"What President Trump has done is put climate on the American agenda in a way that it was never there before"
By Alex Whiting
LONDON, June 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - President Donald Trump's decision to pull the United States from the Paris climate agreement has serious implications for the people most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming, according to Mary Robinson, a former Irish president and human rights advocate.
It is unclear how Trump's withdrawal will affect U.S. targets to cut harmful greenhouse gas emissions, she said. But it may create a major gap in funding to help poor countries protect themselves from the worst impacts of climate change, Robinson said in an interview Thursday.
Many of these countries - especially in southern and eastern Africa - have been badly affected by severe drought, linked to the 2015/2016 El Nino weather pattern, that left millions of people in need of food aid. In some cases drought was followed by flooding.
Scientists now are warning that El Nino could return again this year.
The United States, under former President Barack Obama's administration, promised to give $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, designed to help the poorest countries adapt to climate change and adopt clean energy systems. Of that, $1 billion was delivered before Obama left office.
One June 1, Trump said he was halting U.S. contributions to the $10 billion fund, established as part of an international drive to mobilise $100 billion in climate finance for developing countries, from public and private sources, by 2020.
That decision "impacts hugely because it's all about support for building resilience", Robinson said - including resilience to "slow-onset" disasters such as longer and more frequent droughts.
She said the Trump administration also has indicated it "will be reducing significantly" funding for government aid agency USAID and the State Department, both of which provide help to developing countries in building resilience to climate change shocks and pressures, she said.
The impacts of increasingly frequent and severe El Nino and La Nina weather patterns on countries already vulnerable to drought or rising sea levels can be "devastating", she said.
In some cases, they could push countries "to the point of creating fragile states" said Robinson, who is president of a foundation seeking justice for people hit by climate impacts despite having contributed little to the problem.
"The really worrying thing is a possible El Nino again this year, and so there is a real urgency at a time when there is also a sense of donor fatigue," she said.
Efforts to deal with a flood of migrants to Europe also mean a lot of European funding that might otherwise have been focused on supporting developing countries is being diverted, she said.
Some of the migration, though, is driven in part by climate change impacts, which together with conflict make it harder for families to remain at home, she added.
"When you have very severe drought people have to move ... and they move to cities or they move increasingly to places where they believe it will be possible to have a better life," she said.
At next week's G20 summit of major economies, which Trump will attend, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has prioritised three areas for discussion: climate change, free trade and mass migration.
"They are of course linked," said Robinson, who last year was a U.N. special envoy on El Nino and climate change, along with Macharia Kamau of Kenya.
One way to deal with migration pressures "would be to build (African countries') resilience to cope with climate change," she said.
Cutting funding to help vulnerable countries deal with climate change also will affect small island states that may need to resettle whole communities impacted by rising sea levels.
Fiji, for example, needs to move 100 villages - but the process is very difficult because people have to leave the place where they grew up and buried their families, Robinson said.
"It goes further than that with indigenous peoples," she said. "They have to leave the land of the bones of their ancestors."
There is still time to help communities find ways to move and carry their culture with them, including through virtual and digital means. But "that needs support", Robinson said.
U.S. EMISSIONS TARGETS?
How Trump's withdrawal from the Paris agreement to combat climate change will impact U.S. targets to cut emissions remains unclear, Robinson said.
But "what President Trump has done is put climate on the American agenda in a way that it was never there before, and provoked a dynamic response from communities, business, civil society, philanthropy", she said.
"That may mean that the emissions cuts that the Obama administration had committed the United States to may in fact be met," she said.
This level of response needs to happen in every country, she said.
"Every city ... community, university, business needs to take responsibility for its share in how we implement the Paris Agreement," she urged. (Reporting by Alex Whiting @Alexwhi, Editing by Laurie Goering.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)
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