MARRAKESH, Morocco — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hoped his presence at a Marrakesh conference to decide the finer points of an historic climate agreement would be a victory lap, capping off a year of negotiations that resulted in global agreements to stave off the worst effects of climate change.
Instead, he finds himself having to reassure delegates from almost 200 nations they can count on the United States to abide by the 2015 Paris agreement, despite U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s promise to withdraw the United States from the climate treaty.
“The president-elect is going to have to make his decision,” Kerry said on Tuesday to reporters. “What I will do is speak to the assembly about our efforts and what we’re engaged in and why we’re engaged in it, and our deep commitment as the American people to this effort.”
He added: “I can’t speak to the (next) administration, but I know the American people support this overwhelmingly.”
Trump has called climate change a hoax, and said he would rip up the Paris deal, halt any U.S. taxpayer funds for U.N. global warming programs, and revive the U.S. coal sector.
If he follows through on his promises, he would undo the legacy of President Barack Obama, who has made climate change one of his top domestic and foreign policy priorities and called the trends of rising temperatures and other fallout from climate change “terrifying.”
A source on Trump’s transition team said this week that he is seeking quick ways to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement, which seeks to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
The accord won enough backing to enter into force on Nov. 4, four days before the U.S. election, and the conference in Morocco started in part as a celebration of that landmark.
UNCERTAINTY AFTER TRUMP
Prior to Trump’s election, the Obama administration had enjoyed momentum on the climate issue, with a deal in September in Montreal to limit carbon emissions from international flights, and another reached in Rwanda in October to cut back on greenhouse gases used in refrigerators and air conditioners.
The United States worked closely with China last year to build support for the Paris agreement, and the partnership of the two biggest greenhouse gas emitters helped convince other countries to back the agreement.
The agreement seeks to phase out net greenhouse gas emissions by the second half of the century and limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.
Trump’s election raises the prospect of the United States not fulfilling its commitments, being sidelined in global climate policy and ceding the leadership role to China, and has raised doubts among delegates in Marrakesh about whether Washington will still be a partner in the agreement come mid-century.
“It’s really hard to see how the U.S. engages in that kind of dialogue,” said Sarah Ladislaw, director of the Energy and National Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
It is still unclear exactly what Trump will do when it comes to climate policy. On other issues, he has made contradictory statements, making it hard to predict his final policy, and he has said that unpredictability is an asset in international negotiations.
Trump denied during a debate with his rival Hillary Clinton that he had called climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, though he has said it repeatedly in speeches and on Twitter.
France and the United Nations on Tuesday stepped up warnings to Trump about the risks of quitting the accord to combat climate change, saying a historic shift from fossil fuels is unstoppable
John Robson: When 225 Canadians jet to Morocco to ‘fight climate change’, they emit clouds of hypocrisy
Optics aside, they aren’t there to do serious work.
John Robson | November 15, 2016 1:26 PM ET
Canada’s catalogue of participants is so large it takes up the better part of eight pages in the United Nations list of attendees. Australia’s delegation can fit on two pages, as can China’s, which has 38 times Canada’s population and immensely greater emissions issues to deal with. France, which hosted last year’s conference, has five pages of names. While some Canadian delegates are footing their own bills, federal, provincial and municipal governments will pay the lion’s share of costs.
The bloated size of the crowd extends a tradition started last year, when 335 Canadians attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is not attending the follow-up event in Marrakech. It may be that that gathering was worth attending, as it supposedly set out a bold new direction for combating man-made climate change and signalled a global commitment to take decisive action. Optics aside, they weren’t there to do serious work.
The details of a major international agreement, on climate change or anything else, are too complex to be solved in 10 days. The hard work is done well ahead of time, to avoid embarrassing national leaders in front of the cameras, either by problems that have not been resolved or because in the warm glow of the moment they make promises that contradict official policy or ignore the limits of the politically or physically possible.
The real issues are best solved by small gatherings of major players and senior aides. In the globalized era of the Internet, expertise can quickly be obtained by phone, email or live chat, a consideration that should have been front and centre given delegates’ professed concern about mankind’s “carbon footprint”.
The Marrakech summit is intended as a follow-up to last year’s meeting, to begin to “operationalize” the Paris accord. Does that really require the presence of a small army of bureaucrats, activists, provincial and municipal representatives and security personnel, not to mention labour bosses from Unifor, the Canadian Labour Congress, the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers?
If these people are seized by the crucial matter of climate change, why are they not doing the hard unglamorous work of implementation, drinking bad coffee under depressing fluorescent lights in offices back in Canada?
We have seen grandiose pledges of environmental action at previous conferences going back to “Rio” (the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro) in 1992 and “Kyoto” in 1997. But governments, including our own, have consistently failed to deliver, and it is not a service to the Earth or taxpayers to pile new pledges on the heap instead of grinding out practical action plans at home. Especially given the self-indulgent atmosphere of UN conferences, which bear a greater resemblance to glittery film festivals than a grim struggle to save the planet. Why is it they always seem to occur in glamorous tourist destinations like Paris or Marrakech rather than, say, Birmingham or Lille?
To be sure, the $1 million Canada’s government spent on Paris, including $130,000 for meals and $350,000 for hotels, is a drop in the $300 billion bucket of federal spending, even if it’s a worrying reminder of the disconnect between the public and private sectors, and the gap separating the privileged class from the rest of us, who lack the opportunity to blow thousands of dollars of someone else’s cash on a jaunt to Morocco. But the hypocrisy cuts deeper here.
Nobody, except, oddly, the participants, could overlook the damage to the planet caused by hordes of hangers-on jetting across oceans and continents to preach restraint. It is just too easy for critics to jeer at this hypocrisy as proof that the alarmists don’t really take global warming seriously. Why would any working Canadian leave their car at home and crowd onto a bus for the bleak commute through a wintery morning, knowing environmental evangelists think it’s fine to fly 255 Canadians to Morocco for a week in the sun?
Donald Trump was elected president because of disgust at displays like this. Next time, send 20 people. Practise what you preach.
John Kerry’s Antarctica Visit Highlights a Continent, and Climate Policies, Under Threat
SCOTT BASE, Antarctica — A group of hikers in red parkas approached a half-dozen seals resting on floating sea ice. The leader of the entourage — Secretary of State John Kerry — raised his arms and ordered everyone to halt.
As an ethereal silence descended, Mr. Kerry cocked his head in the stillness of one of the world’s last truly wild places.
Tags: Antarctica, Canada, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Canadians, Center for Strategic and International Studies, China, climate change, climate treaty, fossil fuels, France, greenhouse gas emissions, hypocrisy, jet aircraft, John Kerry’s Antarctica Visit, Kerry, Marrakesh, Morocco, Obama Administration, Paris agreement, Paris deal, Sarah Ladislaw, Trump, U.N. global warming programs, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. taxpayer funds, United Nations, withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement