Photo: Climate Alliance Org, Flickr
There is a taboo word at this year’s 22nd UN climate change summit: Trump.
The president-elect is omnipresent in Marrakesh. You can feel him lurking behind talks on low-carbon economies and in the cracks between climate-induced loss and damage. He’s never directly addressed, but he’s always in the room.
You can tell from the anxiety in people’s voices and their disapproving head-shakes, heavy with concern for what the future for action on climate change holds. With a climate skeptic transitioning the EPA and Donald Trump in the White House for the next four or eight year, there is an intense fear of failure to act quickly and strongly enough to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, the accepted safe temperature rise before catastrophic consequences.
That fear is valid.
As a climate community, we are well accustomed to devastating failures. We witnessed failure when the US because the only signatory that did not ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, effectively killing any chance it had to slow the emission of global greenhouse gases trends. And we saw failure again seven years ago when the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change failed to agree on collective, binding action at the much-anticipated summit in Copenhagen because of incurable divides between developed and developing countries.
Last year, for the first time since the summit was created in1995, there was real, tangible success.COP21 brought over 20,000 people to Paris to advocate, to negotiate, and to ultimately adopt an ambitious agreement to combat climate change. The Paris Agreement set 197 countries on a path to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees, envisioning a world where resources were made available to augment adaptation and finance low-carbon economic development. It officially entered into force a few days before the presidential election on November 4th, when the 100th Party to the Convention ratified the Agreement.
Many are afraid that president-elect Donald Trump will try to pull America out of the Paris Agreement. While this may well happen, it is too easy to give up on climate change when your country seemingly has.
The Americans in Louisiana’s Isle de Jean Charles still need help relocating to dryer land. California farmers still need solutions to survive the severe drought they have endured for the past five years. And our northernmost citizens in Alaska still need support in adapting to an ice-free Arctic.
For those people on the front lines of climate change, we are already not moving fast enough regardless of a Trump presidency. We need to build more renewable energy infrastructure to lower our carbon emissions when we turn on the lights. We need to support local adaptation so when the next hurricane hits New York City we don’t lose 233 people and $75 billion in damages. And we must learn how to cope and care for those places and cultures that will be lost forever to sea levels rise.
At first I was upset that no one here would talk about the American election and its consequences for the cause we are all so passionate about. But maybe this is why the word Trump has become taboo in Marrakesh. We don’t have time to waste talking about the possibility of future failures. Climate change is moving too fast for that.
And so we need to do more than lament the loss of a great climate leader as our president. We need to act. We need to do all that we can now – not just in Marrakesh at the climate summit but back at home too – to mitigate whatever disappointments may come. Because while climate advocacy from the White House may end come January, the impacts of climate change will not stop.
This commentary first appeared on Scientific American on November 14, 2016.