The US and Russia have thrown climate talks into disarray by allying with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to water down approval of a landmark report on the need to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
After a heated two-and-a-half-hour debate last night, the backwards step by the four major oil producers shocked delegates at the UN climate conference in Poland as ministers flew in for the final week of high-level discussions.
It has also raised fears among scientists that President Trump is going from passively withdrawing from climate talks to actively undermining them alongside a coalition of climate deniers.
Two months ago, representatives from the world’s governments hugged after agreeing on the 1.5C report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), commissioned to spell out the dire consequences should that level of warming be exceeded and how it can be avoided.
Reaching a global consensus was a painstaking process involving thousands of scientists sifting through years of research and diplomats working through the night to ensure the wording was acceptable to all nations.
But when it was submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change on Saturday, the four oil allies – with Saudi Arabia as the most obdurate – rejected a motion to “welcome” the study.
Instead, they said it should merely be “noted”, which would make it much easier for governments to ignore.
The motion has not yet been able to pass as a result of the lack of consensus.
“There was going to be an agreement to welcome the report,” said Jake Schmidt, the managing director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s international program. “The U.S. wanted to ‘note’ it, which is saying in essence that we know it’s out there but we have no comment.”
The U.S. position lines up with the views of the Trump administration, which is plowing ahead with a raft of aggressive policies on coal power and oil exploration that are likely to worsen the effects of climate change — steamrolling over dire environmental warnings issued by the administration’s own team of experts in a major report just two weeks ago.
“The United States was willing to note the report and express appreciation to the scientists who developed it, but not to welcome it, as that would denote endorsement of the report,” a State Department spokesman said. “As we have made clear, the United States has not endorsed the findings of the report.”
The attempt by Trump administration delegates to look past the world’s most important climate reports comes two weeks after the administration downplayed a landmark federal report about the impacts of global warming on the United States, which is the world’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide.
Over the weekend, Trump reaffirmed his decision to remove the United States from the global Paris agreement to reduce carbon emissions from coal, natural gas and petroleum.
Referring to continued unrest in France, where thousands of demonstrators have protested a proposed fuel-tax increase, Trump tweeted:
Very sad day & night in Paris. Maybe it’s time to end the ridiculous and extremely expensive Paris Agreement and return money back to the people in the form of lower taxes? The U.S. was way ahead of the curve on that and the only major country where emissions went down last year!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 8, 2018
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian responded, “leave our nation be”.
“We do not take domestic American politics into account and we want that to be reciprocated,” he said.