COP22 gets underway with cautious statements about Trump's climate ideas

Youth at COP22, the United Nations' climate summit, in Marrakech, Morocco, protest the election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president Nov. 9, 2016. (Photo courtesy of SustainUS)

Youth at COP22, the United Nations' climate summit, in Marrakech, Morocco, protest the election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president Nov. 9, 2016. (Photo courtesy of SustainUS)

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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Reaction to Donald Trump's stunning election night victory has come from near and far. That includes Marrakech, Morocco, where the global community is gathered for the latest United Nations climate summit, COP22.

In a statement Nov. 9, Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, herself newly appointed in May, congratulated the new president-elect.

"We look forward to engaging with his administration to take the climate action agenda forward for the benefit of the peoples of the globe," said Espinosa, a former Mexican foreign diplomat.

In a statement of his own, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the U.N. "will count on the new Administration to strengthen the bonds of international cooperation as we strive together to uphold shared ideals, combat climate change, advance human rights, promote mutual understanding and implement the Sustainable Development Goals to achieve lives of peace, prosperity and dignity for all."

The election of Trump, though, has provided plenty of consternation for those deeply engaged in the climate and environmental issues. Prior to and during his campaign, the New York businessman repeatedly called climate change a "hoax," and promised to "cancel" or "at a minimum," renegotiate the Paris Agreement — the deal reached by 195 countries last December at COP21. The Paris Agreement outlines the international plan to address climate change and hold average global temperature rise to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), compared to pre-industrial levels. Should temperatures exceed that threshold, scientists say the planet could enter a period of irreversible climate impacts, including longer droughts, more intense heat waves and forest fires, and flooding of coastal areas due to rising sea levels.

As COP22 began Nov. 7, 103 nations representing more than 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions had ratified the Paris Agreement.

"The climate change question concerns the preservation of our livelihood, dignity and the only planet on which we all live," said COP22 President Salaheddine Mezouar of Morocco in a statement congratulating Trump. "We are convinced that all Parties will respect their commitments and stay the course in this collective effort."

Four days before the U.S. election, the agreement formally entered into force, meaning it is now legally binding for countries that joined. The agreement blocks parties from withdrawal for three years, which would then be followed by a one-year waiting period.

Still, the accord lacks enforcement measures, outside international peer pressure, to hold a country to its national climate action plan. Some fear that should the U.S. rescind on its promises, other nations, including no. 3 polluter India, may follow suit.

The U.S., the world's no. 2 polluter which joined the Paris Agreement alongside no. 1 polluter China in September, has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. That pledge alone accounts for roughly one-fifth of the carbon emissions reductions in the agreement, according to Climate Interactive.

More than 97 percent of climate scientists agree that the planet is warming and that it is largely due to human activity. Likewise, the U.S. Department of Defense "recognizes the reality of climate change and the significant risk it poses to U.S. interests globally," stating in a June 2015 national security report that:

… climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water. These impacts are already occurring, and the scope, scale, and intensity of these impacts are projected to increase over time. … Global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the foreseeable future because it will aggravate existing problems — such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions — that threaten domestic stability in a number of countries.

Since recordkeeping began in 1880, 15 of the warmest 16 years have occurred since 2001. Already recording the warmest half-year on record, 2016 is on pace to become the warmest, surpassing 2015.

Whether Trump, who has also been critical of the U.N., its headquarters mere blocks from his Trump Tower in New York, aims to remain true to his past climate change doubts and environmentally threatening proposals, or if they were mere campaign trail bluster, is unknown. A less-than-heartening signal came in his appointment of climate skeptic Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to head his U.S. Environmental Protection Agency transition team.

"Science cannot expect any positive climate action from him," said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in Germany, and a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, a day after Trump's election.

"The world has now to move forward without the U.S. on the road towards climate-risk mitigation and clean-technology innovation," he said.

The Global Catholic Climate Movement urged its membership to trust in God's capacity and their own creativity to sway the incoming U.S. president from past promises. They also asked for prayers, quoting Pope Francis, "that [Trump] might hear 'the cry of the earth and cry of the poor' and join the international community in taking the necessary measures to safeguard our Earth community for his and our children and grandchildren."

Opposition in the streets

Protests among hundreds of youth participants at COP22 broke out Wednesday in opposition to the Republican populist's election. They held a banner outlining a "People's To-Do List" — with the former header "Presidential" crossed out — that began with work for climate justice and echoed the call for zero global carbon emissions by 2050.

