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Canada U.S. will not seek Paris Accord revamp amid 34 countries' call to action on climate change

Catherine McKenna, Canada's Environment Minister, speaks to media with China's Representative on Climate Change, Xie Zhenhua, and European Union Commissioner for Climate Change and Energy, Miguel Arias Canete, on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017.

Alice Chiche/AFP/Getty Images

The United States will not attempt to re-negotiate the Paris climate accord, as it faces intense pressure from other countries to take action on climate change.

Together with China and the European Union, federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna co-hosted a day-long meeting of 34 countries to maintain momentum to implement the Paris accord.

"There was agreement that the Paris agreement is irreversible and non-negotiable," Ms. McKenna said at the conclusion of the session.

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Earlier this year, President Trump gave formal notice the U.S. will withdraw from the United Nations climate accord in 2020, unless re-negotiated in the U.S.'s favour.  An administration official who attended the meeting indicated the U.S. will look to engage with other countries on climate change, but acknowledged the treaty is not negotiable.

"While we understand that the U.S.'s position on the Paris Agreement has not changed, we are pleased they continue to engage and recognize the economic opportunity of clean growth, including clean energy," Ms. McKenna said Saturday.

"I'm happy because no one called into question the Paris agreement," France's minister for energy and the environment, Nicolas Hulot, told reporters.

"And even the United States re-affirmed this accord is irreversible, so they can't re-negotiate it."

President Trump has complained the accord will damage his country's fossil fuel industry, notably the coal mining sector.

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No U.S. cabinet minister attended the meeting on Saturday, but an adviser to the President on international economic affairs, Everett Eissenstat, was in the room. On Monday, Ms. McKenna and climate ministers from several other countries are scheduled to meet in New York with Gary Cohn, one of Mr. Trump's key economic advisers who is deeply involved in the administration's climate policy.

In her opening remarks Saturday, Ms. McKenna warned of the growing impacts of climate change, and urged the United States to remain committed to the global fight.

"We are encouraged by your commitment to tackle climate change and reduce emissions," Ms. McKenna said in reference to Trump administration statement's that the U.S. would continue to reduce emissions.

Ms. McKenna noted the effects of climate change can be seen in melting permafrost and shrinking sea ice in the Arctic, and in the increasing intensity and frequency of droughts and hurricanes that have struck North America.

"Climate change is real; it is having real impacts all over the world," she said.

The minister told reporters that she saw the presence of the U.S. delegation as a "positive sign."

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"We continue to engage them," she said during a break. "And we continue to make the case that like the United States, we want to create jobs, we want to create economic growth and there's $30-trillion in opportunity when it comes to . . . growth and climate action."

China's special representative on climate change, Xie Zhenhua, said the Paris accord must be respected, and commitments for emission reductions must be increased.

"The Paris agreement is a milestone on climate change," Mr. Xie told the session.  "We cannot let it go; we cannot let it fail."

Mr. Xie said China will play a leadership role in the United Nations climate process, as well as in the development and deployment of low-carbon technologies needed to meet its goals.

E.U climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said "all countries must deliver on their commitments" under the Paris accord.

Under former president Barack Obama, the U.S. committed to reducing emission by up to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025, while Canada pledged to cut them by 30 per cent by 2030.

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However, those commitments are not binding, and President Trump could backtrack on them without re-opening the Paris accord itself.

The Pacific Island nation of Fiji is chairing the next United Nations' climate conference, to be held in Bonn in November.

Fiji's chief negotiator, Nazhat Shameem Khan, said the countries in the room remain committed to action.

"We are a small island developing state ourselves," she said. "We've experienced more intense, more frequent cyclones and hurricanes and so we understand the value and the need for urgency. . . We are all in this together and we are all vulnerable."

The Paris accord calls for nations to not only meet the commitments they made in 2015, but to increase that ambition in order to ensure keep the increase in average global temperatures below 2-degrees C.

Ms. McKenna said the Liberal government recognizes the need for increased ambition, and is counting on the development and deployment of low-carbon technology to achieve it.

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