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RP Siegel headshot

State Department: U.S. Will Stay the Course on Climate Even if Trump Wins

By RP Siegel

The 22nd U.N. Conference of Parties (COP22) will begin later this month in Marrakech, Morocco. Following the much touted COP21 in Paris, hopes are high that the conference will keep up the momentum.

Dr. Jonathan Pershing, the U.S. State Department’s special envoy to the meeting, held a press conference on Thursday to share his thoughts going into the event. Pershing was joined by John Morton, director for energy and climate change for the White House National Security Council.

In his brief remarks, Morton noted what a historic year for climate action this has been already. Two major agreements closed just in the past two months, in addition to the Paris agreement entering into force today.

The first was the amendment to the Montreal Protocol adopted in Kigali, Rwanda, incorporating hydrofluorocarbon reduction. As we noted last week, this agreement alone could potentially eliminate half a degree of warming. The other agreement, reached in Montreal, was the aviation accord. The accord was signed by 191 countries under the umbrella of the International Civil Aviation Organization. The accord will be voluntary, based on offsets, and will begin in 2020. But major players are vowing to put real muscle behind it. Environmental groups are less than excited, though they concede that it’s a start.

Pershing went on to say how world leaders finally managed to wrestle a framework into place at COP21 after roughly eight years of wrangling (for this administration) going back to Copenhagen. From here we turn the corner toward implementation, he explained. And it won’t happen overnight. Many discussions will be required to develop specific rules for the various provisions and guidelines for transparency.

At COP22, we can expect lively debates on key topics such as energy, agriculture, oceans and cities. In other words, there will be lots of nitty-gritty, Pershing said.

Still the Moroccans, who have committed to a 42 percent share of energy from renewables by 2020, promised a “COP of action.”

Pershing noted that the “political dynamics” going into COP22 are positive, particularly with the U.S. and China both taking leadership roles. They are going into the conference with a goal of accelerating the target timetable from 2020 to 2018. This is in response to the fact that our understanding of climate change impacts has grown even more dire since COP21, even as more severe storms and droughts continue to set records.

Not surprisingly, when he opened the floor for questions, several reporters asked about the impact of a Trump victory next week. To this, Morton had the following comment:

“There is a great deal of interest not just domestically but internationally in terms of what the election outcome will be ... The candidates have very different views on climate.

"I think what we have seen in recent months and in fact in recent years is a recognized now-inevitability of the transition to a low-carbon economy. And so the international community – the international business community, the international policy community – is moving forward and will continue to move forward. And there’s no questioning anymore about the commitment at both the government and policy levels to the ... letter and the intent and the spirit of the Paris agreement.

"So, we will see countries continuing to move forward at a fast clip irrespective of what happens next Tuesday."

One reporter noted: “China’s lead climate negotiator on Tuesday criticized Donald Trump’s vow to back out of the Paris agreement, saying it was out of step with global consensus.”

Morton concurred with this, underscoring just how critical the U.S.-China relationship on climate is.

When another reporter asked about comments made by Brazil’s environmental minister, expressing nervousness should Trump win, Pershing offered the following.

“… There’s an Article 28 in the agreement that provides for procedures for countries that would seek to withdraw. But, at the moment, I don’t think that’s very likely.

"My sense, frankly, is that there are going to be huge domestic advantages to staying in this agreement and to doing the work that we’ve agreed to do. And that largely has to do with the opportunities that I think the agreement creates ... That’s where the new investment policy is, and Americans are doing very well in that investment environment ... So, I expect us to want to stay in the discussion [and] stay active in the negotiation."

He also noted the increasing visibility of climate risks in the U.S., such as Superstorm Sandy, the recent flooding in Florida and ongoing droughts in the American Southwest.

"In my view, the issue of long-term dynamics here continues to play in favor of the U.S. staying deeply engaged," he concluded. "We’re a leading country. We’ll continue to be a leading country. I think that’s the likely outcome and that’s the message that we’re going to be passing on to the global community.”

Will his theory hold up if Trump enters the Oval Office? Only time will tell. But we can be sure the world is watching.

Image credit: Mad-Loïs: FlIckr Creative Commons

RP Siegel headshot

RP Siegel (1952-2021), was an author and inventor who shined a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work appeared in TriplePundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering,  Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He was the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP was a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. RP passed away on September 30, 2021. We here at TriplePundit will always be grateful for his insight, wit and hard work.


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