By Mariėtte Le Roux
Paris (AFP) May 6, 2017
For the first time since Donald Trump's ascent to the White House, UN negotiators gather next week to draft rules to take forward the climate-rescue Paris Agreement he has threatened to abandon.
The mid-year round of haggling in Bonn is meant to begin work on a crucial rulebook for signatories of the pact.
But it risks being sidetracked by mounting uncertainty over the world's number two carbon polluter, with Trump at its helm.
"This was supposed to be a highly technical and uneventful meeting to flesh out some of the details in the Paris Agreement. But, obviously, the speculation coming out of Washington is now at the top of our minds," the Maldives environment and energy minister, Thoriq Ibrahim, told AFP.
He chairs the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a key negotiating bloc in the UN climate forum which will meet from May 8-18.
The deal was sealed at the 21st so-called "Conference of Parties" (COP 21) in the French capital in December 2015, after years of haggling.
A diplomatic push led by Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, and China's Xi Jinping, saw 195 countries and the EU bloc -- 196 parties in total -- OK the deal to the popping of champagne corks. Palestine has also since joined.
The agreement sets the goal of limiting average global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels -- and 1.5 C if possible.
This will be done by curbing planet-warming greenhouse-gas emissions from burning oil, coal and gas -- an objective to which countries have pledged voluntary, nationally-determined "contributions".
Scientists project that on current pledges, Earth is on track for warming of around 3C -- a scenario that would doom the planet to potentially catastrophic droughts, floods, and rising seas.
- Distraction -
Widely hailed as the last chance to stave off worst-case-scenario global warming, the Paris pact was savaged by Trump during his presidential campaign.
He called climate change a "hoax" perpetrated by China, and promised to "cancel" the deal as president.
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.
"The question of whether this creates a difficult backdrop for the negotiations is clearly a 'yes'," said Paula Caballero, who heads the climate programme at the Washington-based World Resources Institute (WRI).
A State Department official confirmed a US delegation will travel to Bonn, though a "much smaller" one than in recent years.
"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," said the official, asked about the negotiators' brief.
Some fear a US withdrawal from the agreement would dampen enthusiasm for ramping up national emissions-cutting targets, required to bring them in line with the 2C target.
"I can see some countries... saying: 'Well, why should we do more if the US is doing less?'," said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a veteran observer of the climate negotiations.
- Funding cuts -
The Trump administration has already proposed slashing funds for the UN's climate convention, which hosts the negotiations; for the UN climate science panel; and for the Green Climate Fund that helps poor countries combat global warming.
There has been a chorus of appeals from business leaders, politicians and NGOs for the US not to abandon the agreement.
Much of the pressure is at home, where businesses, majors and governors have pledged to pursue a clean energy track with or without Trump.
Observers say the momentum, politically at least, is unstoppable.
At the last COP, held in Marrakesh in November, news of Trump's election served to spur countries into reaffirming their commitment to the pact.
"International leadership on climate is more diffuse than before, and other countries are stepping up to lead both within and outside of negotiations," said Caballero -- pointing at major polluters China and India cutting back on coal.
In fact, the US may stand to lose the most -- in both political and economic influence.
"It would leave America behind while other countries are benefiting from the huge economic opportunities of a transition to cleaner economies," said Caballero.
Negotiators in Bonn, while attempting to take the pulse of the US delegation, must make progress on the "rulebook" which has an adoption deadline of end-2018.
The guide must clarify what kind of information countries include when they report on emissions, for example, and what counts as a contribution to climate finance.
The next COP, chaired by Fiji, will be held in Bonn in November.
Climate science: Bad news gets worse
Following are some key climate measures that illustrate the risks of global warming.
- 1.1 degrees -
In 2016, Earth's average surface temperature hit a record level for the third consecutive year since records began in 1880.
The global average temperature was about 1.1 degree Celsius (1.98 Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels, and about 0.06 C above the previous record set in 2015, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
The 21st century has already seen 16 of the 17 hottest years on record.
Arctic summer sea ice shrank to 4.14 million square kilometres (1.6 million square miles) in 2016 -- the second-lowest after 2012 when it reached 3.39 million km2.
The Arctic Ocean could be ice free in summer as early as 2030.
In parts of Arctic Russia, temperatures were 6 C to 7 C higher than the long-term average.
On the other extreme of the world, Antarctica, sea ice hit its lowest extent ever recorded by satellites at the end of summer.
High-altitude glaciers, meanwhile, declined in surface area in 2015 for the 36th year in a row.
- 400 parts per million -
The atmospheric concentrations of the three most potent greenhouse gases -- carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) -- all hit new highs in 2016.
For the first time on record, in 2015, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere averaged 400 parts per million (ppm).
Most climate scientists agree that greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere must be capped at 450 ppm of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) for a fighting chance at limiting average global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels.
This is the limit enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Fossil fuel-generated greenhouse gas emissions are expected to have remained stable in 2016 for the third consecutive year, even as the global economy grew. But to stay on target for 2 C, they need to decline.
Meanwhile, scientists are warning of an unexplained rise of methane, which has a far more potent warming effect than CO2, in the atmosphere.
- 70 millimetres -
Sea level rise, caused when ice melts and warmer water expands, continued and appeared to be accelerating, according to a recent report.
The average ocean level was 70 millimetres (2.75 inches) higher in 2015 than the 1993 water mark, having risen as much as 30 percent faster in the ten years to 2015 than in the previous decade.
The pace is likely to pick up further as ice sheets and glaciers shed mass, threatening the homes and livelihoods of tens of millions of people in low-lying areas around the world.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in January the global average sea level could be between 0.3 and 2.5 metres higher by 2100.
On current trends, the melting Antarctic ice sheet on its own could contribute to a metre of lift, according to one study.
- Extreme events -
According to the WMO, it is possible to "demonstrate clearly the existence of links between man-made climate change and many cases of high-impact extreme events, in particular heatwaves."
The number of climate-related extreme events -- droughts, forest fires, floods, major storm surges -- have doubled since 1990, some researchers say.
The intensity of typhoons battering China, Taiwan, Japan and the Korean Peninsula since 1980, for example, has increased by 12 to 15 percent.
Natural disasters drive about 26 million people into poverty every year, says the World Bank, and cause annual losses of about $520 million (473 million euros).
- 1,688 species -
Of the 8,688 species of animals and plants listed as "threatened" on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List, 19 percent -- 1,688 species -- have been negatively affected by climate change.
Australia's Great Barrier Reef was undergoing an unprecedented second straight year of bleaching due to warming seas, and scientists have warned parts of it may never recover.
Washington DC (SPX) May 03, 2017
Ice cores drilled from a glacier in a cave in Transylvania offer new evidence of how Europe's winter weather and climate patterns fluctuated during the last 10,000 years, known as the Holocene period. The cores provide insights into how the region's climate has changed over time. The researchers' results, published this week in the journal Scientific Reports, could help reveal how the clim ... read more
Climate Science News - Modeling, Mitigation Adaptation
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