For 10 exhausting days, from the moment I arrived in Marrakech for the latest U.N. conference on climate change, I found myself thrust into the uneasy role of unofficial emissary for a country transformed overnight.
COP 22 had started on a high note, as thousands from around the world celebrated the remarkably swift entry into force of the Paris Agreement just days earlier. But then in a flash, with news of Donald Trump’s surprise victory, the historic gains of Paris seemed suddenly at risk of unraveling.
By the time I touched down in Marrakech two days after the election, the initial shock had given way to deep anxiety, with rumors swirling that president-elect Trump would proclaim at any moment that he would pull the United States from the Paris Agreement.
As a strictly nonpartisan organization, C2ES has worked closely over the years with Democrats and Republicans alike. Before and after the election, we made clear our willingness to work with the next administration and others to build common ground.
On the ground in Marrakech, like other veteran COP-goers from the United States, I found myself besieged by delegates desperate for insight into what had happened and, more importantly, what would happen now. I had precious little to offer.
My first instinct was to note that one huge lesson of the entire campaign was the utter unpredictability of political outcomes – and that would be true going forward as well.
True, the incoming president had declared climate change a hoax and vowed to “cancel” the Paris Agreement. But, I’d note, he’d also denied his climate denialism and, back in 2009, he’d signed an open letter in The New York Times supporting climate legislation. Plus, there were already signs he was tempering his views on other issues like immigration and health care.
At two C2ES-sponsored side events, I was joined by major U.S. companies, a top California official and a Democratic staffer from the Senate (we’d invited a speaker from the Trump transition team but they had no one in Marrakech). We all made the case that the strong momentum in the United States toward a clean-energy transition is bound to continue.
But we could offer no solid assurance that our collective efforts had not just suffered a real blow.
Against that uncertainty, it was heartening to hear country after country reaffirm its commitment to the Paris Agreement and to a low-carbon future. The negotiations, now focused on filling in the details of the new Paris architecture, continued. And in the end they achieved the same outcomes they likely would have.
So for the moment, at least, the world is pressing ahead. But as we all head home from Marrakech, the uncertainty still looms. Should President-elect Trump make good on his campaign promise to withdraw from Paris, there is no denying that the consequences could be grave.
The Paris Agreement is a remarkable achievement. Its pragmatic approach preserves the full sovereignty of nations to decide their own paths forward, while also providing them the means to hold one another accountable. It is precisely the sort of agreement U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have long advocated.
But the agreement will only achieve its full promise if the more detailed rules being negotiated over the next two years are sound. The best way to ensure that is for the United States to remain at the table, honoring its commitments, and providing the kind of leadership that only it can.