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Proposed cuts in US climate science reverberate worldwide
By Marlowe HOOD with AFP reporters in Sydney, Oslo and Hong Kong
Paris (AFP) April 21, 2017

In Washington, the economic world meets Trump climate skepticism
Washington (AFP) April 22, 2017 - The Trump administration's climate skepticism and its possible withdrawal from the landmark Paris Agreement of 2015 drew a cloud over this week's grand economic conclave in Washington.

The regular meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund -- always accompanied by a gathering of G20 finance ministers -- have rung out with calls to action against global warming in recent years.

But this week's lofty junket, which wraps up Saturday in the US capital, underscored the directional shift driven by Donald Trump's rise to the White House: climate is no longer a consensus matter.

The United States had already succeeded in having any mention of the climate removed from a concluding statement at a G20 finance ministers' meeting in Baden-Baden, Germany, in mid-March.

And on Friday, the news conference following a meeting of the G20 finance ministers virtually ignored a subject that had been crucial to the administration of former president Barack Obama.

These days, the White House doubts the reality of climate change, and has so far not ruled out exiting the Paris Agreement, urgently negotiated in 2015 to reduce countries' greenhouse gas emissions.

- Demonstrators gather -

The possibility that the United States -- the world's largest economy and second-largest carbon emitter after China -- could exit the agreement was front and center on Saturday as protesters took the streets in Washington.

Demonstrators gathered to denounce the Trump administration's pledged funding cuts for scientific research, no doubt causing some dyspepsia for the many ministers and other officials present at the IMF-World Bank spring meetings.

Segolene Royal, France's environment minister, put the odds of US withdrawal at 50 percent.

But former US Vice President Al Gore, who shared a Nobel Prize for his climate activism, was more optimistic, claiming there is an "excellent chance" the United States would remain a party to the agreement for one simple reason: the economy.

"Solar jobs in the US are now growing 17 times faster than job growth in the economy," he said.

Downplaying American skittishness, the World Bank -- which regularly sounds the alarm on the economic dangers of global warming -- said the funding available to fight climate change should not decrease.

"The science of climate change didn't change with any particular election and I don't see that it will," the bank's president Jim Yong Kim said.

Describing the need to invest in future clean technologies, he said financial costs are a central question.

- Shifting to the private sector -

Large holders of conservatively invested capital may be interested in the climate, he said, "but they would need help with, you know, guarantees, risk mitigation etc., in investing in climate change activities in poor countries."

On Friday, the World Bank announced the launch of a $2 billion "green" bond fund with the European asset manager Amundi to finance low-carbon investments in emerging markets.

Some observers wonder whether Washington's retreat on the climate will not paradoxically strengthen climate action by shifting focus to the private sector.

"Because of what we're seeing from that administration, there's now going to be even more pressure on the private sector not to be financially associated with projects or technology harmful for the environment," Oxfam America's climate and energy director Heather Coleman said.

Meanwhile, France, which pushed to reach the climate agreement in Paris two years ago, hopes the Trump era will not see a decline in climate action.

"It shouldn't be that a single individual, whom I won't name, suddenly calls this objective into doubt," French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said Saturday.

The gutting of US-funded climate science would cripple research agendas worldwide and hamper the global fight against climate change, say scientists outside the United States, some of whom will take to the streets Saturday to make that point.

US President Donald Trump has called for drastic cutbacks across multiple federal agencies that track and analyse climate by gathering data from satellites, the deepest ocean trenches, and everything in between.

Tens of thousands of scientists are set to converge on Washington DC in protest, with hundreds of smaller marches planned in cities around the world.

"An unprecedented attack on science, scientists and evidence-based policymaking is underway," said Kenneth Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington-based policy institute.

"And nowhere is the attack more ferocious than on the issue of global warming."

Indeed, proposed cuts to research budgets in the Departments of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- totalling billions of dollars and thousands of jobs -- are concentrated on climate science, which Trump has notoriously dismissed as a "hoax" perpetrated by the Chinese.

Scientists in Europe, Asia and Australia express alarm not just at the slowdown in US research, but the knock-on consequences for their own work.

"The impacts may range from troublesome to disastrous," Bjorn Samset, research director at the Center for International Climate Research in Oslo, told AFP.

"We use US climate-related data -- particularly from satellites -- on a daily basis."

The United States, driven by its big federal agencies, "has become THE global provider of high quality, long-term datasets," he added.

- Beyond raw data -

Some of the programmes targeted for axing, for example, are crucial for tracking how much carbon is vented into the atmosphere, or how the distribution of clouds -- one of the key uncertainties in projections of future climate change -- might evolve over time.

"This would impair our ability in the future to keep our observations, and understanding, up to speed," said Joeri Rogelj, a research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, one of the world's leading centres for climate modelling.

For Myles Allen, head of the University of Oxford's Climate Research Group, the damage from a US pullback would go well beyond raw data.

"If we lose that intellectual firepower, it is obviously going to make dealing with the problem that much harder," he said in an interview. "We need American technology and innovation to find solutions."

Allen noted that the European Union and China are "stepping up their game" in monitoring climate, but said Washington may not see that in a positive light.

"Does the US want to rely on observations made by overseas agencies in measuring the impact of Chinese emissions on the US weather?", he wondered.

Three of six major international platforms shared by climate modellers -- who calculate the risks of future climate change -- are maintained and operated in the United States, and could be in peril.

"If we lose one or two of these data distribution centres in the US, it could collapse the entire coordinated system for sharing these simulations of future climate," said Valerie Masson Delmotte, research director at France's Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, and a lead scientist of the UN's climate science panel.

- 'Darker days ahead' -

New visa and travel restrictions in the United States likewise threaten future collaboration, said Samset, noting that almost all important climate research crosses national boundaries.

"This has already gotten harder to arrange within the US, or abroad with US participation," he said.

Shun Chi-ming, director of the Hong Kong Observatory, said he was "highly concerned" that impending US cuts in climate research could also affect "weather and disaster monitoring".

When it comes to taking their concerns into the street with a slogan on a placard, Allen, Rogelj, and other researchers are clearly torn.

"Demonstrations and protests are usually far outside the comfort zone of scientists," said Samset.

But Trump's disregard for scientific consensus -- seen in the appointment of outright climate deniers to key administration posts -- has forced many to reconsider the boundary between their role as scientist and citizen.

"Scientists need to be very careful about coming out in favour of one position or another," said Allen, adding that he hoped the marches didn't get "sidetracked" into environmental campaigning.

But for Alena Kimbrough, an expert on the Australian-Indonesian monsoon system at Australia National University and co-organiser of Saturday's marches in Australia, scientists "can no longer afford to stand at the sidelines."

"I am deeply disturbed that this movement is required, but we have much darker days ahead of us if we don't start here," she told AFP.

In new paper, scientists explain climate change using before and after photographic evidence
Lawrence KS (SPX) Apr 20, 2017
A group of scientists offers photographic proof of climate change using images of retreating glaciers in a new paper, "Savor the Cryosphere," appearing in GSA Today, a peer-reviewed publication of the Geological Society of America. Along with Gregory Baker, adjunct professor of geology at the University of Kansas, co-authors include an Emmy Award-winning documentarian and a prominent envir ... read more

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