"On this horrific morning, U.S. youth stand in global solidarity with communities all over the world that have been impacted by U.S. climate injustice and imperialism," said Ryan Camero of Stockton, Calif., and a delegate with SustainUS, which helped organize the demonstration.

At a press conference at COP22 Nov. 10, U.S. faith leaders in the climate movement vowed their efforts would continue in light of Trump's election.

"Regardless of U.S. politics, climate change will continue to impact the lives of families and communities with whom our church is in ministry every day," said the Rev. Jenny Phillips, a pastor in the United Methodist Church.

Other reactions from climate leaders in Morocco appealed to economic arguments for Trump to not abandon altogether efforts to shift toward renewable energy in an effort to mitigate global warming, and along with it, the disastrous impacts it poses to Americans and others worldwide.

"Last year's Paris Agreement showed the world was united in its concern about climate change and its commitment to decarbonizing the global economy. The rest of the world will not risk a global climate catastrophe because of one man's opposition," said Mohamed Adow of the U.K.-based charity Christian Aid, adding later Trump's election opens the door for the European Union to "be the glue that binds the world together" on maintaining climate action as a top priority.

Tina Johnson, policy director for U.S. Climate Action Network, said Trump "has the opportunity to catalyze further action on climate" that signals to investors the ongoing transition "to a renewable-powered economy."

"China, India, and other economic competitors are racing to be the global clean energy superpower, and the U.S. doesn't want to be left behind," she said.

"No matter what happens, Donald Trump can't change the fact that wind and solar energy are rapidly becoming more affordable and accessible than dirty fossil fuels," said Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director. "With both the market and grassroots environmental advocacy moving us toward clean energy, there is still a strong path forward for reducing climate pollution even under a Trump presidency."

At the same time, Brune said "this is a time for tough choices," and should Trump elect to ignore climate change and those advocating for further progress, "we guarantee him the hardest fight of his life every step of the way." Since election night, Sierra Club has aggressively ramped up its mobilizing and fundraising efforts.

In his Dot Earth blog for The New York Times, Andrew Revkin, a leading environmental journalist who has covered the issue for more than three decades, attempted to temper some of the anxiety among environmentalists:

Is this end times for environmental progress or, more specifically, climate progress?
The bad news about climate change is, in a way, the good news:
The main forces determining emission levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide will be just as much out of President Trump's hands as they were out of President Obama's. The decline in the United States has mainly been due to market forces shifting electricity generation from coal to abundant and cheaper natural gas, along with environmental regulations built around the traditional basket of pollutants that even conservatives agreed were worth restricting. (Efficiency and gas-mileage standards and other factors have helped, too, of course.)

Progress on the Paris Agreement will continue, he added, in part due to a growing middle class in China and India demanding cleaner air and sustainable transportation. Revkin also noted Trump's comment to that perhaps the U.S. should focus on developing energy sources that may alleviate dependency on fossil fuels. (In the same response, though, he stated, "There is still much that needs to be investigated in the field of 'climate change.")

'A lot more defense'

Back in the U.S., the Catholic Climate Covenant pledged to "work hard to be a space where issues of protecting our common good can be discussed."

"People of faith can and must begin to rise above partisan divisions for the sake of the common good, the climate, and the healing of our nation. … Let the Catholic community be the one institution — following the example of Pope Francis — to be a place of safety to discuss common concerns and a place where all are welcome," said Dan Misleh, its executive director, in a statement.

The Catholic Climate Covenant, along with the U.S. bishops, have been vocal supporters of the Clean Power Plan, the rules for coal-fired power plants created under the Obama administration by EPA.

Trump has said he would roll back both the plan and the EPA's powers if elected president — positions endorsed by GOP leadership in the Republican-held Congress — and as part of his first 100 days, would lift restrictions to allow energy infrastructure projects, like the dormant-Keystone XL pipeline to be built, and would "cancel billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs and use the money to fix America's water and environmental infrastructure."

Responding to the promise to resuscitate Keystone, Jane Kleeb, president of the Bold Alliance that helped lead resistance efforts, vowed the group will stop the pipeline again, adding that numerous legal challenges and a decrease in oil consumption would pre-empt any permit reapplication.

Before the election, Misleh told NCR that which way the election went would have serious implications on their advocacy and work regarding the Clean Power Plan and U.S. obligations under the Paris Agreement.

"If the administration goes into Republican hands, I think there will need a lot more defense of those things that will be needed as opposed to a Democratic administration," he said in mid-October.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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