View from COP22 in Marrakech: Hoping for a Better Donald

What the 2016 Election Means for Climate Change Policy

Klara Reisch, Student, Molecular and Cell Biology

klara-human-rightsI shuffled in and out of shops trying to find a souvenir in Marrakech when one merchant turned to me, chuckled and asked “you voted for Trump?” I was confused and slightly embarrassed that this election was following me deep into the Souks of the Medina, but I was not surprised. In fact, before that encounter, most panel discussions I attended at COP22 mentioned the election results back home, which named Donald Trump as our president-elect. Throughout the campaign, Trump argued that climate change is merely a hoax spurred by the Chinese and criticized the United States for spending money on environmental initiatives to minimize its effects. He had threatened to dismantle last year’s landmark Paris Agreement, and Trump and revoke the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, which calls for a decrease in carbon emissions from power plants.

klara-human-rights-2Either way, this election left many delegates and panelists concerned and unsure about the future of our world. I spoke with a panelist from GIZ, Klaus Wenzel, about the U.S.’s resistance of climate change policy. He talked about how workers are concerned about how they will be affected by this transition to things like clean energy. “People are afraid,” he said. “People are afraid of what this means for their jobs.” One of Trump’s main issues with renewable energy is that it is too expensive. Wenzel argued that although the return on investment takes time, renewable energy decreases the amount of air pollution and green house gas emissions, both of which have major effects on the environment and human health. “What is the worth of a premature death?”

Of course, no one knows for sure what this election means for the United States and the rest of the world, but I heard opinions expressed by both sides in various panel discussions at COP22. Some said that the United States would not back out because of the geopolitical and trade implications, while others believe that the U.S. may step out of the game and perhaps force other countries to step up.

Hopefully, enough people will speak out against Trump’s environmental policies. If our president will not fight on our behalf, we will have to.

View from COP22 in Marrakech: US Election Results

20161109_132624By Scott Stephenson, Assistant Professor, Geography

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.

20161109_130400Several 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. 

COP22 in Marrakech: Africa in Action

By Scott Stephenson, Assistant Professor, Geography

20161107_175310With the Paris Agreement entering into force ahead of schedule on November 4, the rhetoric at the COP22 opening plenary in Marrakech was decidedly optimistic, with ambitious appeals to meet the goals set in Paris one year ago. While there were the usual calls to global collective action, a focus on regional climate justice issues surfaced as an early theme. Morocco’s Foreign Minister and COP22 President, Salaheddine Mezouar, set the tone by highlighting the significance of holding the meeting on African soil at a time when “climate change in Africa is the most cruel and unfair.” Pointing out that 15 of the 36 most climate-impacted countries are in Africa, and that it would take three Earths to meet the consumption needs of the world’s wealthiest citizens, he issued a challenge to those in attendance to bring about “justice for Africa” here and throughout the years of negotiations ahead:


“The world wants more transparency…we have a huge responsibility to address the needs of the most vulnerable populations. We must provide them with the resources to adapt to the most disastrous consequences of climate change.”


At the same time, Mezouar took time to highlight the agency and responsibility of African nations in initiating and pursuing climate action. Hosting the conference in Marrakech “emphasizes Africa’s desire to take its destiny in hand, to reduce its vulnerability and strengthen its resilience,” through action plans such as the African Renewable Energy Initiative. 20161107_103956The point came as a welcome reminder that LDCs – 33 of which are in Africa – have been active in shaping climate negotiations since the establishment of the UNFCCC in 1992. In the days to come, COP22 will go about the business of implementing the commitments made in Paris, such as setting the rules for emissions accounting, advancing consensus on a framework for loss and damage, and facilitating integration of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in national policies and investment plans. The hope, as stated by IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee in his plenary address, is that COP22 will be a “COP of action.” While the agenda here appears to be focused squarely on the work ahead, I expect that tomorrow’s long-awaited U.S. Presidential election will be on the minds of more than one of the negotiators, given the promise of one candidate to cancel the Paris Agreement if he wins.

Lost in Translation: The Complexities of Reaching a Global Climate Agreement

Kerrin Kinnear, OEP Intern


lost in translation 3

Muscles tensed by a mind overcome with frustration, I exit the auditorium. I had just witnessed a keynote address made by the President of COP21, Laurent Fabius, at the start of the Global Landscapes Forum. Arguably a once in a lifetime opportunity for an environmentalist, I had not understood a single word he said. Why? The speech was in French, and my language skillset is primarily limited to English.

