Merkel, Macron Leaders to front diplomatic push at UN climate talks

The US presence is not universally appreciated, especially after White House officials hosted a sideline event Monday, defending continued fossil fuel use.

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Timoci Naulusala, a 12-year-old from Fiji, gave a rousing speech on the perils of climate change at the talks in Bonn, later shaking hands with leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron, left, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel play

Timoci Naulusala, a 12-year-old from Fiji, gave a rousing speech on the perils of climate change at the talks in Bonn, later shaking hands with leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron, left, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel

(AFP)
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The leaders of France and Germany will lead a diplomatic charge Wednesday to reinvigorate UN climate talks clouded by Washington's rejection of a planet rescue plan backed by the rest of the world.

Despite announcing it will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the United States has a delegation in Bonn where rules for executing the pact on winding down Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal, oil and gas are being drawn up.

The US presence is not universally appreciated, especially after White House officials hosted a sideline event Monday, defending continued fossil fuel use.

"A lot of negotiators are not happy with the way the US has been behaving in some of these negotiations," Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a veteran observer of the climate process, told AFP.

"Things like this fossil fuel initiative... are not making things easier."

The United States, which championed the Paris Agreement under former president Barack Obama, ratified it just two months before Donald Trump -- who has described climate change as a "hoax" -- was voted into office.

In June, the new president announced America would pull out of the pact.

This week, Syria became the 196th country to formally adopt the hard-fought agreement, leaving the United States as the only nation in the UN climate convention to reject it.

For the past nine days, bureaucrats have been haggling over a Paris Agreement "rulebook", which will specify how countries must calculate and report their contribution to global emissions cuts.

From Wednesday, it is the turn of energy and environment ministers to unlock issues above the pay grade of rank-and-file negotiators, with finance a key sticking point to be resolved by Friday's close of the conference.

Along with UN chief Antonio Guterres, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will seek to inject political impetus into the talks when they kick off the "high-level segment" -- a day-and-a-half of back-to-back speeches.

About 25 heads of state and government are expected to attend, including Fiji's Frank Bainimarama, the conference president.

Not a holiday

"Ministers speaking at the UN summit in Bonn on Wednesday have a big job to do," said Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid, which represents poor country interests at the talks.

"This meeting is not making progress on some key issues. It almost feels like negotiators have taken this Fiji-led summit and treated it as if they are on holiday in the Pacific."

The Paris Agreement commits countries to limiting average global warming to under two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over Industrial Revolution levels, and 1.5 C if possible, to avert calamitous climate change-induced storms, drought and sea-level rises.

To bolster the agreement, nations submitted voluntary commitments to curb greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning.

But the 1 C mark has already been passed, and scientists say that on current country pledges, the world is headed for a 3 C warmer future, or more.

Merkel will be closely watched, Wednesday, with observers hoping she will announce a phase-out of coal.

The commodity provides about 40 percent of Germany's electricity needs, and the country is set to miss its own goal of cutting emissions by 40 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels.

The issue has dogged Merkel's efforts to form a coalition government between her conservative allies, the anti-coal Greens, and pro-industry Free Democrats.

"Chancellor Merkel over the years has been a great climate champion and has driven the global debate forward," said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace. "But that credibility is hanging in the balance."

A smattering of activists welcomed delegates to the conference Wednesday, with placards reading "End Coal", "Clean coal is a dirty lie", and "Stop corporate capture of the climate."

A key issue for ministers to resolve, is a demand from developing countries for firm financing commitments to help them prepare for, and deal with, the fallout from climate change. Rich countries, they say, carry more of the blame -- having polluted more, for longer.

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