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22nd Jul 2018

Former UN climate chief says US will still leave Paris accord

  • Christina Figueres (c) when she was still chairing the UN's climate forum (Photo: Violaine Martin / UNFCCC)

A former top climate official of the United Nations said on Monday (18 September) that she thinks the United States will still leave the Paris agreement, despite comments made over the weekend that suggested otherwise.

"Honestly, I have no idea where the rumour mill started that the US would perhaps not pull out of the Paris agreement," Christina Figueres told European journalists in Brussels.

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"I read that news and I went: complete rumour. But in a world of post-truth it's very difficult to know where things are landing, but I think it has been made clear over the weekend that the US will continue its intent to exit the Paris agreement."

Figueres was the executive secretary of the body that hosts international talks on climate change, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and was a key figure in the negotiations that led to the signing of the Paris climate deal in 2015.

US president Donald Trump announced on 1 June he will fulfil a campaign promise by quitting the Paris agreement.

Some members of his administration, however, gave statements over the weekend that seemed to suggest otherwise.

"I think under the right conditions, the president said he's open to finding those conditions where we can remain engaged with others on what we all agree is still a challenging issue," said the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said, however, reports that the US would stay in were "false".

"There has been no change in the United States' position on the Paris agreement," the White House said in an official statement this weekend.

"As the president has made abundantly clear, the United States is withdrawing unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favourable to our country," it added.

Asked how European politicians can know which statements to take seriously, Figueres said this can be a "little bit difficult in the current atmosphere".

"I really think it's very difficult to differentiate statements that are currently coming out of the United States, whether they are going to have follow-through, whether they are serious, whether it's a comment, whether it's an impression," she said.

Nevertheless, she noted that the Paris agreement "continues to be implemented by all other countries, and in fact even is being accelerated by some countries".

The former diplomat also stressed that the US "legally remains party to the Paris agreement until 6 November of 2020".

She outlined the timetable, noting that after announcing to leave the treaty, which was ratified by the US on 4 November 2016, exiting will only be possible three years later.

"They can communicate their intent [to leave] in 2019, and after that they need to wait for one year in order to legally exit the Paris agreement," she said, adding the "humorous detail" that the next election of the US is three days before that date.

Figueres was in Brussels on Monday to lobby against deforestation. She supported an initiative by several NGOs to call on the European Commission to come up with an action plan to reduce deforestation.

The issue is not only for deforestation in the EU, but also "imported deforestation" - for example importing beef from countries where large swaths of forests were cut down to make way for the cattle.

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