Marrakech Climate Talks Thrown into Confusion by US Election

News broke that Donald Trump had won the US presidential election on the third day of United Nations-sponsored annual talks on climate change in Marrakesh, Morocco. Given Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric calling global warming a Chinese plot, understandably the news came as a shock.

Hundreds of delegates are attending the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22), which will last until Nov. 18, attempting to hammer out provisions governing adaptation to global climate change and financing the costs. As the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases from 1850 to 2012 according to the World Research Institute, the US's delegation is a crucial participant in the climate talks. From 2012, the United States has ranked second to China, contributing 14.4 percent of global GHG emissions.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is due here next week to lead the US delegation’s participation in the discussions. The President-elect, however, made it a part of his campaign to cancel the historic agreement reached in Paris in 2015 by 174 countries to limit the rise greenhouse gas emissions to 1.5 degrees Centigrade by 2030.

“The Paris Agreement was signed and ratified not by a President, but by the United States itself,” said Jean Su from the Center for Biological Diversity. “One man alone, especially in the 21st Century, should not strip the globe of the climate progress that it has made and should continue to make.”

Trump has pledged to remove all funding from US climate change-related programs. He has also advocated more drilling and extracting of oil, coal, and natural gas and supports the Keystone XL project that was put in abeyance by outgoing president Barack Obama.

Given his position that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” environmentalists and climate justice activists inside the UN climate negotiations reacted to the election, with some worried while others remain hopeful that the next president, despite his past statements, will still uphold the Paris Agreement.

Concerns have already emerged in Marrakech that despite the Paris agreement, the major developed countries have not begun to earmark the billions of dollars that will be necessary for the world to meet its commitments. With the danger that the US will pull out, the talks have been thrown into confusion.

Carol Muffet, president of the Center for International Environmental Law, agreed. “As a matter of international law, and as a matter of human survival, the nations of the world can, must, and will hold the United States to its climate commitments.”

Becky Chung, a first-time voter and who is currently participating in the conference says she will not tolerate Trump’s denial of the action needed for climate justice.

“Our country must undergo a systemic change and just transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy within my lifetime. The next four years are critical for getting on the right pathway, and the disastrous election of Trump serves as a solemn reminder of the path ahead of us,” she said.

However, some organizations have seen this as an opportunity for the next US administration to take advantage of the growing demand for renewable energy.

"President-elect Trump has the opportunity to catalyze further action on climate that sends a clear signal to investors to keep the transition to a renewable-powered economy on track. China, India, and other economic competitors are racing to be the global clean energy superpower, and the US doesn’t want to be left behind,” said Tina Johnson, Policy Director of US Climate Action Network (CAN).

Similarly, the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) senior director of international climate cooperation Marianna Panuncio-Feldman says this is “a new administration and a new opportunity to surge forward on climate action. Our new president needs to carry that legacy forward and make good on the promise to make America into the world’s clean energy superpower.”

Others, however, remind the newly elected president that climate change will not wait for anyone before it strikes and that in some countries, climate change is happening right now.

"The world won’t wait for the US and neither will the climate. This year the impacts of climate change cost the US hundreds of billions of dollars and put 40 million people in Southern Africa alone at risk of hunger. The next President needs to work with congress to go further faster to cut emissions and protect the rights of men and women on the front lines of the climate crisis,” said Annaka Peterson, Senior Program Officer of Oxfam America.

COP 22 is the “action COP” where details of the implementation of the Paris Agreement is expected to be ironed out.

Renee Juliene Karunungan is a Philippine observer to the Marrakech climate talks and a regular contributor to Asia Sentinel.