US partners vow to pursue climate fight without Trump

Bologna (Italy) (AFP) - The United States' partners in the G7 club of wealthy democracies vowed Sunday to press ahead with efforts to contain devastating climate change despite a rift caused by the American withdrawal from the Paris accord on cutting carbon emissions.

"Italy and the overwhelming majority of countries regard Paris as irreversible and non-negotiable," Italian Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti said after the first day of a two-day gathering of G7 environmental chiefs in Italy.

Erik Solheim, head of the UN Environment Programme, said Sunday's talks had underlined the "absolute determination" of the other six G7 countries to push ahead "whatever happens in the White House."

"The private sector, big business, including in the United States, tell us they back action. There are huge numbers of new jobs in renewables and the green economy, there is lots of money to be made, far more than in fossil fuels."

Scott Pruitt, Trump's choice to head the US Environmental Protection Agency and seen as a climate change sceptic, attended the meeting in the northern Italian city of Bologna but headed home at the end of the first day.

With Germany's environment minister, Barbara Hendricks, also departing early and France's Nicolas Hulot not arriving until Monday because of legislative elections, there was little prospect of substantial bridge building on an issue which has badly soured relations between Donald Trump's administration and key US allies.

Patricia Espinosa, the UN official in charge of implementing the Paris accord, stressed that Trump's pull-out would not make any difference in the short-term.

"We've all registered with regret the US decision, but at the same time the US remains a party to the agreement because it foresees a three-year period before any party can withdraw.

"So for us, it is really clear that what we need to do is to go forward with implementing the accord and helping countries translate their national programme into their development policies so we can get to 2018 and have a first assessment of where we stand," she said.

More than 1,000 students marched through Bologna to protest the presence of the G7 ministers in the historic university city, a long-standing bastion of progressive activism.

Organiser Giacomo Cossu told AFP that Trump had given the radical environmentalist movement a shot in the arm, but said he would have been on the streets regardless.

"Trump has revealed the truth that lies behind the rhetoric of the G7 on the environment. They want changes that suit the interests of big business. That is not our model. Ecology for us means democracy and equality. They represent the one percent not the seven billion."

Chaperoned by hundreds of riot police, the demonstration passed off peacefully with protestors brandishing placards declaring: "There is no Planet B" and "They think the Kyoto protocol is a Japanese erotic film."

Trump announced at the start of this month that the US would not abide by the 2015 Paris agreement and would seek to renegotiate terms he denounced as unfairly damaging to the American economy and overly generous to India and China.

Trump said Washington would not be bound by the targets on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases set down in Paris, and will cut funding for developing countries affected by climate change.

- 'No change to the trend' -

But many analysts say Trump's rhetoric may make little difference.

Important players in US industry and individual cities and states are already implementing changes aimed at meeting the targets laid down in Paris, where most of the world's countries agreed to try to cap global temperature rises at two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

Germany and California agreed Saturday to work together to keep the Paris accords on track and the most populous US state had its own representative at the Bologna talks.

Scientists warn that failing to contain climate change will have devastating consequences as sea levels rise and extreme storms, droughts and heatwaves becoming more common, endangering crops and fragile environments with knock-on effects in the form of new conflicts and mass fluxes of people escaping affected areas.