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Many worried US exit from climate pact could affect global warming countermeasures

U. S. President Donald Trump (AP)

Many parties to the Paris Agreement have expressed concern that the U.S. decision to withdraw from the framework could cause international efforts to beef up global warming countermeasures to lose momentum. Meanwhile, some are of the view that the U.S. move will have only a limited impact on the effectiveness of the accord.

At a news conference on Nov. 5, Geng Shuang, deputy director of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Information Department, urged Washington to play an active part in efforts to combat global warming.

He called the U.S. move "regrettable" and expressed hope that Washington will "take more responsibility and contribute to international cooperation" in efforts to prevent climate change.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who is in Shanghai, underscored the need for the European Union and China to move ahead with "decisive" cooperation in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to reports by Reuters news agency.

Macron and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will hold a summit meeting in Beijing on Nov. 6 and are expected to sign an agreement stating that efforts to ensure the Paris Agreement is observed are "irreversible," according to French media reports. Paris and Beijing will thus express their intention to lead the framework from which Washington is set to withdraw.

While expressing regret over the U.S. move, Japanese Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi told the press following a Cabinet meeting on Nov. 5 that Tokyo will work with Washington in taking actions that will lead to actual reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Under the Paris Agreement, parties are supposed to determine their numerical targets for greenhouse gas emissions. However, no party can be forced by others to set certain goals or strengthen their countermeasures. Nor are such goals for parties determined through international negotiations.

Nevertheless, U.S. President Donald Trump, who took office in January 2017, declared in June of the same year that he would pull his country out of the agreement, citing fears that the framework would adversely affect domestic businesses and other concerns.

However, U.S. diplomats have since kept attending working-level talks to draw up a rulebook on specific countermeasures to be taken under the accord.

Even after the United States officially pulls out of the Paris Agreement in November 2020, it will remain as a party to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Washington is therefore expected to attend the 25th Conference of Parties (COP25) to the UNFCCC in Spain next month.

So how will the U.S. withdrawal affect international cooperation in combating climate change?

Last-minute negotiations are underway on rules on emission quota trading, and parties to the convention are aiming to reach a final agreement at COP25.

A high-ranking official of Japan's environment ministry denied that the U.S. withdrawal will have a serious impact on a final rules' agreement.

"The only difference will be that U.S. views won't be taken into consideration in adopting the rulebook, which is supposed to be done unanimously. The U.S. move will have no impact on the final accord at all," the official said. "Even after withdrawal, the country will still be a party to the UNFCCC. Other parties will urge Washington to fulfill its responsibility under the convention."

Takahiro Ueno, senior researcher at the Central Research Institution of Electric Power Industry who is well versed in global warming countermeasures, pointed to the possibility that the outcome of the U.S. presidential election could affect the country's position on the Paris Agreement.

"At present, it is highly unlikely that other countries will follow the United States in pulling out of the agreement one after another. However, it could have an impact depending on the results of next year's presidential election," he said.

Democratic Party members who are aspiring to run in the presidential race reacted sharply to Trump's declaration. If Democrats were to regain control of the White House, the new president is expected to swiftly return the country to the agreement. However, if Trump were to be re-elected, the United States would certainly not return to the accord until after January 2025, when his second term is to end.

"In 2025, parties to the agreement are scheduled to submit their goals on reducing greenhouse emissions from 2030 onward to the United Nations. If the United States, which is the No. 2 greenhouse gas emitter in the world, is to stay away from the accord over a prolonged period, it could adversely affect efforts to increase momentum to encourage other countries to raise their emission reduction goals," Ueno said.

(Japanese original by Ai Oba and Toshiyuki Suzuki, Science & Environment News Department; Hojin Fukunaga, Los Angeles Bureau and Kosuke Hatta, Brussels Bureau)

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