View from COP22 Marrakech: The train has left the station

Anji Seth, Associate Professor, Geography and Chair, Atmospheric Sciences Group (ASG)

The shock of the US election weighed heavily as our band of 18 (students faculty and staff) departed Storrs for the journey to Marrakech. So many questions, so little reason to hope.

In Paris last December the atmosphere had been electric, as the efforts of  many over a period of 20 years were to culminate in the first unanimous international commitment to limit global warming. Our UConn group experienced first hand the jubilation and sense of promise embodied in the Paris Agreement, even as we recognized that the real work remained ahead.

Twilight at the COP22 Solutions Tent. Photo: A. Seth

The road to Marrakech in contrast held a sense of impending doom. US Leadership implementing the Paris agreement may soon be retracted and worse, reverse direction. Stated threats by the president-elect to exit from the Paris Agreement, and perhaps from the UNFCCC treaty were an unexpected burden on the minds of UConn faculty and students who traveled to COP22.

Once here, the cloud began to lift ever so slightly. The city shimmered in desert light, with street banners entreating negotiators: ACT. Questions posed about the effects of the US election were consistently answered thus: the Paris Agreement is now international law and the support for action is unwavering. Implementation will continue with or without the US. In other words the train is in motion and leaving the station. Nations understand that the benefits of action far outweigh the consequences of inaction. Of course U.S. leadership would be welcome, but lack of it will not hold others back. It also helped that our internet connection was intermittent and slow at best and often nonexistent – we were not barraged by a constant stream of headlines from the US, giving us time to consider the unity and resolve of the parties here at COP22. A heartfelt call to action by John Kerry , chief diplomat of the outgoing Obama administration reaffirmed that progress will continue on global reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, which are the primary driver of global warming for the following reasons:

  1. The Paris Agreement is now international law.
  2. Solar and wind costs are coming down rapidly.
  3. China will lead if the US vacates this role.
  4. Renewed  commitment by UN Parties to aggressively implement the Paris Agreement [see the Marrakech Action Proclamation]
Credit: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication

The train of climate action is gaining momentum and may now have a critical mass to withstand denial and attacks from fossil fuel backed misinformation campaigns. Questions about continued US leadership remain to be answered in the coming months, but here is what we do know:  Most Americans support clean, renewable energy, and action to limit global warming. As citizens we will write the coming chapter of American history and its role in the world. The train has left the station. Are we on board?