US accused of blocking UN climate talks amid protests

The US position is starkly at odds with that of the developing nations, which insist that transparent and predictable finance is needed to effectively plan investment in new technologies and carbon reduction. (AFP)
Updated 08 September 2018
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US accused of blocking UN climate talks amid protests

  • US President Donald Trump caused global outrage by withdrawing from the Paris Accord last year
  • Washington has tabled a proposal with support from Japan and Australia that seeks to remove rules on how countries account for their climate action funding

BANGKOK: The United States, despite withdrawing from a landmark accord aimed at curbing climate change, is stonewalling vital UN talks over how to fund poorer nations as they battle against global warming, sources told AFP Saturday.
US President Donald Trump caused global outrage by withdrawing from the Paris Accord last year but his country is still committed to the deal’s roadmap, giving Washington leverage over the Bangkok conference.
The issue of how funds are made available to developing nations has emerged as a key sticking point at the talks, which have made little headway since they opened on Tuesday.
The Paris deal — hailed as a game-changer when struck in 2015 — promised $100 billion annually from 2020 to poor nations already coping with floods, heatwaves and rising sea levels exacerbated by climate change.
But it left room for debate over how that money should be provided, as well as how donor nations would source and report their contributions.
Washington has tabled a proposal with support from Japan and Australia that seeks to remove rules on how countries account for their climate action funding, multiple sources close to the negotiations told AFP.
This would mean that developed economies — responsible for the lion’s share of planet-warming-feeding carbon emissions — could still count commercial loans and pre-existing state funding as part of their finance obligations.
Observers in Bangkok said the US and some other developed economies were also refusing point blank to discuss the contentious issue of how rich nations inform other states of their future funding plans.
A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment when contacted by AFP.
The US position is starkly at odds with that of the developing nations, which insist that transparent and predictable finance is needed to effectively plan investment in new technologies and carbon reduction.
A senior climate negotiator told AFP that the US delegation in Bangkok was “poisoning” discussions aimed at creating a clear roadmap to implementing what nations agreed in the Paris deal.
“The US is no longer playing the game but it’s still setting the rules,” said the negotiator, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Activists rounded on the US, accusing Washington of endangering hard-earned gains on a global initiative to stop runaway global warming.
“The role of the US negotiators at the talks is actively hindering progress at this critical stage,” Harjeet Singh, the global lead on climate change for pressure group ActionAid, told AFP.
He also accused other negotiating blocs, including the European Union, of “standing on the sidewalk” by failing to stand up for developing countries.
The Paris agreement, struck in December 2015, aims to limit global temperature rises to “well below” two degrees Celsius by 2100, shooting for no more than a 1.5C increase if at all possible.
Talks in Bangkok, which wrap up Sunday, aim to narrow down options to present to ministers and heads of state at the COP 24 climate summit in Poland in December.
Experts warn that the world is running out of time to prevent catastrophic temperature rises.
Protests were planned Saturday in cities across the world to call on leaders to accelerate efforts to tackle climate change.
In Bangkok, dozens of laborers and fisherman from the Gulf of Thailand whose livelihoods are threatened by rising sea levels joined demonstrators outside the UN.
While many observers assumed that the US would take a back seat in climate talks under the Trump administration, pressure groups said America was instead undermining the Paris process.
“In leading the charge to block practically every discussion on finance for the Paris guidelines, the US administration is threatening the future of the agreement and multilateralism itself,” said Jesse Bragg, from the watchdog Corporate Accountability.


Relief as Maldives strongman concedes defeat

Updated 26 min 16 sec ago
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Relief as Maldives strongman concedes defeat

  • The Maldivian people have decided what they want,” President Abdulla Yameen said
  • He said he would hand over power when his term ends on November 17 and ensure a smooth transition

COLOMBO: The strongman leader of the Maldives on Monday conceded defeat in the presidential election, easing fears of a fresh political crisis in the archipelago at the center of a battle for influence between India and China.
“The Maldivian people have decided what they want. I have accepted the results from yesterday,” President Abdulla Yameen said in a televised address to the Indian Ocean nation a day after the joint opposition candidate unexpectedly triumphed.
“Earlier today, I met with Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who the Maldivian electorate has chosen to be their next president. I have congratulated him,” Yameen said.
He said he would hand over power when his term ends on November 17 and ensure a smooth transition in the 1,200-island nation, popular with foreign tourists for its white sands and blue lagoons.
Solih’s victory was a major surprise, with Yameen’s main political rivals either in prison or in exile, media coverage of the opposition sparse and monitors and the opposition predicting vote-rigging.
There had been concerns Yameen might not accept the result given what happened after the last election in 2013.
The Supreme Court annulled that result after Yameen trailed former president Mohamed Nasheed — giving Yameen time to forge alliances and win a second round of voting that was postponed twice.
Results released by the electoral commission showed Yameen on 41.7 percent of the vote, well behind Solih on 58.3 percent — the only other name on ballot papers.
The final official result will take up to a week to be published.
Yameen stayed quiet overnight after the outcome became clear. But signs grew Monday that he would throw in the towel, with a foreign ministry statement saying Solih had won and state media showing him claiming victory.
Nearly 90 percent of the 262,000 electorate turned out to vote, with some waiting in line for more than five hours.
Celebrations broke out across the archipelago on Sunday night, with opposition supporters waving yellow flags of Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and dancing in the streets.
On Monday the situation was calm.
The US State Department, which had warned of “appropriate measures” if the vote was not free and fair, had called on Yameen to “respect the will of the people.”
Regional superpower India said the result marked “the triumph of democratic forces.” But China was yet to comment, with Monday being a public holiday there.
Beijing loaned Yameen’s government hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure projects like the new “China-Maldives Friendship Bridge” from the airport to the capital Male, which opened in August.
The loans stoked fears among Western countries and India about China’s growing influence under its “Belt and Road Initiative” stretching from Asia into Africa and Europe.
Solih had the backing of a united opposition trying to oust Yameen but struggled for visibility. The local media was fearful of falling foul of heavy-handed decrees and reporting restrictions.
In February Yameen imposed a 45-day state of emergency, alarming the international community, in what was seen as an attempt to block a push by his opponents in parliament to impeach him.
A crackdown saw former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom — Yameen’s half-brother — jailed along with the Chief Justice and another Supreme Court justice.
Independent international monitors were barred from Sunday’s election and only a handful of foreign media were allowed in to cover the poll.
The government had used “vaguely worded laws to silence dissent and to intimidate and imprison critics,” some of whom had been assaulted and even murdered, according to Human Rights Watch.
Solih pledged on Twitter before the election that he would open investigations into the disappearance of journalist Ahmed Rilwan, missing since 2014, and the fatal stabbing of blogger Yameen Rasheed in 2017.
He promised also to repeal anti-defamation legislation and “ensure press freedom.”
Foreign monitors said Yameen’s supporters failed to carry out any large-scale fraud thanks to intense international and local scrutiny from civil society groups.
“In the face of massive pressure, they had to abandon their plans,” Rohana Hettiarachchi of the Asian Network for Free Elections told AFP.