SHARE
COPY LINK

UN

Merkel and Macron to lead diplomatic push at UN climate talks

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

Merkel and Macron to lead diplomatic push at UN climate talks
Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel. Photo: DPA.

Despite announcing it will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the United States has a delegation at the Bonn huddle, tasked with drawing up rules for executing the hard-fought pact on winding down Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal, oil and gas.

Washington's presence is not universally appreciated, especially after White House officials hosted a sideline event Monday defending the continued use of fossil fuels.

“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 historic pact.

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

Bureaucrats have been haggling over the Paris Agreement rulebook for the past nine days. Now it is the turn of energy and environment ministers to unlock issues above the pay grade of rank-and-file negotiators.

The goal is to draft a set of decisions to be adopted before the meeting ends on Friday.

Along with UN chief Antonio Guterres, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will kick off Wednesday a day-and-a-half of back-to-back “high-level” speeches.

Not a holiday

“Ministers speaking at the UN summit in Bonn on Wednesday have a big job to do. This meeting is not making progress on some key issues,” said Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid, which represents the interests of poor countries at the talks.

“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.

Armelle le Comte of Oxfam said Merkel and Macron must signal that they will lead by example.

“It is the moment to show that the French-German couple is dynamic and ambitious on these questions,” she told AFP.

But Merkel is in a tough spot.

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

“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.”

Outstanding issues for ministers to solve include a demand from poorer countries for firm financing commitments to help them prepare for, and deal with, the fallout from climate change.

ENVIRONMENT

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Firefighting teams and equipment from six EU nations started to arrive in France on Thursday to help battle a spate of wildfires, including a fierce blaze in the parched southwest that has forced thousands to evacuate.

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Most of the country is sweltering under a summer heatwave compounded by a record drought – conditions most experts say will occur more often as a result of rapid climate change.

“We must continue, more than ever, our fight against climate disruption and … adapt to this climate disruption,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said after arriving at a fire command post in the village of Hostens, south of Bordeaux.

The European Commission said four firefighting planes would be sent to France from Greece and Sweden, as well as teams from Austria, Germany, Poland and Romania.

“Our partners are coming to France’s aid against the fires. Thank you to them. European solidarity is at work!” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.

“Across the country over 10,000 firefighters and security forces are mobilised against the flames… These soldiers of fire are our heroes,” he said.

In total, 361 foreign firefighters were  dispatched to assist their 1,100 French colleagues deployed in the worst-hit part of the French southwest.

A first contingent of 65 German firefighters, followed by their 24 vehicles, arrived Thursday afternoon and were to go into action at dawn Friday, officials said.

Among eight major fires currently raging, the biggest is the Landiras fire in the southwest Gironde department, whose forests and beaches draw huge tourist crowds each summer.

It had already burned 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres) in July – the driest month seen in France since 1961 – before being contained, but it continued to smoulder in the region’s tinder-dry pine forests and peat-rich soil.

Since flaring up again Tuesday, which officials suspect may have been caused by arson, it has burned 7,400 hectares, destroyed or damaged 17 homes, and forced 10,000 people to quit their homes, said Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Mendousse of the Gironde fire and rescue service.

Borne said nine firefighting planes are already dumping water on the blaze, with two more to be in service by the weekend.

“Gigantic”
“We battled all night to stop the fire from spreading, notably to defend the village of Belin-Beliet,” Mendousse told journalists in Hostens.

On several houses nearby, people hung out white sheets saying: “Thank you for saving our homes” and other messages of support for the weary fire battalions.

“You’d think we’re in California, it’s gigantic… And they’re used to forest fires here but we’re being overwhelmed on all sides — nobody could have expected this,” Remy Lahlay, a firefighter deployed near Hostens in the Landes de Gascogne natural park, told AFP.

With temperatures in the region hitting nearly 40C on Thursday and forecast to stay high until at least Sunday, “there is a very serious risk of new outbreaks” for the Landiras fire, the prefecture of the Gironde department said.

Acrid smoke has spread across much of the southwestern Atlantic coast and its beaches that draw huge crowds of tourists each summer, with the regional ARS health agency “strongly” urging people to wear protective face masks.

The smoke also forced the closing of the A63 motorway, a major artery toward Spain, between Bordeaux and Bayonne.

The government has urged employers to allow leaves of absence for volunteer firefighters to help fight the fires.

Meanwhile, in Portugal, more than 1,500 firefighters were also battling a fire that has raged for days in the mountainous Serra da Estrela natural park in the centre of the country.

It has already burned 10,000 hectares, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

SHOW COMMENTS