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By Dean Scott
The 190-plus nations that convene in Germany Nov. 6 for the annual climate summit will be keeping a wary eye on the U.S., which essentially will be at the table for a deal from which President Trump has vowed to withdraw.
On the eve of the summit, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, has decided not to attend, an agency spokeswoman told Bloomberg Environment Nov. 3. His absence will be a relief for many negotiators as Pruitt was the Trump administration’s most vocal proponent of the U.S. withdrawing from the Paris pact, but State Department negotiators will still attend.
The U.S. is being particularly cagey about what it will do at the two-week climate summit in Bonn, which will focus on implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement. Negotiators will be seeking progress on procedures to ensure that nations transparently report their greenhouse gas emissions and design a 2018 process to gauge global progress on climate change, which is called in United Nations parlance a facilitative dialogue.
The summit will be the first high-level interaction between Trump negotiators and their counterparts since he announced his plans June 1 to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. That’s be a four-year process—the U.S. technically cannot get out of the agreement until after the next presidential election in 2020—and Trump at least for now is sending negotiators to the table.
The Bonn talks, known as the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, isn’t a do-or-die summit like the 2015 talks that produced a landmark global climate pact, or even as critical as next year’s summit in Katowice, Poland, when negotiators aim to wrap up transparency rules and convene the 2018 review of whether nations are doing enough to brake rising global temperatures.
The success of the Bonn talks, which will be overseen by the island nation of Fiji, will hinge on how much progress negotiators make on those procedural issues.
U.S. State Department negotiators are likely to elect to keep a low profile and stay out of the limelight as much as possible at the Nov. 6–17 summit, and the administration’s selection of longtime career diplomat Tom Shannon to head the U.S. team in Bonn seems to have quelled some nervousness among participants.
Others tapped for the negotiating team are longtime climate negotiator Trigg Talley; John Thompson, who was recently detailed to the White House National Security Council; and Judy Garber, the State Department’s acting assistant secretary for Oceans, Environment, and Science.
“In a normal year, this would be what we’d roughly call a process Conference of the Parties, but what makes this year not normal is the continuing reverberations” from Trump’s announced withdrawal, Andrew Light, a former Obama administration climate negotiator, told Bloomberg Environment.
That fact can’t be ignored, he said, particularly after “a terrible, horrible season for hurricanes, wildfires,” and other severe weather events, said Light, now a senior fellow in the World Resources Institute’s global climate program.
Current and former State Department officials said to not expect fireworks with Shannon at the helm. “On one hand, he’s not going to do anything that’s contrary to this administration,” one former State official said. But Shannon worked as an adviser to Secretary John Kerry, a longtime backer of climate action “and has really come to understand that climate change, as an issue of international diplomacy, has really increased in his time, “ the official said.
There will be plenty of efforts in Bonn meant to fill what many see as a U.S. climate vacuum under Trump. For the first time in years the talks won’t have a U.S.-sponsored center touting its climate progress. In its place will be a U.S. Climate Action Center backed by a group of nine states, more than 100 cities, and nearly 1,800 businesses and investors dubbed the We Are Still In coalition.
The pavilion is partly backed by Bloomberg L.P. and Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP. Bloomberg BNA is an affiliate of Bloomberg L.P.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) also are to attend as a signal to other nations that the U.S. remains committed to tackling climate change. They’ll be joined by nearly a half-dozen Democratic senators led by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who are to arrive this weekend with a similar message.
Business groups and climate advocacy groups are crossing their fingers for a quiet summit with minimal controversy, although some flare-ups are possible given simmering resentment among many nations over the U.S. withdrawal. “It’s more of an administrative meeting [and] we hope it will kind of be a boring, business-as-usual outcome—and that would be a good thing,” said Nature Conservancy President and CEO Mark Tercek.
There’s always the possibility there will be “some noise” in connection with the U.S. position “and that’s good too,” Tercek said. “I think U.S. citizens should understand that we really have kind of isolated ourselves in an extreme position [away] from the rest of the world.”
Beyond progress on transparency rules and the 2018 facilitative dialogue, negotiators also could see renewed focus on whether to revisit compensation for vulnerable developing nations being hard hit by storm surge, rising seal levels, and other climate impacts.
Business groups also want to see progress on carbon trading and other market mechanisms, which were included in Article 6 of the Paris pact so that could pave the way for international emissions trading. Some day that could allow links between the European Union’s emissions trading system and other trading efforts in Quebec and California—or even fledgling carbon trading now underway in China.
Norine Kennedy, who will be closely watching the issue in Bonn for the U.S. Council for International Business, told Bloomberg Environment that U.S. companies want to ensure negotiators don’t create any hurdles to emissions trading. a free and open trading of emissions credits.
“Our objective here is to make sure that articles don’t preclude or foreclose the kinds of carbon market arrangements any country might reach agreement on,” said Kennedy, USCIB’s vice president for strategic international engagement, energy, and environment.
“The idea is to let a thousand flowers bloom in this regard: we need all the cost-effective options we can get” if companies are going to help countries make good on the emissions reductions they pledged to the Paris deal, Kennedy said. “The way to get there is to make all options available—not take options off the table.”
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