I’m sitting here in a quiet chamber at the Conference of Parties in Marrakech (COP22), the world’s annual climate summit, stunned and almost immobile with heartbreak. Like many Americans right now, I simply do not know what to do next.
Donald Trump has declared victory in the electoral race for President of the United States.
As a historically disruptive “wild card” candidate, there’s no way to know what Trump will do or what his presidency will truly mean — for any issue on the table.
For climate change––the greatest threat to humanity––the future is even less clear.
Trump has vowed to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement once in office, dismissing climate change as a hoax invented by the Chinese. He’s also threatened to regress domestic environmental policy, declaring he would completely remove the EPA, scrap plans to cut carbon emissions and repeal all spending on clean energy.
Now take a step back with me and recall the global climate conversations of the last quarter century: the first international summit in Rio de Janeiro in ’92, the political success of the Kyoto Protocol in ’97, the epic failure of Copenhagen in 2009 during the Great Recession, and finally the historical success of last year’s Paris Agreement.
The world has repeatedly looked to the US to show leadership in taking climate action, and where it has done so, the whole world has moved forward.
Indeed, Paris was arguably able to be successful because President Obama (together with Chinese President Jinping) publicly declared their targets for reduced emissions months before the climate conference kicked off.
There’s no denying the need for strong leadership. Without immediate and widespread actions — not just agreements — we’ll face irrevocable changes to our lives and the planet as a consequence of the 1.5–2°C rise in global temperatures.
But this time… with a climate-denying, loose cannon about to take the highest position in the land… hinging the success of another critical COP on the US is just not a viable plan.
The world needs to go on in spite of the US.
What’s truly curious is the way in which, here at COP22, everyone does seem to be getting on with it.
In the main halls, at least, there are far fewer anxious glances, tears and frantic conversations than one might imagine. Instead it seems to be business as usual.
It’s also important to note that a COP is not just made up of official government representatives and appointed delegates. There’s also a very large contingency of NGOs, faith leaders, indigenous people, citizen activists and media makers.
Last year, at COP21 in Paris, I had the good fortune to meet many of the individuals in these coalitions. I was emboldened to find bright, passionate and refreshingly optimistic people who care a lot.
Moreover, I witnessed, without a shadow of a doubt, people in action who are committed to sharing and implementing solutions to our challenges, no matter what our leaders decide to do.
The year 2016 is not the time to pray for a savior or wait for political redemption. It is up to each of us, individuals who understand that they are part of a collective and deeply interconnected whole, to move themselves and thus, the whole world, forward.