UN COP22

View from COP22 in Marrakech: The Trump Opener

Kristin Burnham, Student, Pathobiology and Molecular and Cell Biology

The Trump Opener: A cultural phenomenon observed at COP22 in which, once the nationality of a U.S. citizen is established, the opening remark of the conversation is about President-Elect Donald Trump.

“You know I’ve never met a Trump supporter,” Mostafa, a well-spoken, twenty something journalist from Cairo tells us as we wait for the bus from the Green Zone back to the hotel.

We comment that people who voted for Trump don’t come to climate change conferences, or to developing countries for that matter. The statement is laced with condescension, the implicit message clear: they don’t know better because they haven’t seen the things we have, they don’t know the things we know.  It’s how we explain their seemingly inexplicable choice.

Rich Miller, from the UConn cohort comments that it’s interesting how close the rest of the world followed the U.S. election. Mostafa replies, “We’re all stakeholders – your elections affect us as much as they affect you, maybe even more.” And, to some degree, he is right. For better or worse, the U.S. is a global superpower. Our foreign policy brings not only humanitarian aid and other resources to developing nations, but also, all too often, our soldiers, our missiles, and our carbon emissions, which travel far beyond our borders.

Mostafa explains that he sympathizes, comparing many Egyptians’ dislike for their President of the past two and-a-half years, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to many Americans’ dislike of Trump. “I was a part of the Arab Spring,” he tells us. With pride and eloquence he says that our generation is more connected than ever before: How incredible it is that we can know the story and thoughts of a 16 year old girl in Palestine, a 41 year old man in Iraq… or a 20 year old girl from Connecticut.

kristin-mitigation-2There is a lull in the conversation. Ben Breslau, a fellow student from the UConn group, asks “So what do we do?” Mostafa emphatically replies, “You wait. Please wait.  You do nothing. You have patience,” almost pleading for the new US administration to stand behind the Paris Agreement, reached just last year at the historic COP21.  He cares what we do. He cares because it affects him too.

It’s not just what the president does that has a global impact. It’s what we all do. It’s the votes we cast, the revolutions we start, the passion of our convictions, and the causes we choose to champion.

A few minutes later we meet a delegate from Turkey, “You’re from America? I was here [at the conference] as the election results were coming in.” He says people cried and scheduled talks were abandoned to discuss instead the potential devastation Trump’s environmental policies could have on the world.

I hope that no matter what Trump does, no matter how drastic or inflammatory, we, as a country, can be more than his actions.

Let’s use the overwhelming feelings of frustration and helplessness to create a better United States. Let’s treat each other with more kindness. Let’s use the outrage and fear that surround Trump’s election to be a catalyst for change. Let’s join together to reduce our contribution to greenhouse gasses.

If we can’t take pride in our President, let us instead create a culture, country and carbon footprint we can be proud of.

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: “No Comment”

By Scott Stephenson, Assistant Professor, Geography

Among Trump’s priorities for his first 100 days in office is to cancel payments to UN climate change programs and use the money to “fix America’s water and environmental infrastructure.” Putting aside the details of which infrastructure would be upgraded and how the former UN payments would support such a plan (spoiler alert: there aren’t many), this plan threatens to severely undermine one of the key mechanisms facilitating a global energy transition: climate financing. In the context of the UNFCCC, climate financing refers to the channeling of payments, mainly from developed countries and international entities such as the EU, to fund mitigation and adaptation projects and spur low-carbon growth and development. Climate financing played a vital role in the drafting of the Paris Agreement because developing countries argued, justifiably, that they would be unable to transition directly from cheap energy sources like coal to cleaner, more expensive renewables without financial and technological assistance. Furthermore, the notion that developed countries are largely responsible for global warming thus far meant that the developed world would bear the bulk of the funding responsibility in accordance with the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility.” The Green Climate Fund is the central mechanism for achieving long-term financing under the UNFCCC, and coming out of Paris had set a goal of raising $100 billion per year by 2020. The US made the first payment of its $3 billion pledge to the GCF in March of this year. Now, with an incoming administration hostile to the UNFCCC, the GCF and other climate financing mechanisms will likely soon be dealt a serious blow, and may become much more reliant on support from the private sector.

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Today I sat in on the meeting of the “COP Contact Group on Matters Relating to Finance” hoping to hear some discussion, or at least acknowledgment, of this new uncertainty. However I was disappointed when the dialogue remained squarely on the planned agenda throughout the two-hour meeting. I had so many questions. Has the US role in these talks changed after the election? Has the election result altered the US agenda at this COP? What would a US absence mean for the negotiations going forward? Answers to these questions and more would have to wait, as I received a polite but firm “no comment” from the US delegation. Ditto from the US press office staff, who pointed out that they work for the Obama Administration, whose goals at this COP have not changed since November 8. As an academic accustomed to conferences with spirited and lengthy (sometimes too lengthy) Q&A sessions, I was out of my element.

Outside of the official negotiations, discussion of the election fallout could be found much more easily, underscoring an interesting divide in the organizational structure of the COP. Meeting rooms dedicated to official business of the COP carry the weighty gravitas of diplomatic discourse, while a separate exhibition hall plays host to numerous “side events” more closely resembling panel discussions at academic conferences. These events feature speakers from NGOs, academia, and government (speaking in an unofficial capacity). At one such event on fossil fuel divestment, the elephant in the room was finally addressed with a vigorous discussion of what a Trump presidency might mean for efforts to pursue a “managed decline” in coal production. Katie Thomas, Bernie Sanders’ Energy and Environment Advisor, laid bare the reality that any meaningful progress on an energy transition in the next four years will likely have to happen at the state and local levels. While this did little to assuage my fears, her unvarnished candor was a refreshing change from the dead-end I had hit with the delegates earlier. Thomas also confirmed my creeping suspicion that a purely market-based strategy may be the only practical way forward for clean energy for the foreseeable future. Thankfully, at least we have Republicans like Chuck Grassley, who has vowed to vigorously defend wind power from a Trump Administration assault if necessary.

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.