Negotiators from nearly 200 countries wrapped up two weeks of talks Saturday vowing to press ahead with the fight against climate change — with or without the help of the next U.S. president.
The election of Donald Trump, who has called global warming a “hoax” and has threatened to “cancel” U.S. participation in a landmark climate deal, cast a pall over the conference in the Moroccan city of Marrakech.
The Obama administration played a major role in negotiating the deal, forging alliances with China and other big polluters that helped bring decades of contentious discussions to a successful conclusion in Paris last year. Few here wanted to consider what the agreement might look like without U.S. involvement.
On Thursday, participants issued a call to action, saying, “Our climate is warming at an alarming and unprecedented rate and we have an urgent duty to respond.”
Without mentioning Trump by name, the declaration reaffirmed the need to reduce emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases and called for “the highest political commitment to combat climate change.”
The Paris agreement aims to limit the global temperature rise this century to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, and as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius as possible. Those are the thresholds at which scientists believe many of the most damaging effects of climate change can be averted.
But the agreement does not contain binding emissions targets, relying on governments to set their own goals. Even if the U.S. and other countries were to fulfill the commitments made so far, scientists believe it would only be enough to hold the average temperature rise to around 2.6 degrees or higher.
Delegates in Marrakech appealed to Trump to work with the rest of the world to ratchet up the fight against global warming.
Fiji's prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, drew applause Friday when he reiterated an invitation he made to Trump to visit his South Pacific nation and see for himself the effects of rising sea levels and Cyclone Winston.
Trump’s assertions during the campaign that he would cut off U.S. funding for climate programs alarmed many of the world’s poorer countries, which will need the help of wealthy nations to cope with retreating shorelines, prolonged droughts and extreme floods and storms.
Developed countries agreed in Paris to mobilize at least $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer counterparts cope with climate change and transition their economies to cleaner energy sources, such as wind and solar. But countries that are already suffering the effects of climate change say they will need more help than that and sooner.
“There's nervousness in these halls about climate finance,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The Obama administration pledged to contribute $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, but has only delivered a first installment of $500 million. “Not a lot of new money has been put on the table,” Meyer said.
Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar, who hosted this year’s talks, said that “turning billions into trillions will be indispensable.” The “message to the new American president,” he said, “is simply to say, ‘We count on your pragmatism and your spirit of commitment.’”
U.S. representatives in Marrakech sought to reassure counterparts that the success of the Paris agreement does not hinge on the policies of any single administration. Obama’s envoy on climate change, Jonathan Pershing, noted the growing momentum around the world to tackle the problem, not only from governments, but also from the private sector and civil society.
“We are confident this movement will continue, not only because the impacts are more and more damaging, and clearer and clearer, but because the clean energy transition presents opportunities for economic growth, for job creation and for sustaining healthier and more prosperous communities,” he told reporters Thursday.
Environmental activists said they were encouraged to see how much of what the U.S. is doing to combat climate change is happening at a state and local level. Gov. Jerry Brown has said that Californians will “continue to confront the existential threat of our time — devastating climate change."
Environmental activists were also struck by the determination of countries such as China, France, Britain, Germany and even oil giant Saudi Arabia to move forward on the issue, despite the uncertainty that resulted from the U.S. election.
“That continued commitment was clear in public statements and private assurances, in the constructive spirit of the negotiations, and in the actions of the several countries who formally joined the Paris agreement in the last two weeks,” said Nathaniel Keohane, vice president for global climate at the Environmental Defense Fund.
By the time the talks concluded in the early hours of Saturday morning, 111 countries accounting for three-quarters of the world’s emissions had ratified the deal, which took effect days before the meeting began. Several of them — including Germany, Canada and Mexico — joined the U.S. in presenting strategies for how their countries can dramatically reduce emissions by 2050.
Vowing to do their part, representatives from more than 45 of the world’s poorest countries pledged Friday to meet all of their energy production needs through renewable sources as rapidly as possible.
“We want other countries to follow in our footsteps in order to evade catastrophic impacts we are experiencing through hurricanes, flooding and droughts,” said Mattlan Zackhras, a government minister from the Marshall Islands.
Although the U.S. elections clouded much of the discussion in the first week, by the second week participants were speaking of a renewed resolve to get on with the work of fleshing out the details of the plan, including procedures to measure and verify national emissions reductions.
An agreement was reached to complete the so-called rule book by 2018, a more ambitious timeline than initially envisaged. More than $80 million in pledges were announced to help vulnerable nations adapt to climate change, among other initiatives.
“We all need to do more, of course,” United Nations climate chief Patricia Espinosa said in her concluding remarks. “But we are moving in the right direction, and that is reason to be optimistic.”
Times staff writer Zavis reported from Los Angeles and special correspondent Sampathkumar from Marrakech.