US elections: Climate diplomats push back against Trump victory

UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa delivers a speech during the opening session of the COP22 climate talks in Marrakesh on Nov 7, 2016.
UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa delivers a speech during the opening session of the COP22 climate talks in Marrakesh on Nov 7, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

MARRAKESH, MOROCCO (AFP) - Stunned participants at UN climate talks in Marrakesh insisted on Wednesday (Nov 9) that climate change denier Donald Trump cannot derail the global shift to clean energy, although some called his victory in US presidential elections a "disaster".

Trump "cannot prevent the implementation" of the landmark Paris pact, inked in the French capital last December, said Segolene Royal, France's environment minister and outgoing head of the UN climate forum.

"As I speak, 103 countries representing 70 per cent of (greenhouse gas) emissions have ratified it, and he cannot - contrary to his assertions - undo the Paris Agreement," she told French radio station RTL.

Trump has described global warming as a "hoax" perpetrated by the Chinese government, and has said at different times that he would "renegotiate" or "cancel" the 196-nation deal.

Royal noted that under the terms of the agreement, the United States must wait at least three years before seeking to withdraw.

UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa congratulated Trump on his victory in a statement.

"We look forward to engaging with his administration to take the climate action agenda forward for the benefit of the peoples of the globe," she said.

 

Diplomats and business leaders invested in moving the global economy from fossil fuels to renewables hope the gathering momentum of that transition will carry the United States with it, regardless of Trump's views.

"President-elect Donald Trump has been the source of a lot of bluster on climate change over the last year," said Hilda Heine, president of the Marshall Islands, whose nation is slowly disappearing under the waves.

"But now that the election campaign has passed," Heine added in her statement, "I expect he will realise that climate change is a threat to his people and to whole countries which share seas with the US, including my own." France's top climate negotiator Laurence Tubiana said that Trump could not defy science.

"The laws of physics are the laws of physics, and the reality of climate change is not going to change because of the US elections," she told AFP.

America is the world's second-largest greenhouse gas polluter after China, representing some 13 percent of emissions.

Trump's threats, if carried out, would recast the United States as a climate villain, which is how it was widely perceived after George W. Bush refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in 2001.

The Obama administration has been an ardent champion of the Paris Agreement, a role Trump's Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, had vowed to continue.

Some green groups were far less diplomatic in their reaction to the surprise outcome of the US vote.

"Trump's election is a disaster, but it cannot be the end of the international climate process," said May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, a global group pushing for divestment from fossil fuels.

"Our work becomes much harder now, but it's not impossible, and we refuse to give up hope." The business community echoed diplomats, suggesting that a Trump administration will stay in line with international efforts as a matter of national interest.

"He wants to make America great again," said We Mean Business, a coalition of several thousand companies and investors.

"Climate action provides the basis for new jobs and enhanced competitiveness in the industries of tomorrow," it said in a statement, noting that the sector employs 2.5 million in the US.

Legal experts consulted by AFP said Trump would have three options if he sought to unwind the US role in the UN climate process.

With one year's notice, he could withdraw the United States from the bedrock 1992 climate convention, and in so doing sever the US tie to the Paris pact.

Secondly, the Paris agreement itself makes provision for parties to withdraw from it, but notice can only be given three years after its entry into force, which came last Friday.

Finally, he could abandon or ignore the US's national emissions reduction targets, which contribute to the overall international effort.