“I’m not a Cassandra, but I am a realist. Time is not on our side.”
- John Kerry at COP22
Secretary of State John Kerry pulled no punches in a speech at the COP22 climate talks, now in their second week in Marrakesh, Morocco. A stalwart champion of climate change action throughout his career, Kerry made clear the outgoing Obama administration will do all in its power to prevent president-elect Donald Trump from scuttling hard-fought success of the Paris Agreement.
After decades of wrangling and contentious negotiations, nearly 200 nations agreed to the landmark multilateral climate treaty, marking a milestone not only for international climate change cooperation but for human history. More world leaders assembled at Le Bourget in Paris at the start of COP21. Two weeks later, imbued throughout with a persistent sense of purpose and optimism, all nations adopted the Paris Agreement. I was there, I felt it myself; a stark difference to the disappointing end of COP15 six years earlier.
Throughout 2016, as one month after another broke climate records, momentum for the agreement continued. The thrilling promise of Paris was capped on November 4 when the Paris Agreement marched passed the threshold for enforcement and became international law. We knew there was much hard work yet ahead, but the groundwork had been laid and the global community began COP22 in Marrakesh as the first UN climate meeting under the Paris Agreement: CMA1.
Then, on November 8, Donald Trump secured the electoral college and the presidency. Trump, a man who appears to understand or care little about climate change, or science in general, vows to end U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement. Though not as easy as he likely imagines, his actions portend a looming climate disaster for billions of people across the globe, including all Americans for whom he now leads.
A sense of hope
“With hindsight," Stern says, "I now realize that I underestimated the risks. I should have been much stronger in what I said in the report about the costs of inaction. I underplayed the dangers.
We have been too slow in acting on climate change. In particular, we have delayed the curbing of greenhouse gas emissions for far too long. When we published our review, emissions were equivalent to the pumping of 40-41bn tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere a year. Today there are around 50bn tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. At the same time, science is telling us that impacts of global warming – like ice sheet and glacier melting – are now happening much more quickly than we anticipated.”
Stern went on to say that the "dramatic success" in Paris last December and the "subsequent rapid ratification by more than 90 countries" (now 110 countries as of this writing) gives him "a sense of hope."
But with that hope comes a stark warning:
"People have not sufficiently understood the importance of the next 20 years," says Stern. "They are going to be the most decisive two decades in human history.”
Obama's climate legacy
John Kerry vowed that the outgoing Obama administration will do all it can in the time remaining before handing the reins of power to Donald Trump to ensure that the United States does not withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. With that he also sent a message to Trump:
“I ask you on behalf of billions of people around the world,” he said. “Do your own due diligence before making irrevocable choices. No-one has the right to make decisions that affect billions of people based solely on ideology or without proper input.”
Many say Donald Trump possesses no particular political ideology. He appears reactionary, incurious, and wholly unprepared for the task before him. He seeks power for its own sake, admires authoritarianism, and is antithetical to the spirit and promise of Paris, indeed for a healthy, living planet. Living in his gilded Tump Tower he is completely divorced from the reality before us.
This is no time to be equivocal about climate change. It is a real and present danger. We must oppose any attempt by a Trump administration to turn its back on the future. If he succeeds, America will not be "great again," and he threatens to bring down the rest of the world with him.
Image credit: Antony Petrushko, courtesy flickr