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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

France, Germany urge more action on climate after US abandons Paris accord

In Bonn talks, German chancellor Merkel and French president Macron promised to limit the use of coal

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) shakes hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during bilateral talks on the sidelines of the UN conference on climate change (COP23) on November 15, 2017 in Bonn, western Germany. AFP / John Macdougall
French President Emmanuel Macron (R) shakes hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during bilateral talks on the sidelines of the UN conference on climate change (COP23) on November 15, 2017 in Bonn, western Germany. AFP / John Macdougall

The leaders of Germany and France promised to limit the use of coal and urged more action to combat global warming after Donald Trump pulled the US out of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

On Wednesday, German chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s president Emmanuel Macron said the pact was only a start to reining-in global temperatures, blamed for stoking more heatwaves, floods and rising sea levels, and that measures needed to be toughened.

“Climate change is by far the most significant struggle of our times,” Ms Merkel told delegates from nearly 200 nations attending a November 6-17 meeting in Bonn on ways of bolstering the Paris accord that seeks to end the fossil fuel era this century.

Mrs Merkel said Germany needed to cut its dependence on coal power in order to significantly reduce emissions.

Mrs Merkel’s conservatives are seeking to form a coalition government that includes the ecologist Greens, who are demanding steep cuts in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020.

“We know that Germany still uses coal to a large extent and coal, especially brown coal, should make a contribution to meet our [emissions reduction] goals,” Mrs Merkel said.

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Mr Macron said France aimed to close down all coal-fired power plants by 2021 as part of action to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr Macron, who will host a summit in Paris on December 12 about climate finance, said France would make up for a shortfall in US funding for the climate science research by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“They will not miss a single euro,” he said to applause. US contributions to the IPCC budget have been about €2 million annually in recent years.

Mr Trump, who doubts climate change is primarily caused by man-made emissions, said in June that he would pull the US out of the Paris Agreement and instead promote the coal and fossil fuel industries.

Mrs Merkel praised an alliance of US states, cities and companies called America’s Pledge to compensate for Trump’s decision.

“I welcome this as it highlights the importance of climate protection in large parts of the US regardless of the decision by president Trump to leave the Paris accord,” she said.

Some environmental groups were disappointed that Mrs Merkel did not set a date for phasing out coal, saying greenhouse gas emissions were harming vulnerable people.

“She needed to come to Bonn and show she had heard the suffering of the people of the Pacific and around the world ... She did not deliver this,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace.

In the coalition talks, the Greens are holding out for carbon dioxide emissions cuts totalling 120 million tonnes that would require the closure of 20 power plants.

Mrs Merkel’s conservatives and the pro-business Free Democrats - the third partner in the coalition talks - want cuts of up to 66 million tonnes.

Earlier, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told delegates in Bonn that governments should put a price on carbon emissions and stop making bad bets on fossil fuels.

“Growing carbon markets in Europe and North America, and China’s expected announcement of one of the world’s largest emissions trading systems, are a good sign,” Mr Guterres said.

“But to meet the Paris goals we need at least 50 per cent global coverage and a higher price on carbon to drive large-scale climate action,” he said.