Trump Election Prods Call for Climate Action in Morocco

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By Dean Scott

Nov. 18 — Almost from Day One, two-weeks of UN climate talks that rolled into the early morning hours of Nov. 19 in Morocco had President-elect Donald Trump’s fingerprints all over them.

The Marrakech summit opened on the eve of the U.S. elections, with negotiators from nearly 200 nations arriving with one eye focused on the contest between Trump—who warned he’d “cancel” the 2015 Paris climate pact—and Democrat Hillary Clinton—whose election would maintain U.S. climate action.

In the end, the summit closed with nearly 200 nations renewing the vow they made in Paris last year to work together to confront climate change, even as the world’s second largest emitter, the U.S., appeared poised to withdraw from the historic Paris Agreement.

But the main focus at the UN talks always was to make headway on implementing the Paris Agreement, which entered into force just days before the Nov. 7 start of the negotiations. It calls for keeping global temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) this century, compared to pre-industrial levels; and to “pursue efforts” to hold the line at a 1.5 degree Celsius increase (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

By the Morocco talks’ end, the impact of Trump’s Nov. 8 victory, which could spell U.S. withdrawal from the global pact but also a rollback of the Obama administration’s domestic climate policies and international climate funding, was clear.

A Declaration With More Bite

In response to Trump, the nearly 200 nations worked for days on a largely political declaration to reaffirm that they won’t walk away from the international effort or the domestic actions they’ve pledged to address climate change.

“I think it would have been a very different document had the U.S. election not happened, I think it might have been a softer characterization” in the countries’ declaration otherwise, the lead U.S. negotiator, Jonathan Pershing, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 18.

“So I think the election elevated the profile” of the declaration, which “was made more explicit in response to the U.S. election,” the U.S. special envoy for climate change said. “There are 195 countries that are here that all bought into that and the way it was adopted. Well there wasn’t even a discussion, everyone stood up and applauded for two minutes,” he said.

“That was a clear sense of the commitment” developed and developing nations sensed was needed, Pershing said, “and I think it was in part a response to the United States” election and its implications for the Paris global climate deal.

A Longer, More Substantive Rebuke?

Unveiled Nov. 17 in its final form, the Marrakech Action Proclamation was by most accounts a more forceful and lengthier rebuke to Trump’s threat to international climate cooperation than what the countries had in mind before the election, and before the summit, formally known as the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The declaration warns that the world “is warming at an alarming and unprecedented rate and we have an urgent duty to respond.” It also urged the world to move “forward purposefully to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to foster adaptation efforts.”

The document also calls for “the highest political commitment to combat climate change,” another phrase interpreted as a plea to Trump to leave the Paris deal untouched.

More than 365 companies and investors, including more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies, said in a statement timed for release at the Morocco summit that they’re still backing the Paris pact. The companies also called for staying on track with the global transition toward low-carbon and clean energy development.

Also at the Morocco summit, negotiators issued a roadmap—one perhaps more vague than many climate advocates wanted—the first steps toward transparency and reporting procedures for the Paris pact. They also drafted a rough outline of a 2018 review that will determine what more nations need to do to curb global temperature rise.

“This was the commitment we needed to see by all the parties, to have the rulebook by and large completed by 2018,” Mariana Panuncio-Feldman, the head of WWF’s delegation monitoring the talks, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 18.

Coalescing Around a Clear Message

The Obama administration’s outgoing climate negotiator—who to some degree was hamstrung in the Morocco talks given Obama’s lame duck status and the looming uncertainty posed by Trump’s election—acknowledged that the Republican’s election upended the summit.

The prospect that the U.S. might be about to withdraw from international climate efforts after eight years of re-engagement under Obama was palpable, Pershing said.

That wasn’t evident so much in the roadmap to implement the deal, he acknowledged, which “moved forward as we would have anticipated, with or without the election.”

But “the bigger thing that happened is that people kind of coalesced around a clear and quite forceful statement of what comes next, and their intent to stay in this process independent of what the United States was doing [and] it was manifest in this thing called the Moroccan proclamation,” Pershing said.

The nearly 200 nations opted for the standalone proclamation “to speak explicitly to each other and to the world about their intent to follow up—and it reaffirmed Paris” as well as the commitments to the domestic pledges nations put on the table ahead of the December Paris talks, he said.

“And it reaffirmed the urgency of the problem, and the science, so it’s basically a very political statement of intent,” the U.S. negotiator said.

Election Wild Card

“Obviously the wild card for here was the election,” Alden Meyer, who tracks the negotiations as the Union of Concerned Scientists’ director of strategy and policy, told Bloomberg BNA.

“How do I judge outcomes here? Well, given the political shock of last Wednesday” when negotiators heard the U.S. election results, “it’s a home run,” Meyer said.

Minister after minister including Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Marrakech this week to warn against backtracking, as mayors, states, and business organizations pledged continued support for solar and wind energy and nations unveiled plans to decarbonize by 2050, Meyer noted.

“It was almost like they were reacting to, and I’m not kidding here, an alien invasion,” Meyer said. “People were saying, ‘No way, we have to protect planet earth,’” he said.

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, a former Peruvian environment minister who oversaw the 2014 UN climate summit in Lima, told Bloomberg BNA expectations were modest going into the summit, and negotiators met those expectations. It will take time, he said, to assess whether nations made enough progress here in Morocco toward implementing a deal that is supposed to live on for decades.

“This COP [Conference of the Parties] meeting should not be analyzed in a sort of black or white view, but by how much we are moving forward” to confront climate change, Pulgar-Vidal said, ahead of the next UN climate summit, which is slated to be held in late 2017 in Bonn, Germany.

“On one hand, we saw here at this COP a lot of support” for the 2015 Paris deal, “but I would hope that the next one will be more focused on raising ambition,” the former Peruvian minister said. “And we are not there yet.”

To contact the reporter: Dean Scott in Marrakech at dscott@bna.comTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com

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