2017: Climate focus shifts as Trump moves in, China charges ahead

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By Laurie Goering

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – With the world facing
the hottest global temperatures since the advent of
record-keeping, 2016 was a year of accelerating international
action to address climate change – though one ultimately capped
by the U.S. election of Donald Trump, who has called climate
change “a hoax”.

What’s ahead on the climate change rollercoaster in 2017?
The Thomson Reuters Foundation asked a range of experts to share
what they’re watching – and what they think will make the
headlines this year. Here are their top predictions:

TRUMP, CHINA AND CHANGING CLIMATE LEADERSHIP

The U.S. Republican president-elect, who takes office on
Jan. 20, has indicated he plans to fill his cabinet with a hefty
dose of friends of the country’s oil, gas and coal industries.

They include the outgoing head of ExxonMobil as head of the
State Department, a former Texas governor and climate skeptic as
head of energy, and a new environment protection chief who
doubts climate change is human-caused and who has battled
President Barack Obama’s effort to curb coal power plant
emissions.

A growing number of U.S. cities and companies say they plan
to push ahead with ambitious plans to address global warming
regardless of what happens in Washington.

And most countries that brought the global Paris Agreement
to tackle climate change into force three years early in
November similarly say they’re committed to pushing ahead.

But if the U.S. government exits the global climate action
stage under President Trump, that may open the way for new
leadership – including by China, which has partnered with the
United States in recent years to push international action on
climate change.

“2017 could be the defining year when the United States
cedes global leadership on tackling climate change to China, and
more broadly the developed world cedes leadership to the
developing world,” predicted Saleemul Huq, director of the
International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD)
in Bangladesh.

China is already the world leader in producing renewable
energy, and China’s Xi Jingping has said he’ll attend the World
Economic Forum in Davos for the first time in 2017, and has
raised climate change as an important issue in a meeting with
new U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

“China’s prominence on the global stage is likely to raise
interest in many capitals and the potential for shifts in the
balance of power,” noted Liz Gallagher, a senior associate and
director of the Climate Briefing Service at E3G, which focuses
on climate diplomacy and energy policy.

Could Europe also step into a climate leadership vacuum?
With Brexit beginning to take shape, French elections looming
and Germany’s Angela Merkel also standing in federal elections,
it remains unclear – though with the region hosting both the G7
summit and the G20, the potential is there, experts say.

MIGRATION AND DISPLACEMENT

Boatloads of migrants, particularly from conflict-torn
nations, continued to hit the shores of southern Europe in 2016,
driving disagreements and political realignments in the region
over how much of a welcome they should receive.

But potentially dwarfing those numbers in years to come
could be migrants fleeing rising temperatures, more extreme
weather and creeping sea level rise, warned Harjeet Singh, the
global lead on climate change for charity ActionAid.

At the moment, those fleeing climate change pressures have
no right to seek asylum as refugees, a reality that is unlikely
to change, experts say.

But a new task force on displacement, being set up under the
U.N. climate talks, is expected to begin its work this year
looking at ways to “avert, minimize and address displacement
related to the adverse impacts of climate change”.

One of those may be finding better ways to predict and avoid
climate disasters before they occur.

Humanitarian organisations from the World Food Programme to
the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent
Societies are experimenting with getting money, food and other
resources to areas where dangerous floods, for example, are
forecast, giving people at risk the resources to prepare before
disaster strikes.

THE RISE OF GEO-ENGINEERING

Scientists around the world start work this year on a
special report, due out in 2018, on potential ways to hold
average global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius
above pre-industrial levels, an ambitious goal of the Paris
Agreement to address climate change.

With that threshold likely to be passed in less than a
decade, scientists say, there is growing talk of “geo-engineering” the planet to hold down temperatures.

That could involve blasting sulfur particles into the
atmosphere to reflect sunshine, seeding oceans with iron to make
them absorb more carbon, or turning more land to growing plants
for fuel, then burning them and pumping the emissions into
underground storage.

Such actions may be “almost unavoidable if we want to stay
below 1.5 degrees” but could also have unexpected and
potentially huge side effects, such as shifting crucial monsoon
rains that billions rely on for food, said Maarten van Aalst,
director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre.

Countries and people that might be hardest hit by
geo-engineering impacts have so far had little say in decisions
about their use, he said.

But a meeting this year on climate risk management, as part
of the special report, should begin looking at the complex issue
of who would need to be consulted if planet-wide geo-engineering
is eventually deployed, van Aalst said.

Sources: E3G, Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre,
ActionAid, CARE International, 350.org, ICCCAD, International
Institute for Environment and Development, Oxfam



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