Language issues are significant in the realm of global negotiation. Prior to traveling to Paris for the United Nations Climate Conference, most of my conversations about international climate action focused solely on which strategies were most appropriate for effectively mitigating fossil fuel emissions and adapting to the current and future impacts of climate change. Speaking with delegates from Madagascar and Namibia as well as negotiation observers from Dickinson University, I realized I had overlooked a key concept for the conference – the profound impact complexities of language can have on the effectiveness of international coordination.

lost in translation 2

With delegates and members of Civil Society from over 190 different countries gathered at COP21, ensuring a uniform sense of understanding is an incredible feat. To accommodate the resulting vast range of languages, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) mandates that all formal proceedings are interpreted into the organization’s six official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. Using headsets, delegates from across the globe are able to hear live feeds of the negotiations in their preferred language, and contribute when they are given the floor. Representatives who speak none of the six official languages have the opportunity to speak in their language, so long as they pay for an interpreter to translate their message.

lost in translationWhile this framework for communication demonstrates a certain commitment to universal comprehension, barriers still persist in the conference arena. During my conversation with Dickinson alumni, I was surprised to learn that a topic of debate for that day’s official proceedings was the clarification that international parties “welcomed” rather than “invited” countries to increase climate change efforts. From this, the importance of semantics and cultural word meanings in an international setting became evident. Additionally, when I spoke with a researcher from a French NGO focused on deforestation, he explained how quickly high-level jargon becomes integrated into the climate negotiations. As a result, delegates who have limited proficiency in the UN languages and who cannot afford interpreters struggle to keep up with and weigh in on complex conversations and policy strategies.

Despite the difficulties associated with communicating across languages, the United Nations and its member countries have held 21 climate change conferences and continue to plan global coordination on this issue. Because of the international community’s persistence in the face of cross-cultural communication barriers, I am more excited than ever before about the prospects for a global climate agreement.

On Gender and Climate Change

Alexandra Mayer


gender 3

The agenda for the COP21 lists 22 steps towards agreement. Discussing “gender and climate change” is number 17. Women represent the majority of the world’s poor and agricultural workers and many are responsible for fetching water. Dramatic shifts in climate and food production are therefore primed to disproportionately harm women. Furthermore, women fight economic, social, and physical discrimination that also limit their ability to adapt to climate change.

Yet, on December 7th, Mary Robinson, former UN human rights chief and president of Ireland, lamented, “This [the UN conference] is a very male world. When it is a male world, you have male priorities,” and asserted, “women in developing countries are among the most vulnerable to climate change.” Her frustrated words indicate that there may be no legal text on gender equity coming out of the COP21 negotiations.


While I was listening to a panel discussion on indigenous and women’s rights at the Global Landscapes Forum in Paris, the man sitting next to me whispered, “Why should we care, if we’ll all be dead soon anyways?” alluding to the idea that if global warming goes unmitigated, humans may go extinct. I shushed the man to hear the speaker, but, as I have heard this argument used repeatedly to dismiss calls for human rights, I will reply now:

In fighting against climate change, you are fighting for the future of humankind. The next question, then, is what kind of future are you fighting for? We live in a beautiful world that is also riddled with atrocity, disparity, and exploitation.

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Rape, racism, and domestic violence are global epidemics, so is poverty at the hand of the elite. I must ask, whose future are you fighting for when you rally to limit emissions, but not to stop the avoidable deaths that are occurring now at the hand of starvation, lack of health care, and violence? Are you okay with saving your own kind, and nobody else?

I know it is impossible to take on every injustice. We all have our own cause. Still, at the very least, I invite you to recognize the importance of human rights. Why should we save ourselves if we’ll only continue to disparage the earth and each other?

Published on 11 December 2015 at the OEP blog.

The Climate Tradeoff: A Global Carbon Budget for the Future

Andrew Carrol


andrewWhile in Paris for the COP21 Conference during the first week in December, I had to make some rather mundane decisions, mostly confined to the breakfast buffet in our hotel: brie or gruyere, baguette or croissant? In contrast, the international negotiators in the Red Zone at Le Bourget are tasked with reaching consensus on a full plate of complex subjects: a global carbon budget, fossil fuel reduction, investment in renewable energy sources, and the tenuous balance of responsibility for carbon reductions. A topic that has been thoroughly discussed by many nations is a global carbon budget that would legally bind countries to a pre-determined level of carbon output set forth by the UNFCC. However, these plans have been squashed by nations that emit the most carbon. Thus, the cap-and-trade or cap-and-tax debate rages on across the ideological spectrum, from those who claim it’s our moral responsibility to those who maintain that a carbon budget would be unrealistic.

andrew 2As the UConn contingent discussed this concept more thoroughly, we were extremely like-minded about the idea of establishing a global carbon budget and taxing those who exceed their allowable emissions output. Even though we all supported a carbon budget, a few of us questioned its economic feasibility. I questioned whether the plan would disrupt the stability of international markets. And if the plan were to adversely affect the GDP of a country, would the carbon benefit and the value of this environmental externality outweigh the lost GDP? Will the bureaucracy and hierarchical nature of nations within the UN allow for such a plan to exist? What weights are given to additional factors, such as higher health care costs, the costs of shorter growing seasons, and even the potential for climate refugees?

When it comes to climate action, all factors need to be weighed in making a final decision. Unfortunately, the environment is usually second fiddle to the importance of economic stability. Yet, if we reach a breaking point in which we do not have a truly sustainable global environment, then the strength of a nation’s economy is meaningless. We cannot gamble on our environment – and we cannot put a price tag on a moral imperative.

Published on 11 December 2015 at the OEP blog.