UN climate summit ends with last-gasp plea to Donald Trump: 'Save us'

What has COP22 achieved - and with President Trump looming on the horizon, does it matter?

Adam Withnall
Saturday 19 November 2016 02:37
Conference delegates had a clear message for Donald Trump
Conference delegates had a clear message for Donald Trump

The message issued to President-elect Donald Trump by the rest of the world at the close of the UN climate summit here in Marrakech was simple: “Save us.”

It was fittingly voiced by the summit’s next hosts, Fiji, where rising sea levels as a result of man-made global warming are already causing islands to vanish beneath the waves.

As the imperilled nation was unveiled as hosts of COP23, the Fijian Prime Minister conjured up the image of America coming to the rescue as it did in the Second World War - a plea which, it is hoped, will appeal to Mr Trump’s penchant for a grand gesture.

“We in the Pacific, in common with the whole world, look to America for its leadership and for its engagement and assistance on climate change," Frank Bainimarama said.

“Just as we looked at America during the dark days of World War II... I say to the American people 'you came to save us then, it is time for you to help to save us now’." Even the US delegation here joined in the applause that followed.

So much of this year’s summit has been given over to considering how best to deal with the looming threat of a climate change denier in the White House, when it was supposed under "different circumstances to have been about implementing last year’s landmark Paris Agreement.

But activists here say that only really tells half the story - and that in the background, big strides have been made towards combatting climate change.

Mr Trump’s election victory has been a wake-up call. It tells the global community it has been over-reliant on the good intentions and leadership of a single state or person.

So this will be remembered as the COP where the most vulnerable states started to take control, instead of focussing on what deals they could get out of the richest nations.

On the last day of the conference, a coalition of 48 developing states threatened in the near term by climate change - including the Marshall Islands, the Philippines and COP22 hosts Morocco - vowed to go beyond the commitments of the Paris Agreement and derive 100 per cent of their energy from renewables “as rapidly as possible”.

Former US Vice President Al Gore said the commitment of the Climate Vulnerable Forum was “a bold vision that sets the pace for the world's efforts to implement the Paris Agreement and move even more quickly to solve the climate crisis”.

There was good news too on one of the most difficult elements of the negotiations here and in Paris - how countries which are already suffering the impacts of climate change get compensated for the damage, and the measures they need to take to hold back the tide.

These are the people - 40 million in Africa alone - who have to turn to charities like Oxfam when rising temperatures and record droughts destroy their livelihoods.

Tracy Carty, Oxfam’s lead climate expert, told The Independent: “It looks like there will be a positive outcome [here] on the adaptation fund, and an £80m funding goal was reached thanks to the support of Germany, Sweden, Belgium and Italy.

“But in saying that, I want to underline the fact that the establishment of funds doesn’t deliver action. Money delivers action, and the amounts we are talking about are really small when compared to the amounts that are needed.

“Thankfully, I don’t think Trump is going to be that interested in the adaptation fund.”

The President-elect’s shadow has loomed over every positive stride made at the summit - given Mr Trump’s promise to “cancel” the US’s involvement in the Paris Agreement.

Climate change: It's "game over" for planet earth

And so this COP will also be remembered as the year when non-state actors - local governments, regions, cities and businesses - started to harness what departing Secretary of State John Kerry called “the people all over the world who are working for victory in this”.

Earlier in the week, more than 360 US businesses including Kellogs, Mars and Starbucks signed a joint letter calling on President-elect Trump to join them in “re-affirm[ing] our deep commitment to addressing climate change”.

Representatives of individual US states attended the conference here to highlight their ability to push ahead with green initiatives - with or without the blessing of the federal government in Washington.

And across the world, regions and cities are uniting in initiatives to share knowledge and represent the voices of progressive urban communities.

Schemes like the EU-US Global Covenant of Mayors and the Under 2 MOU have members as disparate as Greater Manchester, Catalonia and Piedmont in Italy, and go beyond the state-level commitments of the Paris Agreement.

“Climate change is a matter beyond political affiliations, and global warming is not something you can bargain with,” said Markku Markkula, president of the European Committee of the Regions. He said the world cannot succeed “without the full involvement of cities and regions within the UN’s climate process”.

Until the election of Mr Trump, the heads of every state except Nicaragua agreed to the terms of the Paris climate deal. But Wael Hmaidan, director of the Climate Action Network, told The Independent that the recent wave of populist political uprisings across the West showed just how those leaders had lost touch with the people they are supposed to represent.

He said the deal agreed here in Marrakech was “rich” with positive developments - and one of the most important was a recognition that climate activists have to get better at “increasing awareness”.

“We are seeing in different elections around the world, that we are not engaging enough with various parts of the public," he said.

“We have our followers, we have those who understand climate change, but we don’t engage the other side enough.”

Not every measure taken here in these two weeks can be said to be entirely Trump-proof. The US is among the countries to have set out ambitious long-term goals to drastically cut their emissions by 2050 - a goal which only stands a chance if the new President can be brought on board.

That’s why appeals like Fiji’s are still being made. In spite of everything, people here still believe that Mr Trump can be made to see the opportunities available in reimagining the world’s energy consumption, and the risks if nothing is done.

US climate veteran and director of strategy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, Alden Meyer, told The Independent the greatest achievement of the summit had been a world speaking as one “with a loud and clear voice”.

“The rest of the world intends to proceed with Paris, with or without the US,” he said. “Not because they are doing a favour to the United States or President-elect Trump, but because Paris is in their own national interests.

“They see the impacts of climate change mounting on their populations, and they also see the benefits of decarbonising their economies and enjoying the fruits of the clean energy revolution.

“Not one country has said that if President Trump pulls the US out of Paris, they will follow,” he said, adding to the repeated suggestions here that America will become a pariah if it reneges on its climate commitments.

For all the measured arguments and cautious words over these two weeks, the climate activists here have a hard side - and when it comes to saving the planet, you are either with them, or against them.

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