The climate change community, currently in Marrakesh for its annual conference, was spooked by the election of Donald Trump who has in the past described global warming as a hoax and threatened to pull out of the Paris Agreement that was finalised last year.
Most country delegates were wary of saying anything on record, but congratulatory messages from some world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande, did mention climate change as one of the subjects on which their countries needed to work together.
A group of small island countries, who face the worst impacts of climate change, was the only official negotiating party in Marrakesh to make a public statement on the election result. “America has led this technological transformation and can continue to create jobs and opportunity in this area, something people everywhere will benefit from,” the group said in a cautiously-worded statement.
Hilda Heine, President of the Marshall Islands, said Trump would need to live up to his responsibility to protect his people and others around the world. “President-elect Donald Trump has been the source of a lot of bluster on climate change over the last year, but now that the election campaign has passed and the realities of leadership settle in, I expect he will realise that climate change is a threat to his people and to whole countries which share seas with the US including my own,” she said in a statement.
Some, like Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, expressed hope that Trump would be forced to become much more realistic on climate change once he assumes office. “Trump is set to be one of the most powerful persons in the world… but even he does not have the power to change the laws of physics, to stop the impacts of climate change, to stop the rising sea levels. He has to acknowledge the reality,” Meyer said.
The US, like more than 100 other countries, has ratified the Paris Agreement that seeks to keep global temperatures from rising beyond 2ºC as compared to pre-industrial levels. Walking out of the Agreement, as Trump said the US would if he was elected, would need at least 4 years. This is because no country is allowed to withdraw in the first three years after it has ratified the agreement. After that, it must serve at least a year’s notice to withdraw.
Most negotiators said they didn’t expect Trump to take the extreme step. But they said there were other ways in which the momentum on climate change could be derailed if the US President wasn’t a climate enthusiast.
“One of my biggest concerns is about the mobilisation of finance. The climate process desperately needs more money to support vulnerable countries and communities. The US is extremely important in this regard. But mobilisation of finance requires an enthusiastic administration. Even if Trump remains neutral, and does not continue to be a climate sceptic, the process of raising money will get seriously affected,” Harjeet Singh, Action Aid’s global lead on climate change, said.
Developed countries have promised to raise at least $ 100 billion per year from 2020 as part of their obligation to provide financial help to countries that are most vulnerable.
“Trump’s election has brought an element of uncertainty into the climate process. It would be premature to say that the process has already met with a disaster. But yes, uncertainty does bring in its set of complications,” Siddharth Pathak, climate change lead at the Climate Action Network said.