The 'climate diaspora' trying to save the Paris agreement from Trump

(The Guardian, 3 Dec 2018) There was an exodus of climate experts from the White House after the 2016 election – but they still turn up to UN talks.

In a hallway beneath the UN climate change headquarters in Bonn, Germany, Sue Biniaz leans on a table, scribbling some thoughts on a piece of paper.

It’s May 2018, three years after representatives from nearly 200 countries convened in France in an extraordinary display of international unity and agreed to keep global warming below 2C and to pursue a tougher target of 1.5C.

How the Paris climate agreement will achieve that remains an open question. The rules to govern the deal are due to be agreed at the next United Nations climate change conference in the coal-mining town of Katowice in south-west Poland in December. With the clock ticking, diplomats have gathered in the former West German capital for mid-year talks. Things are not going well.

Negotiators rush in and out of adjoining rooms. In years gone by, Biniaz would have been at the centre of these meetings. From 1989 to early 2017, she was a deputy legal adviser at the US state department and its leading climate lawyer. She personally drafted key passages of the 2015 Paris accord. In global warming diplomacy, few are more respected. She still attends UN climate meetings, but only as an observer, with limited access to the behind-doors wrangling. So in Bonn she stands in a visible spot and the meetings come to her.

“Hi Sue!” calls out Chinese negotiator Xiang Gao, who is standing alongside Andrew Rakestraw, a Trump state department official and Biniaz’s former colleague. Beside these sharp-suited hotshots, Biniaz is an elder: rimless oval spectacles, grey hair loosely pulled back. They fill her in, cracking jokes and sounding hopeful about the stream of talks they are co-chairing. Biniaz writes something down.

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The Guardian, 3 Dec 2018: The 'climate diaspora' trying to save the Paris agreement from Trump