Trump expected to change course on Paris climate accord: UN Environment head

November 05 2017

The US will change its attitude towards the Paris Agreement and play a big role at the UN Climate Change Conference that begins on Monday in the German city of Bonn, says Erik Solheim, head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).


The crucial 12-day long negotiations on how to keep rising global temperatures from reaching catastrophic levels will involve nearly 200 nations with an aim to advance the 2015 Paris Agreement implementation. 


"What is clear is that increased use of fossil fuels is not the answer. We have to do precisely the opposite. Even despite a push from the White House for coal and gas, we are still seeing many US cities and states embrace renewable technology," Solheim told IANS in an interview. 


"This is not because of climate change but because it makes sound business sense."


In many parts of the US, wind and solar energy present a very compelling business proposition. 


In states like Texas and Nevada, they are cutting costs and providing greater energy security, said an Solheim, who believes corporate sourcing of renewable electricity can be a major driver of the transition to a robust, zero-emission economy.


Two years after the world united around the Paris Climate Agreement and a year after its entry into force, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change's (UNFCCC) 197 parties will reconvene for the 23rd annual climate change talks (COP 23) in Bonn from November 6 to 17 in the backdrop of the US decision to pull out of the climate agreement.


The Bonn talks are expected to take a number of decisions necessary to bring the Paris Agreement to life, including meaningful progress on the agreement implementation guidelines, to achieve a goal of keeping global warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius with an aim to cut greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.


The UNEP head foresees the US will play a big role at the Bonn talks on shaping the Paris Agreement. 


"We certainly hope that will be the case. There's been a season of devastating wildfires and hurricanes, and this highlights the importance of the climate change issue to the US.


"At the same time, President Trump has expressed doubts over climate change and announced his withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. We sincerely hope that that will change and, therefore, continued constructive US involvement in the process is welcome."


But changes to opt renewable technology taking place in China and India are extraordinary and extremely positive.


"For me, there are two aspects that make this progress very important. Firstly, there is a technical dimension: the shift taking place in China has helped bring the technology such as solar and energy storage to scale. This has helped drive down prices and make renewable energy solutions incredibly competitive.


"Secondly, there is an important moral dimension. Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi has described climate action as an article of faith', saying that inaction would be a crime against future generations. While the conference (COP23) is grounded in practicalities and technicalities, it's important to never lose sight of this moral dimension," Solheim said.


India and China are also great advocates for the bounties to be reaped from making the shift.


"The positive fact is that the nations who are taking action are getting a head start in building the sustainable, inclusive economies of the future," said Solheim.


Favouring the need to develop greater partnerships, and unlock the global barriers that renewables encounter, he said: "This includes bringing governments together, also the private sector. I'd like to see India emerge as a big player in solar energy mega-installations."


World's third-largest energy consumer India aims to tap 40 per cent of its energy needs through renewable technology by 2030.


"Private sector engagement is crucial, and we're already seeing many firms adopt sustainability as part of their business plans," Solheim felt. "We need to reinforce this trend, reward companies who are making positive change and make sure the polluters pay."


Now is the time to invest further in renewable technologies, not look to the past, he added.


In June, US President Donald Trump announced his administration's intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, throwing into doubt its role at UN climate talks, and related bodies like the Green Climate Fund.


"It is finally happening for our great clean coal miners!" Trump tweeted on November 2. 


He has promised to revive coal by rolling back regulations on carbon emissions from thermal power plants.


At COP 23, attention will turn to whether the US and its allies will continue to advance an agenda focused mainly on mitigation, carbon markets and transparency of action, while neglecting or foot-dragging on other key issues such as adaptation, loss and damage, finance, technology transfer, capacity building, transparency of support, compliance, and the global stocktake.


(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)

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