Shadows cast over climate talks in Germany

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AFTER hurricanes, storms, and flood­ing caused destruction from South Asia to the Caribbean and the United States this year, headlines fo­­cused minds again on climate change. It is under that shadow that national rep­­resentatives are meet­ing in Bonn, Germany, to work on implementing the agree­ment signed in Paris two years ago (News, 10 and 18 December 2015). The other shadow over the talks is President Donald Trump’s, since this is the first Conference of the Parties (COP) since his election.

One of the early storylines to emerge from the summit was how isolated President Trump had made the United States. On Tuesday, Syria an­­nounced that — despite all its other problems — it recognised the need for global efforts to tackle climate change and would be ratifying the Paris Agree­ment. This left President Trump the only world leader opposed to it.

Despite President Trump’s prom­ising to pull his country out of the Paris Agreement, however, there are Amer­icans in Bonn who point out that the US cannot formally leave until the day after the next presid­ential election, in 2020.

The campaign group, which is led by a Methodist, Bill McKibben, is helping to coordinate the US People’s Delegation. The US communications manager of, Thanu Yakupitiyage, said that there were plenty of states, cities, companies, and civil-society organ­isa­tions work­­ing to make sure that the US still met its obligations.

She said: “The US People’s De­l­ega­tion is at COP 23 to share loud and clear the message that communities back home demand a fast and fair transi­tion to a world free of fossil fuels with 100 per cent renew­able energy for all.”

One of the key areas of discussion in Bonn will be examining how countries can go beyond their initial pledges made in the Paris Agree­ment. Combined, those commitments will deliver a global aver­­age temperature rise of 3°C above pre-industrial levels, double the goal agreed in Paris of 1.5°. A 3° rise would lead to significant sea-level rise and flooding in large areas, and devastating heat­­waves and droughts in others. Next year, countries will need to review their plans and ratchet them up if this temperature-rise curve is to be bent drastically down­wards in the next few years.

This year’s meeting is also sig­nificant as the first COP to be pre­sided over by a small Pacific island state that is hugely vulner­able to climate change: Fiji. It has called for the world to show solid­arity with poor nations that are dispropor­tionately affected by clim­ate break­down that they did not cause.

Specifically, this includes more im­mediate emission cuts from rich countries, support for countries having to adapt to the impact of climate change, and funding for “loss and damage” to help communities that suffer changes that cannot be adapted to. As people still rebuild their lives and communities after Hurricane Irma, and more than 40 million people have been affected by flood­ing in South Asia, there will be considerable pressure on richer countries to increase their support at this year’s summit.

Last week, new polling commis­­sioned by Christian Aid suggested that 78 per cent of the British public believed that investing in companies that contributed to dangerous clim­ate change was morally wrong, no matter how profitable it was.

As part of Christian Aid’s Big Shift campaign, supporters are writ­ing to the CEOs of banks, calling on them to move their money out of “dirty energy”.

Joe Ware is Church and Campaigns Journalist for Christian Aid.

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