By Mariette le Roux and Catherine Hours
Paris (AFP) Nov 3, 2017
Nations that adopted the Paris Agreement with champagne two years ago, regroup next week amid grim omens of climate peril and with an anxious eye on Donald Trump's America.
The November 6-17 meeting in Bonn, Germany, is the first for UN climate envoys since the US president announced he will extricate Washington from the deal, carefully crafted over many years and helped over the finish line by Trump's predecessor Barack Obama.
In a year marked by severe flooding in Asia, drought in Africa and an exceptional North American hurricane season, Washington's position "remains unchanged", a state department official said.
"The United States intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement as soon as it is eligible to do so".
This can officially happen no sooner than November 4, 2020.
In the meantime, the world's biggest historical greenhouse gas polluter will send a delegation "to represent US interests" at the 23rd round of annual UN talks, with Fiji as president, in the former German capital.
According to Fiji's top negotiator Nazhat Shameem Khan, veteran US envoys have expressed the intention to continue to "take part constructively".
"We should not entertain the US as a destructive force in Bonn," warned Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid, which lobbies for poor country interests at the two-decades old UN process.
"Since they have already announced their decision to withdraw, they shouldn't be actively influencing an agreement they don't intend to be party to," he told AFP.
- 'Miserable future' -
A total of 195 nations agreed in the French capital in 2015 to limit average global warming caused by greenhouse gases from fossil-fuel burning to under two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels, and to 1.5 C if possible.
The 1 C mark has already been passed.
Countries, including the United States, made non-binding pledges of emissions cuts in support of the goal, though scientists say the shortfall is still far too great.
The talks open days after the UN's environment organ, UNEP, warned that current pledges sentence the world to a 3 C-warmer future, fuelling heatwaves, superstorms, drought, and sea level rise.
Warned UNEP head Eric Solheim: "we are not doing nearly enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future."
Costa Rica's environment minister Edgar Gutierrez-Espeleta, president of the UN Environment Assembly, said the Paris Agreement may have boosted climate action, but "momentum is clearly faltering."
"We face a stark choice: up our ambition or suffer the consequences," he said this week.
Some 20,000 people are due to attend the 23rd UN "Conference of Parties" or COP23, with UN chief Antonio Guterres, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, California governor Jerry Brown, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, and actor-turned governor Arnold Schwarzenegger expected among them.
This year's conference is the first with a small island developing state as president.
The gathering is expected to be quite technical in nature. It is meant to design common rules for countries to weigh the adequacy of their individual and common greenhouse gas pledges, and to ramp these up to get closer to the 2 C target.
- 'Urgency' -
"Given the American decision," the conference will also "be an important political moment for countries to reaffirm their commitment to the Paris Agreement," said former French negotiator Laurence Toubiana who now heads the Europe Climate Foundation, an NGO.
"It will be important to listen to the statements of governments... to see that countries are still committed, that there is no rowing back," she told AFP.
Since the pact was adopted two years ago, the Palestinian Authority and more recently Nicaragua, have joined the pack.
Now, "the only country that is with the US (outside of the agreement) is Syria," said Adow. "That tells you the direction of travel."
Many hope the Fijian presidency will breathe new life into a process that has struggled to focus ever since the election last November of Trump, who has described climate change as a "hoax".
"We (Fiji) bring to the negotiations the sense of urgency that comes from living in the Pacific and seeing at first hand the impact of climate change on our people," said Khan.
"So it is that urgency that we infuse in the discussions in Bonn."
Bonn police have so far been notified of about a dozen marches planned for the duration of the conference, starting with an estimated 10,000 green activists taking to city's streets on Saturday.
Climate science update: bad news gets worse
Here's a summary of recent findings:
- 1.1 degrees -
Earth's average surface temperature last year was a record 1.1 degree Celsius (1.98 Fahrenheit) above the preindustrial era.
Our planet's rising fever is caused by the accumulation of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide (CO2) cast off when fossil fuels are burned to produce energy.
Sixteen of the hottest years on record have occurred since the start of the 21st century.
The 196-nation Paris Agreement calls on humanity to block the rise in temperature at "well below" 2.0 C (3.6 F) compared to pre-industrial levels, and to consider setting the cap at 1.5 C.
- 403.3 ppm -
The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) reached an average of 403.3 parts per million (ppm) in 2016, the highest level in at least 800,000 years.
Last month, CO2 -- three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions -- hit nearly 407 ppm. Prior to industrialisation, the global average hovered at about 280 ppm.
Concentrations of the second-most important greenhouse gases -- methane (CH4) -- have also risen sharply over the last decade, driven by leakage from the gas industry's fracking boom, and growth in global livestock.
Many climate scientists argue that capping CO2 at 450 ppm gives us a fighting chance of staying under the 2 C threshold. Others say that the limit for a "climate-safe" world is much lower, around 350 ppm.
- Melting ice -
Arctic summer sea ice in 2017 shrank to 4.64 million square kilometres (1.79 million square miles). That's only the eighth-smallest ice cover since 2012, when it dropped to 3.39 million km2.
But long-term trends are unmistakable: Arctic sea ice cover is declining at a rate of 13.2 percent per decade, relative to the 1981-2010 average.
Climate models predict that the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in summer as early as 2030.
At the other end of the world, Antarctic sea ice hit the lowest extent ever recorded by satellites last year as well.
Earth's two massive ice sheets -- atop Greenland and Antarctica -- are currently shedding 286 and 127 billion tonnes of mass per year, respectively.
High-altitude glaciers, meanwhile, declined in surface area in 2016 for the 37th year in a row.
- Extreme events -
The WMO says there are demonstrable links between man-made climate change and some extreme events, especially heatwaves.
The number of climate-related extreme events -- droughts, forest fires, floods, major storm surges -- has doubled since 1990, research has shown.
2017 saw the first severe tropical storm known to sustain winds of 295 kilometres per hour (185 miles per hour) for more than 33 hours (Irma); and a hurricane that dropped a record 125 centimetres of water (nearly 50 inches) on land (Harvey).
The intensity of typhoons battering China, Taiwan, Japan and the Korean Peninsula since 1980, one study has shown, 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 (463 million euros).
- 84.8 millimetres -
Sea level -- caused mainly by the expansion of water as it warms, and runoff from ice sheets and glaciers -- is currently rising by 3.4 millimetres (0.13 inches) per year. Since 1993, the global ocean watermark has gone up by 84.8 mm (3.3 inches).
The pace is likely to pick up, threatening the homes and livelihoods of tens of millions of people in low-lying areas around the world.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in January the global average sea level could be between 0.3 and 2.5 metres (one foot to 8.2 feet) higher by 2100.
- 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.
Scientists say that Earth has entered a "mass extinction event," only the 6th in the last half-billion years.
Sources: peer-reviewed studies, NASA, NSIDC, WMO
Washington DC (SPX) Oct 26, 2017
emissions can be reduced and stored in forests, farmland, grasslands and wetlands using natural climate solutions. The peer-reviewed study, led by scientists from The Nature Conservancy and 15 other institutions , and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, expanded and refined the scope of land-based climate solutions previously assessed by the United Nat ... read more
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