Trump Acting as ‘Bully’ on Climate Galvanizes Work at UN Talks

President Donald Trump’s threat to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement on climate change has catalyzed envoys from much of the rest of the world working to give the deal a boost at United Nations talks in Germany this week.

Diplomats from more than 190 nations gathered in Bonn are due Thursday to conclude two weeks of discussions putting finer details on measures agreed in Paris in 2015 to curb the pollution behind global warming. 

Known for bickering over fine details and recurring divisions between richer and poorer nations over how to pay for the impact of warmer temperatures, the envoys have been unusually cooperative in reaching a deal this week, delegates and observers gathered in Bonn said.

“We’re very concerned about what’s going to happen if the U.S. pulls out,,” William Calvo, adjunct chief negotiator at Costa Rica’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in an interview. “However, we’re all together on this. You can see in the room — we’re together, we’re working. Things are moving.”

“The U.S. has been playing hardball, saying it doesn’t have a position on certain elements of the talks, and that’s been rubbing a lot of people up the wrong way,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group. “Countries are showing they are not going to bow down to pressure, not wanting to cower before a bully.”

American View

A handful of U.S. State Department officials are engaged in the talks in Bonn but sidestepped questions about the direction of Trump’s policy. Trigg Talley, the lead U.S. envoy from Washington, said at a briefing on May 12 that the overarching priority of the U.S. is to strengthen its economy and national security.

“In this broader context our climate policies are under review” Talley told reporters in Bonn on May 12. “The administration had not yet developed a formal policy on climate change, and that includes both domestic and international climate change issues generally.” He declined to provide any new details in Bonn on Wednesday.


Any decision by the U.S. to pull out of Paris or stay in and water down its targets would be a major roadblock to the agreement’s success. On Friday, the U.S. confirmed it won’t give any money this year to the Green Climate Fund, which enables rich countries to help poorer ones deal with the worst impacts of climate change.

“There may be changes in the future, but we are optimistic of the existing situation,” said Debasu Bayleyegn Eyasu, director general of the climate change coordination directorate and the environment ministry of Ethiopia.

Oil exporter Nigeria on Wednesday became the 146th country to ratify the Paris deal, and India last week said it would pursue clean energy “irrespective of what others do.” The coal-reliant country also announced that it plans to sell only electric cars by the end of the next decade.

Negotiation Strategy

Some countries panicked earlier this month when the Trump administration raised a debate about Article 4.11 in the Paris deal, which says a nation “may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition.” Rather than be drawn into a debate about whether the words are meant to ratchet up ambition for fighting climate change, negotiators sidestepped the issue.

“After a while they realized it’s a trick and they need to be smarter in their response,” Yamide Dagnet, senior associate at the World Resources Institute, said in an interview. As a result, the talks haven’t seen the “agenda fight” that usually occurs at intersession talks that come with UN gatherings of the envoys who discuss global climate deals.

“The mood is pretty good, and everybody’s is on board and working pretty hard,”  said Aziz Mekouar, the lead negotiations for Morocco. “We’ve made a lot of progress. This session has been very positive.”

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