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Thomas Schueneman headshot

John Kerry at COP22: Time is Not On Our Side


“I’m not a Cassandra, but I am a realist. Time is not on our side,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said 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 the 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 also for human history. More world leaders assembled at Le Bourget in Paris at the start of COP21 last year. Two weeks later, imbued with a persistent sense of purpose and optimism, all nations adopted the Paris Agreement. I was there, and I felt it myself: a stark contrast to the disappointing end of COP15 six years earlier.

As one month after another broke climate records, momentum for the agreement continued through 2016. The thrilling promise of Paris was capped on Nov. 4 when the Paris Agreement marched past the threshold for enforcement and became international law. We knew there was much hard work yet ahead, but the groundwork was laid. The global community began COP22 in Marrakesh as the first U.N. climate meeting under the Paris Agreement, officially labeled CMA1.

Then, on Nov. 8, Donald Trump secured the electoral college and the U.S. 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

In a Nov. 5 article in the Guardian, economist Nicolas Stern said his landmark 2006 assessment underestimated the risk of climate change inaction.

“With hindsight,” Stern wrote, “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," Stern continued. "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 to 41 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere a year. Today there are around 50 billion tons 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” (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,” Stern wrote. “They are going to be the most decisive two decades in human history.”

Obama’s climate legacy

In Marrakech, John Kerry said the outgoing Obama administration would do all it can to ensure that the United States does not withdrawal from the Paris Agreement before handing the reins of power to Donald Trump. With that he also sent a message to the president-elect:
“I ask you on behalf of billions of people around the world: Do your own due diligence before making irrevocable choices,” Kerry said in Morocco. “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 seems to seek power for its own sake and admire authoritarianism; he is antithetical to the spirit and promise of Paris and indeed for a healthy, living planet. Living in the 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 the Trump administration makes to turn its back on the future. If Trump succeeds on climate inaction, America will not be “great again,” and he threatens to bring down the rest of the world with him.


Image credit: Manav Gupta, courtesy flickr

Editor's Note: This post originally published in GlobalWarmingisReal.com

Thomas Schueneman headshot

Tom is the founder, editor, and publisher of GlobalWarmingisReal.com and the TDS Environmental Media Network. He has been a contributor for Triple Pundit since 2007. Tom has also written for Slate, Earth911, the Pepsico Foundation, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, and many other sustainability-focused publications. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists

Read more stories by Thomas Schueneman