use of coal, this was offset by increases in coal demand in India, Indonesia and Turkey.  

India has officially announced that it will double its coal production by 2020. Indonesia’s share in global coal export was 31 percent in 2014 and will remain the same in 2040, according to the International Energy Agency.

With countries like these that will not out-rightly say no to coal, and with the US’s declared policy to protect its interests, how will other major players react? And how will it all play out in the negotiations that are so crucial in preparing the rulebook to implement the Paris Agreement?

These are key questions for poor and vulnerable countries like Nepal, because, if the root cause of climate change—heat-trapping greenhouse gases—is not addressed, a country like ours will be the worst hit by runaway climatic changes.

An Oxfam report this week has shown that people from low and lower middle income countries are around five times as likely to be displaced as those in high income countries by sudden extreme weather events. It said nearly 200 million people from across the globe have been internally displaced by such disasters in the past nine years. Nearly two thirds of them were from poor countries that have seen more than three million people internally displaced this year alone.

Climate politics will be driven by major emitters but it will be the small, poor and vulnerable countries with the lowest emissions that will be bearing the major brunt of climate change.

Khadka is a BBC journalist based in London   

Published: 03-11-2017 08:21

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