Just as the international climate talks in Marrakech were getting underway, the ground shifted beneath negotiators’ feet. While delegates are putting a brave face on matters, there is no hiding the anxiety in the halls of COP22 in the wake of Donald Trump’s election victory.
Given Trump’s history of climate denial, participants are quickly manoeuvring to find a straw to grasp onto. And they seem to be coalescing around one simple truth: Trump is inconsistent.
Until proved otherwise, negotiations will continue in the hope that the President Elect is more climate friendly than he’s been letting on.
A Better Donald
Those that are willing to go on record with a response to Trump’s surprise victory in the US Presidential election – and there are not many – are largely sticking to the line they arrived with: The Paris Agreement has already come into force, and untangling it may be a regulatory feat beyond even a united Republican government led by Trump.
In the wake of news of Trump's election victory, negotiators have added a strand to this narrative.
Trump was frequently inconsistent on his policy positions throughout his campaign. So negotiators are hoping that now he’s won the election, his policy approach could prove different to the climate denialism presented to the American public, too.
Alden Meyer from the Union of Concerned Scientists told a packed press conference that “If the US pulls out of this, and is seen as going as a rogue nation on climate change, that will have implications for everything else on President Trump’s agenda when he wants to deal with foreign leaders. And I think he will soon come to understand that”.
He’s not the only one to sound a note of carefully caveated optimism.
Timmons Roberts, professor of sociology at Brown University, says “I don’t think he’s necessarily anti-environmental, but he’s also promising to really spruce up economic growth and build a lot of infrastructure. So will he build the fossil fuel structure of the status quo or will he build something new? These are open questions.”
Gas or Coal?
The world better hope so, because what Trump has outlined of his energy policy so far would likely fry the planet.
Trump said he wants to revive the coal industry, push ahead with more fracking, approve the Keystone XL pipeline, and dismantle the Clean Power Plan.
So how does the US avoid that fate?
Well, betting on cheap and slightly less dirty gas is one option.
As Dirk Forrister, CEO of the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) industry body, who previously served in Bill Clinton’s White House, pointed out “it’s really gas that’s been killing coal, not the President”.
That may be good for some of IETA’s members – BP, Chevron, and Shell among them - but it is unlikely to help the US meet the emission reduction targets it signed up to under the Paris Agreement.
End of Leadership
The US was hailed as an integral player in getting that deal done. But it seems that with Trump’s election, the US’s brief era of climate leadership is now over.
So what now for the US officials marooned in Marrakech?
Well, maybe the Mexicans could pick up the baton.
Jeff Swartz, IETA’s director of international policy, said he would advise officials to “start picking your friends that you want to pass your strategies onto, other countries who can take on that leadership role. Because come this time next year they won’t be able to do that”.
“I’m sure Canada would be a natural partner for that, as would Mexico and the European Union and others in the OECD.”
Or alternatively, negotiators can simply hope a Trump administration sees the sense in acting on climate change. As campaigner Mariana Panuncio-Feldman from WWF says:
“If the US wants to remain a relevant global player in the economic arena, it is going to have to recognise that it needs to face the climate crisis and address it. And we expect the new administration to do that. Other countries are not waiting”.
The reasons to act on climate change are well established, and everyone in Marrakech remains committed to the cause.
Officials are clinging to the notion that President-Elect Trump will prove as surprising as candidate Trump, and turn out not to be such a climate denier after all.
Main image credit: DeSmog UK