Just as the COP22 climate talks opened in Marrakesh, Morocco, fresh on the heels of a historic year of progress and growing momentum, the surprising result of the interminable U.S. election sucked the air out of the room.
Years of progress between China and the U.S. face the test of a new president who once claimed climate change was a Chinese hoax, then said he was only joking. It is unclear what happens next for the United States.
This is, so to speak, the elephant in the room.
But the rest of the world was at COP22. Even as the United States looks suddenly to an uncertain change of course, the global community sought to reassure its citizens of its resolve.
"There is no ignoring that the election of Donald Trump sent reverberations through the negotiation halls," Paula Caballero of the World Resources Institute said in a press statement. "But delegates carried on with a strong spirit of determination. No country stepped back from its commitment to climate action."
In fact, several countries announced ratification in the days just after the U.S. election, including Japan, Italy, Australia, Pakistan and Botswana. In all, 11 countries ratified the agreement during COP22.
In a press release, the Climate Action Network -- a global NGO representing civil society -- welcomed how "governments strongly reaffirmed their resolve to work together on implementing the Paris Agreement, even amidst uncertain political moments."
If getting past the election was the first hurdle of COP22, many others persisted as the more substantive issues of implementation, ambition and finance took center stage. With earlier-than-expected ratification, this year's COP was also the first conference of parties under the Paris Agreement: CMA1.
Unlike COP21, with its clearly defined aspirational goal of reaching a global agreement, the focus in Marrakesh was on drier, more technical issues. Coming to terms with the devil in the details doesn't play as well to the public. But, perhaps aided by the reaction to Trump's election, key steps were reached by the end of the conference to "advance implementation of the global pact," said WRI's Paula Caballero.
A quick roundup of key points include:
Signed by the U.S. in 1997 at COP3 in Kyoto, many terms of the Kyoto Protocol were dictated by U.S. negotiators, only to be abandoned years later by a new administration.
The irony of Trump's unthoughtful comments, whether he was joking or not, is that it is China who benefits most from Trump's threat to "tear up the Paris Agreement." Beyond the damaged credibility, Trump will cede to China the global leadership role for the new energy economy.
Hope remains that, when presented with the consequences of following through on campaign rhetoric, Trump will seek what he considers the best option: saving face. He may come to realize that "making America great again" involves positive participation in global affairs.
Whatever Trump does in the coming months and years is open to speculation. It is unlikely his administration will be friendly to anything that smacks of environmental advocacy. In the U.S. leadership will come from states, cities and private industry. It will be a struggle.
As for global cooperation on climate change, lack of political will is no longer an excuse. We cannot unlearn what we learned in Paris or what we've learned about climate change in the fossil energy age. Paris taught us that we indeed have the political will to come together as a global community. Decades of science and observation teaches the consequences of failing to act, and these are already well underway.
The historic adoption and ratification of the Paris Agreement offers the world a reason for cautious optimism. Despite the fear and anxiety of a Trump administration, COP22 pushed ahead with a vision for the future, built on the lessons of history.
We can fail to act on what we know. Or we can push ahead, even in the face of hostile forces. Imperfect as it is, the process at COP22 remains intact.
Image credit: James Nerhebii, courtesy Flickr; UNFCCC
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