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UN climate talks wrap up under threat of US exodus
By Mariėtte Le Roux
Bonn (AFP) May 18, 2017

Canada lays out plan for 2018 carbon tax and cap and trade
Ottawa (AFP) May 18, 2017 - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government said Thursday it will backstop regional measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions with a national carbon tax on fuels and a cap-and-trade system for heavy polluters.

Currently four provinces -- Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec -- representing more than 80 percent of the population have carbon pricing or cap-and-trade schemes. And almost all of the others have carbon pricing schemes in the works, say officials.

Ottawa's climate actions would target those remaining provinces that do not have measures in place to curb climate change by next year, while topping up efforts that do not meet the federal standard.

"We're all in this together. We need a price on pollution across the country," Environment Minister Catherine McKenna told a press conference.

"If a province doesn't have any plan by 2018, then the federal option will be implemented."

Last year, the government announced a minimum starting carbon price would be set at Can$10 and rise each year to a maximum of Can$50 per tonne in 2022.

New details of the plan include a levy on fossil fuels charged to oil and gas producers and distributors starting in 2018, and a cap and trade system for heavy industrial polluters in 2019.

A Can$10 per tonne carbon price would translate into an approximately 2.3 cents charge on a liter of gasoline, 2.7 cents on diesel and 1.5 cents for propane.

- 'Herculean shift' -

At the same time, the federal government has committed in its last budget to spend billions of dollars to help Canadians and companies transition to cleaner energy sources, and to build new energy-efficient infrastructure.

An independent parliamentary watchdog said in 2016 that the country's carbon emissions linked to global warming had stabilized at just over 700 million tonnes per year.

That is still 208 million tonnes short of Trudeau's Paris accord commitment to slash carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent compared with 2005 levels, by 2030.

A Senate report released in March concluded that Canada required a "Herculean shift" to meet its commitment.

"To put it in context, if all the cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships were to disappear from Canada by 2030, we would still fall far short of meeting our GHG reduction commitments," said the report.

Alternately, Canada could shut down its oil and gas sector, it said. The nation is the world's sixth largest oil producer.

Saskatchewan province, which has been developing carbon capture technology on a massive scale, is the only jurisdiction adamantly opposed to any carbon tax.

The province has vowed a court battle if pressed in order to protect its oil and gas sector, which is the second-largest in the country, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

McKenna said she was optimistic Saskatchewan would join other provinces in charging polluters but added that the feds were prepared to act unilaterally if it did not.

"We certainly hope that Saskatchewan will develop a plan that makes sense for Saskatchewan and ... we have been working hard to work with Saskatchewan in this regard," she said.

"But let me be absolutely clear that it is well within the federal government's right to take action to protect the environment."

UN climate talks concluded in Bonn Thursday with envoys putting on a brave face despite the threat of an American exodus hanging over their prized global pact to stem global warming.

"We are all vulnerable and we all need to act," said Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who has repeatedly urged Donald Trump to keep America on the right climate track.

First world coastal cities such as Miami and New York face serious threats from climate change-induced sea level rise, just like low-lying islands like Fiji, said Bainimarama, who will preside over the next round of ministerial-level climate negotiations in November.

"No-one, no matter who they are or where they live, will ultimately escape the impact of climate change," he told delegates gathered in Germany.

Distracted negotiators from nearly 200 country signatories to the climate-rescue Paris Agreement kept a close eye on Washington throughout their 10-day huddle, for any signal about the new US president's intentions.

On the campaign trail, Trump had threatened to "cancel" the hard-fought pact which his predecessor, Barack Obama, played an instrumental role in dragging over the finish line in 2015.

On the second day of the May 8-18 Bonn talks, the White House announced the postponement of a meeting to weigh America's future role in the deal, compounding the uncertainty.

A small US delegation at the technical negotiations was thus also left in the dark.

"I personally have met with the head of the (US) delegation a couple of times and... he's just very open in repeating: 'Our position is under review'," UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa said on Thursday.

But negotiators insisted that work progressed on outlining a nuts-and-bolts "rule book" for implementing the agreement's goals, despite the ever-present "Sword of Damocles", as one put it.

Many commented that the mood was positive, and said the American delegation participated in the talks, though cautiously.

- 'We must all act' -

There is a fear that whatever progress is made now can easily be swept off the table when the negotiators get together next, perhaps encountering a new US team with a different brief.

"The rest of the world must continue to work towards progress together," insisted Fiji's chief negotiator Nazhat Shameem Khan.

"We shouldn't give up because one of the community, one of the family, has decided that they will not walk with us."

Observers pointed to the importance of upcoming meetings of the G7 and G20, strategic country groupings of which the US is a member, in putting pressure on Trump, who has described climate change as a "hoax" perpetrated by China.

"We work very hard together with many other friends in the world to convince the US that staying in the Paris Agreement is the right way to go," Jochen Flasbarth, Germany's state secretary for the environment, told journalists.

"Germany stays committed to the international UN climate process. We believe that it is irreversible and many, many countries indicate to us that nobody has the intention of thinking about another format, another track apart from the UN."

- 'We are all vulnerable' -

There are fears in some quarters that an American withdrawal from the Paris Agreement may encourage others to follow suit, or at least harm the collective will, painstakingly crafted over two decades of tough negotiations, to act on climate change.

The pact commits signatories to limiting average global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

This will be achieved by limiting emissions from burning coal, oil and gas. But the fossil fuel lobby in America exerts a strong influence over climate politics, both national and international.

A study in Nature Scientific Reports Thursday said sea level rise of "only 10 cm (four inches)" doubles flooding potential for cities on the North American west coast -- citing Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles -- as well as the European Atlantic coast.

And American scientists said the January-to-April global temperature was the second highest since records began in 1880.

"We don't know," what Trump will eventually decide, "but we won't stop our work even if the result is a negative one," insisted Khan.

"We hope very much that they will remain in the Paris Agreement and that they will walk with the rest of the family towards this very urgent goal that the planet is facing."

In climate talks, it's always been America first
Bonn (AFP) May 18, 2017
The shadow of Donald Trump looms large over the climate-rescue Paris Agreement, thrashed out by nearly 200 countries over years of painstaking, often belligerent, bartering in which the United States has a chequered history. As power has changed hands between Republicans and Democrats, the country has alternatively played an inspirational or obstructionist role over two decades of negotiatio ... read more

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