UN Climate Talks Leader to Trump: Don’t ‘Abandon the Field of Play’

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By Murray Griffin

The incoming president of the 2017 United Nations climate talks implored U.S. President Donald Trump to keep the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter as a participant in the global Paris Agreement to fight climate change.

“The world needs more teamwork on climate change right now than ever before,” Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said May 2 at a carbon conference in Melbourne, Australia—his first major speech in his role as incoming president. “We can’t have one of our best performers abandon the field of play.”

Bainimarama said he wrote to Trump urging him to “continue to take a leadership role as we confront undoubtedly the greatest challenge of our age.”

“We must preserve at all costs the historic agreement that was reached in Paris in 2015,” Bainimarama said. “The Paris Agreement must be implemented in full and the groundwork laid for even more ambitious action. ... That means every nation fulfilling the pledges they made in Paris and demonstrating an unwavering commitment to see this process through.”

Trump’s Decision

During his campaign for president, Trump called climate change a hoax and vowed to withdraw the U.S.—which trails only China among the world’s greenhouse-gas emitters—from the Paris climate accord. Trump has yet to announce a decision as his administration remains divided over U.S. action.

But even if the U.S. remains in the Paris deal, it’s unclear what role the country would play in the coming years. Trump has directed the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back carbon dioxide limits for power plants, the heart of the country’s pledge to reduce its emissions by at least 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

Fiji this year holds the presidency of the U.N. climate negotiations, taking the reins from Morocco, which held it in 2016. At the 23rd conference of parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in November in Bonn, Germany, negotiators will continue work on how nearly 200 signatory nations will implement the Paris Agreement.

Private Sector

But if governments fail to take decisive action, Bainimarama said the role of businesses and citizens becomes even more important.

“When governments fail to lead, the private sector must do so, as is happening already in America,” he said.

“When the call to action goes unheeded, civil society must mobilize ordinary people to turn up the pressure,” he said. “And where politicians deny the magnitude of the challenge that we face, men and women must use their power at the ballot box to replace them.”

Bainimarama called for a “grand coalition of governments, civil society and the private sector to defend and uphold the Paris Agreement.”

‘Frighteningly Real’ Climate Change

The leader of the small Pacific Island nation, which in February 2016 was hit by the most severe tropical cyclone ever to reach its shores, also warned there was “no longer room and certainly no longer time to question the science” of climate change.

The best scientific advice makes it clear that climate change is “frighteningly real,” he said, noting that the many of the world’s coral reefs “may be too far gone to be saved” and agricultural yields were also being affected.

The Fijian leader also spoke firsthand of the impact of extreme weather, noting that Tropical Cyclone Winston “had wiped out one third of our GDP,” even though it spared the main tourist areas on which the country’s economy depends.

Fiji Offers to Accept Climate Refugees

Key tasks for this year in the U.N. process include advancing the underpinning rules of the Paris Agreement and laying the groundwork for countries to make more ambitious commitments through a review process that will start in 2018, Bainimarama said.

He said citizens of Fiji were “shouldering our share of the burden of finding new homes for those who are displaced by climate change.”

“We have offered to give permanent refuge to two of our nearest neighbors, Kiribati and Tuvalu, in the event that they are submerged altogether,” he said of the small Pacific island nations.

To contact the reporter on this story: Murray Griffin in Melbourne at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com

For More Information

Bainimarama's speech is available at http://src.bna.com/oq2.

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