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In Washington, the economic world meets Trump climate skepticism

The regular meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund -- always accompanied by a gathering of G20 finance ministers -- have rung out with calls to action against global warming in recent years.

Chairman of the IMFC and Bank of Mexico Governor Agustin Carstens(C) listens as IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde speaks during an IMFC press conference at the World Bank IMF Spring Meetings April 22, 2017 in Washington, DC. ZACH GIBSON / AFP

The Trump administration’s climate skepticism and its possible withdrawal from the landmark Paris Agreement of 2015 drew a cloud over this week’s grand economic conclave in Washington.

The regular meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund — always accompanied by a gathering of G20 finance ministers — have rung out with calls to action against global warming in recent years.

But this week’s lofty junket, which wraps up Saturday in the US capital, underscored the directional shift driven by Donald Trump’s rise to the White House: climate is no longer a consensus matter.

The United States had already succeeded in having any mention of the climate removed from a concluding statement at a G20 finance ministers’ meeting in Baden-Baden, Germany, in mid-March.

And on Friday, the news conference following a meeting of the G20 finance ministers virtually ignored a subject that had been crucial to the administration of former president Barack Obama.

These days, the White House doubts the reality of climate change, and has so far not ruled out exiting the Paris Agreement, urgently negotiated in 2015 to reduce countries’ greenhouse gas emissions.

– Demonstrators gather –
The possibility that the United States — the world’s largest economy and second-largest carbon emitter after China — could exit the agreement was front and center on Saturday as protesters took the streets in Washington.

Demonstrators gathered to denounce the Trump administration’s pledged funding cuts for scientific research, no doubt causing some dyspepsia for the many ministers and other officials present at the IMF-World Bank spring meetings.

Segolene Royal, France’s environment minister, put the odds of US withdrawal at 50 percent.

But former US Vice President Al Gore, who shared a Nobel Prize for his climate activism, was more optimistic, claiming there is an “excellent chance” the United States would remain a party to the agreement for one simple reason: the economy.

“Solar jobs in the US are now growing 17 times faster than job growth in the economy,” he said.

Downplaying American skittishness, the World Bank — which regularly sounds the alarm on the economic dangers of global warming — said the funding available to fight climate change should not decrease.

“The science of climate change didn’t change with any particular election and I don’t see that it will,” the bank’s president Jim Yong Kim said.

Describing the need to invest in future clean technologies, he said financial costs are a central question.

– Shifting to the private sector –
Large holders of conservatively invested capital may be interested in the climate, he said, “but they would need help with, you know, guarantees, risk mitigation etc., in investing in climate change activities in poor countries.”

On Friday, the World Bank announced the launch of a $2 billion “green” bond fund with the European asset manager Amundi to finance low-carbon investments in emerging markets.

Some observers wonder whether Washington’s retreat on the climate will not paradoxically strengthen climate action by shifting focus to the private sector.

“Because of what we’re seeing from that administration, there’s now going to be even more pressure on the private sector not to be financially associated with projects or technology harmful for the environment,” Oxfam America’s climate and energy director Heather Coleman said.

Meanwhile, France, which pushed to reach the climate agreement in Paris two years ago, hopes the Trump era will not see a decline in climate action.

“It shouldn’t be that a single individual, whom I won’t name, suddenly calls this objective into doubt,” French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said Saturday.

“Because it is clear. We must fight global warming.”