Trump could destroy ‘fragile’ UN climate treaty, Hedegaard says

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8 March 2017. By Emily Waterfield.

Connie Hedegaard said Europe should seize the position of leader in the fight against climate change if the US formally withdraws from a UN treaty on emission cuts.

"No one should underestimate the fragility" of annual UN climate negotiations, Hedegaard told a conference in Brussels. Many people in Europe "have spent years trying to disguise how fragile this whole process is."

Trump has on several occasions threatened to pull the US out of the climate treaty, which commits countries to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and to move away from fossil fuels such as coal.

In the face of opposition from "the leader of the free world," Hedegaard asked "will the spirit of the treaty continue? Will it be implemented? Will the world manage to keep temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius [above pre-industrial levels]?"

"It matters what the world sees coming out of the States," she said yesterday.

Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, made winning US support for emission cuts a priority for his second term in office.

But Trump says man-made climate change is a myth, and that action to force down emissions is destroying US jobs.

"I have seen the difference between a US that engages [with climate action] and one that does not," Hedegaard said. "This is one of the areas where it really matters what is being said from the top."

Hedegaard was EU climate commissioner from February 2010 through October 2014. She hosted the UN climate conference in 2009 as Danish energy minister.

With a climate skeptic in charge of the world's biggest economy, "we need to see Europe take up its old role, its traditional role," she said.

US opposition to climate action means "there is now an empty geostrategic space. Europe could get some soft power here," she explained. "Europe can act as a whip, as a frontrunner, with China as a key partner."

Obama and Chinese premier Xi Jinping last year became two of the first countries to ratify the UN climate treaty.

Tim Boersma, a senior research scholar at Columbia University, told the conference that Trump would cause "disruption" to positive climate policies in place for the last "eight or nine years. It's not a rosy outlook."