A surreal mix of stoicism and denial pervaded the COP plenary meetings this morning. Delegates were introduced; formal addresses were read. Before long, discussion turned to the wonky language of the UNFCCC: carbon pricing, transparency frameworks, climate financing, and so on. In short, it was business-as-usual at COP22. Addressing the elephant in the room – the outcome of the US election – was not on the agenda.
Not to suggest that those participating in this morning’s session were unaware or even impartial with respect to said elephant. Donald Trump has claimed that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, and promised to scrap the landmark Clean Power Plan, repeal federal spending on clean energy, and pull the US out of the Paris Agreement. No amount of dutiful attendance to the agenda at hand would change the fact that the world has entered a very uncertain time for global climate governance. While reneging on the Paris Agreement would take four years to materialize, the US’ exit from the most significant environmental treaty in history would send shock waves throughout international negotiating mechanisms and likely hamper efforts to achieve good-faith agreements by the incoming US administration. Of course the delegates at COP22 know this, though you wouldn’t have known it from their workmanlike approach to the task at hand.
I, for one, found greater solace at a gathering of young activists outside the plenary hall, who had planned to present a “Presidential To-Do List” this morning in anticipation of a Clinton victory. The electoral reality prompted a change in plans: what would have been a call to Presidential action instead became a sort of support group for those in attendance – a welcome opportunity to let emotions rule, if briefly, an otherwise staid and dispassionate policy meeting.
Several activists made impassioned speeches, vocalizing the grief, frustration, and fear that must surely have been on the minds of many in attendance. Their words projected courage and compassion: “Rather than judge Trump’s supporters,” they said, “try to understand why they voted for him.” For those like myself who were seeking a space to mourn the electoral loss, the gathering was a powerful reminder of the stakes underpinning these negotiations, and the fragile global order on which they depend.