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Climate change

Trump has reheated debate with US withdrawal from Paris Agreement, former UN climate chief says

Speaking on sidelines of three-day World Sustainable Built Environment Conference in Hong Kong, Christiana Figueres insisted the global shift towards reducing carbon emissions would not be shaken.

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 June, 2017, 11:32pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 June, 2017, 11:53pm

The United Nations’ former climate chief has struck a defiant note against US President Donald Trump’s pullout from the landmark Paris accord, insisting the global shift towards reducing carbon emissions will not be shaken.

In an interview with the Post, Christiana Figueres, who formerly headed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, even “thanked” Trump for effectively reinvigorating the discussion over global warming and making it headline news again. But she admitted it was sad to see the US give up its leading role.

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“The announcement was a political message that Mr Trump wanted to give out, geared toward his political base,” said Figueres, who headed the negotiations leading to the Paris agreement in 2015

“Most of the US economy, most cities, states and corporations, will continue because they know its in their own interest.”

She was speaking on the sidelines of the three-day World Sustainable Built Environment Conference in Hong Kong on Monday, the city’s largest ever conference on sustainable buildings and urban development. Tackling climate change in the face of rapid urbanisation is the key theme.

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Trump’s politically-motivated gesture, Figueres said, would have limited impact on America, given that more than 175 US mayors, a growing number of states and more than 1,000 corporations had pledged to continue upholding commitments to the Paris Agreement.

“It is the White House which stepped out of [Paris], not the US economy,” she said. “That’s actually a sad statement to make as under normal conditions, a president should speak for the economy and the majority.”

It is not feasible and Mr Trump knows it
Christiana Figueres, former UN climate chief

Figueres brushed off Trump’s announcement as one riddled with inaccuracies, not least because there was no legal basis for it – no country can withdraw from the accord until three years after ratification – and his claims of bringing back coal industry jobs.

“It is not feasible and Mr Trump knows it,” she said, adding that most coal jobs had already been killed by cheap natural gas as a result of the recent shale revolution, and mining jobs had been taken over by mechanisation and automation.

“It will be increasingly difficult for other heads of state to take Mr Trump seriously,” she added, suggesting that Trump had undermined his country’s credibility.

Figueres said it would be inevitable that China – the world’s biggest carbon emitter – continued the charge as its leaders recognised decarbonisation was “good for their economy”.

Figueres, who now vice-chairs the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, said built-up environments contributed to one-fifth of global emissions. The conference was being held in Hong Kong as it was a gateway to Asia, she said.

“Asia marks whether the world is going to succeed in climate change actions or not.”