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US role in spotlight as nations meet on Paris climate deal

FILE PHOTO: World leaders celebrate the adoption of the climate agreement in Paris 2015. Trump going against the deal.

Montreal, Canada | AFP | A top European environment official said Saturday the United States appeared to be softening its stance on the Paris climate accord, but the White House quickly pushed back.

The remark came as environment ministers from some 30 countries gathered in Montreal seeking headway on the Paris climate accord, which President Donald Trump had pulled out of in June.

At the summit, which was attended by a US observer, the US “stated that they will not renegotiate the Paris Accord, but they (will) try to review the terms on which they could be engaged under this agreement,” the European Union’s top climate official Miguel Arias Canete said.

Canete said there would be a meeting on the sidelines of next week’s UN General Assembly with American representatives “to assess what is the real US position,” noting “it’s a message which is quite different to the one we heard from President Trump in the past.”

The US observer was not immediately available for comment and the White House insisted the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord without more favorable terms.

“There has been no change in the United States’ position on the Paris agreement,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in an email.

“As the president has made abundantly clear, the United States is withdrawing unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favorable to our country,” she said.

Called by Canada, China and the European Union, the summit took place 30 years to the day after the signing of the Montreal Protocol on protecting the ozone layer — which Canada’s environment minister hailed as a multilateral “success story” by governments, NGOs and ordinary citizens jointly tackling a major global threat.

We “committed to full implementation of the Paris Accord. Everyone agreed that the environment and the economy go together, they are linked. You cannot grow the economy without taking care of the environment,” Catherine McKenna said at the end of the summit, attended by more than half the G20 members as well as some of the nations most vulnerable to climate change — from the low-lying Marshall Islands and Maldives to impoverished Mali and Ethiopia.

“Changes are real, extreme weather events are more frequent, more powerful and more distressful,” she told the gathering, pointing at the devastation wrought by mega-storms such as Harvey and Irma which many climate scientists believe are boosted by global warming.

Nearly 200 countries agreed in Paris in December 2015 to curb carbon dioxide emissions with the aim of limiting the rise in average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050, compared to preindustrial levels.

When Trump decided in June to withdraw, Canada, China and the European Union immediately reaffirmed their respective commitments to the pact, which the Group of 20 declared “irreversible” the following month.

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