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Merkel and Macron to lead diplomatic push at UN climate talks

The leaders of Germany and France will front a diplomatic charge on Wednesday to reinvigorate UN climate talks clouded by Washington's rejection of a planet rescue plan backed by the rest of the world.

Merkel and Macron to lead diplomatic push at UN climate talks
Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA.

Despite announcing it will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the United States has a delegation at the Bonn huddle, tasked with drawing up rules for executing the hard-fought pact on winding down Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal, oil and gas.

Washington's presence is not universally appreciated, especially after White House officials hosted a sideline event Monday defending the continued use of fossil fuels.

“A lot of negotiators are not happy with the way the US has been behaving in some of these negotiations,” Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a veteran observer of the climate process, told AFP.

“Things like this fossil fuel initiative… are not making things easier.”

The United States, which championed the Paris Agreement under former president Barack Obama, ratified it just two months before Donald Trump – who has described climate change as a “hoax” – was voted into office.

In June, the new president announced America would pull out of the historic pact.

This week, Syria became the 196th country to adopt the agreement, leaving the United States as the only nation in the UN climate convention to reject it.

Bureaucrats have been haggling over the Paris Agreement rulebook for the past nine days. Now it is the turn of energy and environment ministers to unlock issues above the pay grade of rank-and-file negotiators.

The goal is to draft a set of decisions to be adopted before the meeting ends on Friday.

Along with UN chief Antonio Guterres, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will kick off Wednesday a day-and-a-half of back-to-back “high-level” speeches.

Not a holiday

“Ministers speaking at the UN summit in Bonn on Wednesday have a big job to do. This meeting is not making progress on some key issues,” said Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid, which represents the interests of poor countries at the talks.

“It almost feels like negotiators have taken this Fiji-led summit and treated it as if they are on holiday in the Pacific.”

The Paris Agreement commits countries to limiting average global warming to under two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over Industrial Revolution levels, and 1.5 C if possible, to avert calamitous climate change-induced storms, drought and sea-level rises.

To bolster the agreement, nations submitted voluntary commitments to curb greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning.

But the 1 C mark has already been passed, and scientists say that on current country pledges, the world is headed for a 3 C warmer future, or more.

Armelle le Comte of Oxfam said Merkel and Macron must signal that they will lead by example.

“It is the moment to show that the French-German couple is dynamic and ambitious on these questions,” she told AFP.

But Merkel is in a tough spot.

Coal provides about 40 percent of Germany's electricity needs, and the country is set to miss its own goal to cut emissions by 40 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels.

“Chancellor Merkel over the years has been a great climate champion and has driven the global debate forward,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace.

“But that credibility is hanging in the balance.”

Outstanding issues for ministers to solve include a demand from poorer countries for firm financing commitments to help them prepare for, and deal with, the fallout from climate change.

ENVIRONMENT

Sweden Democrat slammed for denying climate crisis in parliament

The new Sweden Democrat MP Elsa Widding has been attacked as "shameful" and "deplorable", for denying the climate crisis in her maiden speech in the country's parliament.

Sweden Democrat slammed for denying climate crisis in parliament

In her speech, Widding, a civil engineer educated at Chalmers University of Technology, said that a warming planet would have advantages as well as disadvantages, and that there was no clear scientific backing for the climate crisis. 

“I believe that there is a lack of scientific evidence for saying that we find ourselves in a climate crisis,” she said. “The last time that was the case was in the 1960s when summers either stopped or became so short that we couldn’t produce a harvest.” 

She claimed that every piece of action Sweden is taking to combat climate change is simply “gesture politics”, and that even if Sweden cut its greenhouse gas emissions to zero, it would only shave 0.0027˚C from global temperatures. She called for an end to the “religion” of climate policy and campaigning. 

Markus Selin, an MP for the Social Democrats called Widding’s statement “deplorable” and said he was “ashamed” to hear it. 

“Just 24 hours ago we stood and listened to Ulf Kristersson here in the parliament’s chamber talk far and wide about climate efforts and the Paris Agreement, and now we are hear 24 hours later listening to the biggest party backing his government chirping up and saying we should drop all the work to get our planet out of the dirt.” 

Annie Lööf, leader of the Centre Party, called Widding’s statement “embarrassing”. 

“That the Sweden Democrats are climate change deniers is nothing new,” she said, saying that it was the Moderates, Christian Democrats, and Liberals who were really to blame for giving the party real political power. 

“Moderates, Christian Democrats and Liberals – how could you let the party of climate deniers get all the way into the government offices?”

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