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Is the world hiding behind Trump as progress lags in Bangkok?

by Mohamed Adow | @mohadow | Christian Aid International
Thursday, 6 September 2018 09:40 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Wealthy countries must stop Trump in further weakening the Paris Agreement and instead honour their commitments

Countries are meeting in Bangkok this week to hammer out the rulebook by which the Paris Agreement will be translated into action.  The commitments made in the French capital in 2015 were a significant first step but setting the parameters for how each country’s efforts are measured and supported is essential to make sense of the various pledges contained in the agreement.

Despite negotiating this for three years, progress has been bogged down in Bangkok with the December deadline for the rulebook to be finalised looming large. Without some concrete options for ministers to hammer out at COP 24 in Poland the summit risks ending in failure.

To explain the current impasse, we need to look at how we arrived here. The US, led by President Obama, helped create the conditions for a successful delivery of the Paris Agreement. Obama was a driving force behind a major diplomatic push to land the deal but to do so the US forced through a bottom up system based on voluntary nationally determined contributions and largely symmetrical legal commitments for all countries. This involved tearing up much of the previous top down international climate regime, resulting in the greatest rollback of international rules on tackling climate change, particularly applying to rich countries. 

Thanks to the political constraints in the US, the rest of the world bent backwards to accommodate each and every US demand. The result is a Paris Agreement that is weaker for the rich countries than the Kyoto Protocol they replaced. The cruel irony is that despite the rest of the world allowing the US to have its own way, President Trump announced he was going to withdraw from the Paris Agreement anyway, as part of his reactionary agenda and his obsessive undoing of everything Obama did.

Just as they did under the Kyoto Protocol, the US dictated the rules of the game only to refuse to then play by them and march off in a huff. This would be bad enough, but Trump isn’t even letting everyone else get on with it and the US is trying to undermine the game even further from the side-lines.

Rather than recusing themselves from the negotiations on a Paris rulebook they have no intention of being party to, they are actively undermining it.

Part of the negotiations around the rulebook includes the provision of climate finance from rich countries.  Trump’s first budget backtracked on US international commitment to climate finance to aid poor and vulnerable countries, money that would help them take concrete steps on clean energy, disaster risk reduction, climate resilience and forest protection.   But Trump’s administration is now dismantling climate finance commitments of other wealthy nations, frustrating the legitimate claims of poor nations to set an international process for reporting on the predictability of funding.

Disgracefully, other rich countries, especially Canada, Australia, Japan, France, Germany, Norway and the UK, rather than calling it out, have sheepishly hid behind Trump. They should have acted as a firewall to stop the virus of the US approach from infecting the climate negotiations, but instead they have allowed US interests to once again paralyse progress.

This is simply wrong. We know the US is interfering in the climate talks in the interests of big polluters, and not its people. Their actions must be opposed, and at minimum demand that they stand down from the Paris rulebook negotiations.

Specifically, countries need to agree the up-front information about how much finance richer countries will be providing, so that poor developing nations can plan their supported climate actions accordingly. They also need to agree accounting rules about how money is tracked and what can count as climate finance.

A current proposal from the US, Australia and Japan would, for example, allow countries to count the face value of commercial loans as climate finance. Putting developing countries further in debt might be Donald Trump’s idea of what climate finance should look like, but it is not the real money for real action that’s needed to solve the climate crisis.

Other wealthy countries must stop Trump in further weakening the Paris Agreement and instead honour their commitments by delivering a rulebook that is fit for protecting people and planet, not polluter’s profits.

Mohamed Adow is International Climate Lead at Christian Aid.