UN climate negotiations conclude in Bonn on Thursday with delegates putting on a brave face despite the threat of an American exodus hanging over their global pact to stem global warming.
Envoys from nearly 200 country signatories to the Paris Agreement kept a close eye on Washington throughout their 10-day huddle for any signal about President Donald Trump’s intentions.
On the campaign trail, Trump had threatened to “cancel” the hard-fought pact in which his predecessor, Barack Obama, played an instrumental role in dragging it over the finish line in 2015.
On the second day of the Bonn talks, the White House announced the postponement of a meeting to discuss America’s future in the deal, compounding the uncertainty.
A historically small US delegation at the annual round of technical negotiations was thus also left in the dark.
“I personally have met with the head of the (US) delegation a couple of times and... he’s just very open in repeating: ‘Our position is under review’,” UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa said on Thursday.
But delegates insisted that work continued on outlining a nuts-and-bolts “rule book” for implementing the agreement’s goals, despite the ever-present “Sword of Damocles”, as one put it.
Many commented that the mood was a positive one, and that the American delegation participated in the talks, though cautiously.
There is the fear, however, that whatever progress is made now could easily be swept off the table when the negotiators get together next, perhaps encountering a new US team with a different brief.
The Paris Agreement commits signatories to limiting average global warming to 2°C over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.
This will be achieved by limiting emissions from burning coal, oil and gas. But the fossil fuel lobby in America exerts a strong influence over climate politics, both national and international.
The rules must be finalised by next year, leaving just over 18 months for what appears set to be a difficult negotiation.