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US to have COP25 presence, despite Trump’s Paris withdrawal

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People wait at the entrance hall, on the eve of the UN Climate Change Conference COP25 at the ‘IFEMA – Feria de Madrid’ exhibition centre, in Madrid, on December 1, 2019. – Spain’s Socialist government offered to host this year’s UN climate conference, known as COP25, from December 2 to December 13, 2019, after the event’s original host Chile withdrew last month due to deadly riots over economic inequality. Spanish authorities expect some 25,000 participants and 1,500 journalists from around the world to attend the two-week gathering in Madrid. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

The United States will send a delegation to the 25th COP conference on climate change in Madrid, which begins on Monday, only weeks after America began its withdrawal from the Paris accord.

To better understand Washington’s position and the consequences of the US exit, which was initiated by President Donald Trump, AFP interviewed Todd Stern, who participated in the COP21 negotiations in 2015, which resulted in the Paris climate treaty.

Stern, who led former US president Barack Obama’s climate team from 2009 to 2016, is now an expert at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

Below is the interview, condensed for clarity:

– Why does the United States still send delegations to COP conferences? –

STERN: “They continue to go and to participate at a technical level in the negotiations, in a quite useful way actually.”

“These are people who have been negotiators for a long time, who have relationships with other negotiators all over the world, who were knowledgeable and trustworthy.”

– Are there any US positions on climate that have held constant in international discussions throughout the years? –

STERN: “The US, whether it was (former US president George W) Bush or Obama, or even during this period of the Trump administration, was obviously not a supporter of the kind of hard bifurcation of the old-fashioned firewall that was embodied by the Kyoto agreement (signed in 1997).”

“We were not going to agree to look to anything which said, here’s a set of legally binding obligations for developed countries, but nothing for developing countries. That was Kyoto… The negotiators could show up to negotiations during the Trump administration and still be free to continue to advance that type of position.”

– Can the Paris accord survive if Donald Trump is re-elected in 2020? –

STERN: “The damage is that you just inevitably have countries who are not going to do as much as they could do, and who are going to have the feeling that, why should we go all out if the US isn’t doing anything?”

“… If Trump is re-elected I think that will continue. And to some extent, the distress will internationally increase in a more than linear way.”

– Is there any hope that the United States will reach its emission-reducing goals set by Obama through action taken by its states and cities? –

STERN: “The effort at the subnational level absolutely cannot make up for what happens at the national level.”

“On the other hand… there are 25 states trying to take strong action. If you did not have progressive governors trying to do good things in those states, the emissions of the US as a national entity would be higher.”


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