World leaders jostle for climate leadership as U.S. retreats

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, November 17, 2017

BONN, Germany — The leaders of Europe’s two largest economies gave very different speeches here yesterday, with “climate chancellor” Angela Merkel angering advocates with her cautious tone and French President Emmanuel Macron offering himself as a replacement for lost U.S. leadership.

Merkel, Germany’s leader, who is co-hosting the international climate talks here with Fiji, frustrated greens who hoped she would use her appearance at the start of yesterday’s leader-level talks to set a 2030 deadline for her country to phase out coal-fired power.

Instead, she delivered a general statement about the need to address warming.

“Climate change is an issue determining our destiny as mankind — it will determine the well-being of all of us,” Merkel said.

Germany is not on track to meet its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions pledges, largely because it derives 40 percent of its power from coal. Its use of coal rose sharply after the nation turned away from nuclear energy following the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan six years ago.

Germany’s emissions are still rising slightly — a rare case among developed countries. It’s widely believed that the only way the nation can meet its climate goals is to phase out coal.

Merkel acknowledged that Germany’s coal use is part of the problem and promised a solution. “But what exactly that will be is something we will discuss very precisely in the coming days,” she promised.

Activists fumed.

“Mrs. Merkel had one thing to do today,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International. “She needed to come to Bonn and show she had heard the suffering of the people of the Pacific and around the world and would do the responsible thing and end coal. She did not deliver this.”

Greenpeace staged a protest this week on the Rhine River, which runs through Bonn, taking over a coal ship and presenting a banner reading “Merkel’s dirty secret” as it passed the conference venue.

Merkel is in the midst of high-stakes negotiations this week over setting up Germany’s first three-way coalition government, an uneasy task that requires unifying environmentalists, conservatives and free-market advocates.

Lutz Weischer of Germanwatch acknowledged that Merkel, a former German environment minister, has been a good climate diplomat. She isolated President Trump at the Group of 20 summit earlier this year in Hamburg by getting all other countries to reaffirm the Paris Agreement. Trump did not. But when it comes to domestic action, Weischer said, Merkel “hasn’t been a climate chancellor for years.”

“What will be the outcome of these negotiations depends to a very large extent on what she wants,” he said, referring to the discussions around Merkel’s government. “If she wants climate to be her legacy, she’ll have to start a phaseout of coal in Germany.”

Macron, who followed Merkel to the podium yesterday, promised to replace the $2 million in funding that Trump plans to cut from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations’ climate science body.

“I can guarantee that starting in 2018, the IPCC will have all the money it needs and will continue to support our decisionmaking,” Macron said. “It will not miss a single euro.”

Macron pledged to phase out coal by 2021, though France’s power portfolio is already mostly nuclear. Canada and the United Kingdom launched a partnership today at the conference aimed at phasing out coal in the near term. A handful of countries and U.S. states have signed on as early members.

And Macron touted his efforts to introduce a French carbon fee and a possible border tariff on goods from countries that lack similar measures.

Wendel Trio of CAN Europe said the coal phaseout is significant.

“Even while coal is rather small in France, it is a clear message to other European countries, in particular Germany,” Trio said.

But climate justice advocates, who have complained over the last week that the developed world is moving too slowly to help poor countries damaged by climate change, noted that Macron didn’t bring any new aid dollars to the table.

“Without any new announcements on finance for climate-vulnerable communities, it appears Emmanuel Macron came empty-handed to Bonn,” said Armelle Le Comte of Oxfam France.

While the United States has been the pariah at this year’s talks, the European Union has frequently found itself in the hot seat, too. The issue of pre-2020 action to address emissions emerged last week as the chief point of tension between developed and developing countries gathered here to write the rules for the Paris Agreement’s implementation.

At issue was the European Union’s failure to ratify the Doha amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, which was agreed to at these talks five years ago as a way to tide the world over until a more universal deal could be reached in Paris. The Fijian presidency’s solution was to invite some European countries, which are ready, to deposit their instruments of ratification today. It’s a symbolic gesture aimed at appeasing poor countries.

But the E.U. commissioner for climate change, Miguel Arias Cañete, noted yesterday that the 28-member bloc has made all the reductions it promised under the amendment. The European Union has failed to ratify the Doha amendment because of the resistance of one country: Poland, which will host the talks next year. He allowed E.U. frustration with Poland to show.

“All our member states and the Parliament are asking our Polish friends to come along with ratification demanded by the 27 other member states and also by the world public opinion, here in this [Conference of the Parties] in particular,” he said.

Arias Cañete offered Europe as a bright spot for climate ambition in the rich world, particularly since Trump announced in June that the United States would leave the Paris deal.

“For sure, the European Union would prefer a very active and ambitious United States at these negotiations, but we will do our best,” he said.