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U.N. Chief Takes Veiled Swipe At Trump On Climate Abdication: ‘Our World Is A Mess.’

U.N. Chief Takes Veiled Swipe At Trump On Climate Abdication: ‘Our World Is A Mess.’

Facing the prospect that the United States will soon pull out of a landmark climate pact it helped negotiate, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday delivered an urgent appeal to the world to stay the course and implement the Paris Agreement, under which countries pledge to voluntarily curtail their emissions of greenhouse gases.

Addressing an audience of scientists, investors, and students at the New York University Stern School of Business, Guterres painted a disturbing portrait of world beset by climate-induced storms, heatwaves, and rising sea levels that threaten island nations and coastal cities. Military strategists, he noted, increasingly recognize that climate change threatens global peace and security, fueling competition for scarcer natural resources and driving the mass movement of refugees.

“Climate change is an unprecedented and growing threat,” he warned, announcing that he would host a U.N. climate summit in 2019 to promote international support for the Paris Agreement. “The arguments for action are clear.”

Droughts from California to the Sahel are lasting longer than they have in the past, he said. The melting ice from the Greenland threatens to “alter the Gulf Stream and affect food production, water security and weather patterns from Canada to India,” he noted. In the United States, he suggested, the Glacier National Park in Montana may have to change its name because the number of glaciers — 150 when the park opened in 1910 — is rapidly shrinking, without only 26 remaining.

“Allow me to be blunt. Our world is a mess,” Guterres said. “Soon the famous snows of Kilimanjaro will exist only in stories.”

His appeal underscores the growing isolation of the Trump administration on an issue that unites both America’s closest allies and big rivals and fellow industrial powers like China, who have committed to implement the agreement. Nearly every country in the world has signed the accord, and almost 150 have ratified it. Among the holdouts Trump wants to join are Sudan, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and Yemen.

Last week, at a meeting of the Group of Seven industrial powers in Sicily, the Trump administration blocked the adoption of an endorsement of the Paris agreement. More than four months into his term, he argued that his administration had not had enough time to review the pact.

On Tuesday, the news site Axios reported that President Trump has informed close associates that he plans to withdrawal from the climate pact, which includes a pledge by states to strive to limit the rise of global temperatures well below 2 degrees Celsius.

But getting out of the climate pact is not easy — by design.

In an effort to hedge against the possibility of a Trump presidency or pushback from a GOP-led Congress, the authors of the Paris agreement included a provision that prohibits any state from formally invoking their right to withdraw from the pact till November 2019, three years after the treaty came into force. It would then take another year before the U.S. could formally pull out of the agreement — meaning that the United States could remain in the Paris pact until the next presidential election.

Even before seeking to leave Paris, the Trump administration has already imposed steep cuts in U.S. programs to address climate change. White House Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney proposed in the 2018 budget slashing one Environmental Protection Agency program which monitors greenhouse gas levels by about 85 percent. The administration has also sought to reverse Obama-era policies meant to reduce U.S. carbon emissions, such as an electricity plan that would have nudged dirty coal out of the electricity mix.

“We’re spending too much of your money on climate change, and not very efficiently,” Mulvaney told reporters.

On the international front, Trump has vowed to halt funding to a U.N.-run Green Climate Fund. Conservative critics of the Paris agreement argue that the president might be best able to wriggle out of its commitments under the pact by withdrawing from the 1994 Came into force two years after rio United Nations Framework Convention, which was created to coordinate global efforts to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.

“The Paris agreement is a costly and ineffective approach to addressing global warming,” Nicolas Loris and Brett Schaefer wrote in a paper published by the Heritage Foundation, who claimed the deal would batter the economy and cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs. (Actually, the United States is already well on the way to meeting its 2025 Paris commitments, thanks to the growth of clean natural gas and renewable energy.)

“President Trump should demonstrate leadership and keep his promise to withdraw from Paris by exiting from the entire United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC),” they wrote.

In his speech, Guterres took aim at two Trump administration shibboleths: That the cause of global warming has yet to be established, and that efforts to fight it constitute a threat to the economy. In reality, the overwhelming majority of climate scientists pinpoint man-made emissions as the main cause of climate change, and nearly all studies show that reducing emissions is cheaper than dealing with the cascading global impacts of a warmer planet.

Clean energy, Guterres said, will be an economic driver in its own right.

“The falling cost of renewables is one of the most encouraging stories on the planet today,” he said. “Thousands of private corporations, including major oil and gas companies, are taking their own action. They know that green business is good business.”

Guterres also suggested that placing a carbon tax on big carbon emitters could fuel economic activity. “Putting a price on carbon at a global scale could unleash innovation and provides the incentives that industries and consumers need to make sustainable choices,” Gutteres said.

Guterres called the Paris agreement, the first global and comprehensive accord to tackle climate change, a “remarkable moment in the history of mankind” that brought the most fractious of countries together under a single cause.

“If any government doubts the global will and need for this accord, that is reason for all others to united even stronger and stay the course,” he said.

Photo credit:JACK HILL/AFP/Getty Images