A good source with World Resources Institute in Bonn, Germany, tipped me off to this story about China’s disgusted reaction to Trump’s repeated threats to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. After a conversation with Mongabay editor Mike Gaworecki, we agreed to a quick follow up given that the mainstream media has not reported the news yet. They will. We just have it early.
Last year (May 2016), I was fortunate to cover the first week on the UN mid-year climate conference in Bonn, Germany. This year, under the specter of a US president threatening to pull out of the historic Paris Agreement, I produced a story for Mongabay from my home office in North Carolina. The story is here. Thanks to editor Glenn Scherer for his quick and thorough work. The story quickly hit Mongabay’s Best Read list at No. 5.
In my reporting:
- Bonn negotiators remain unfazed by Trump’s climate change denialism or his threat to withdraw from Paris. Every signatory nation is going forward with meeting voluntary carbon reduction pledges. Some policymakers do worry how the parties to the Paris Agreement will make up the loss of billions of dollars in U.S. climate aid promised under Obama, but now denied by Trump.
My Mongabay editor Glenn Scherer requested this story over the first weekend of the 22nd United Nations Climate Summit in Marrakesh. I had already written a world reaction story to the stunning election of a boorish, bigoted charlatan as the next president of the United States. But Glenn wanted me to keep after the story. I’m glad I did. The specter of Trump hung over the entire conference and dominated almost every question at every press conference, and more than a few side side discussions.
Appearing at the mid-week press conference, Secretary of State John Kerry said angrily: ““This is bigger than one person, one president. We have to figure out how we’re going to stop this [Trump’s plan]… No one has the right to make decisions that affect billions of people based solely on ideology or without proper input.”
Lead US negotiator Jonathan Pershing added: “It is no longer a question of whether to accelerate the [Paris] Agreement’s implementation, but rather a question of when and how.”
The offshoot: world leaders felt compelled to pledge an even stronger allegiance to the historic Paris Agreement, to not back away from their carbon-reduction pledges, and to do so with or without US participation or leadership. China now emerges as a potential leader in climate action, a development with grave implications for US trade and military policy and alliances. My story captures many of the storylines that dominated the final week of COP22.
WFDD reporter Keri Brown interviewed me for my reflections on the outcome of the 22nd United Nation’s climate summit in Marrakesh. The link to the four-minute radio story is here. As I’ve written previously, the new president-elect has galvanized world leaders to take aggressive climate action, with or without US leadership.
This seemed an ideal story for Mongabay. Protecting forests, fighting deforestation and striving to replant tens millions of trees as natural carbon sinks, are critical strategies in the Paris Agreement in slowing the rate of global warming. But fossil fuel representatives at COP22 aren’t quite getting it. They do not want to strand assets (oil, natural gas, coal) underground, and are promoting unproven technologies that haven’t even been developed yet as ways to do business as usual. Environmentalists aren’t buying it.
I stumbled on to this story by walking on the tail end of a weekend press conference. I heard the man above say his country had planted 3 million trees to offset carbon emissions, an extraordinary number. I asked him for an interview; he turned out to be a high-ranking Moroccan government official; we spoke for 30 minutes. Mixed with previous reporting and great research from my Mongabay editor, Morgan Erickson-Davis, a really good story emerged; the link is here. Highlights:
- Through the program, which is headed by Morocco’s Highway Authority, more than three million trees have been planted with another 800,000 in the works by 2017.
- The country’s Department of Agriculture is partnering in the project, which conservationists say paints a stark contrast to many other countries where similar departments pose obstacles to reforestation and afforestation programs.
- The project is funded domestically, but a government representative told Mongabay they may be interested in receiving support from international forest conservation programs.
- Those affiliated with the project hope it can be used as a model for other African nations.
Mike Gaworecki, a long-time Mongabay correspondent with a similar focus as me on forests and climate change policy, is leading a new web site initiative: The Mongabay Newscast. On Tuesday, November 15, Mike interviewed me via Skype, where I stood just outside the press center to get a good connection. I come in at around 7 minutes. Naturally, we spent a good bit of time talking about the impact on the president-elect on COP22. Special thanks to Mongabay podcast producer Erik Hoffner for making this happen.
The stunning and disastrous election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president has sent shock waves through the 22nd United Nations Climate Summit in Marrakesh. Mongabay thought my story here was important enough that they had it translated into seven languages — a first. That happens when a purposely ignorant climate denier follows the first president, Barack Obama, to ever make climate change policy a major part of his legacy.
Acceleration? It depends on who you ask. That’s why the irony of this celebratory photo, taken immediately after the Paris Agreement was approved by 196 nations in mid-December, is so apparent here in Bonn, Germany, at the United Nations annual mid year climate conference.
On Monday, May 16, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), proclaimed the Paris Agreement as “a historic achievement.”
“Today marks a new era for all of us,” she declared with great hope and enthusiasm to a plenary of national leaders. “With the support of thousands of non-Party stakeholders, you were able to make the seemingly impossible possible. You have brought down the many barriers that divided you. You have opened many opportunities that now unite you.”
It sounds good. In many ways, it is good. Never before had virtually every nation on earth pledged to set voluntary goals to reduce their carbon emissions. They pledged also to fight deforestation and promote reforestation in vitally important tropical countries. Most critically, they pledged to hold the rise of global temperatures by 2100 to another 0.5-degree C, instead of a full 1-degree C.
The Paris Agreement got the world drunk on hope. But the buzz has worn off here in Bonn. Impatient activists and NGOs, particularly from poor, vulnerable nations now suffering the ravages of global warming, deride the lack of progress since Paris among the world’s most powerful nations and largest carbon polluters — China, the U.S., India, Russia, Japan and the EU.
They are rightfully impatient. They have already waited too long. Paris was COP21 (Conference of the Parties). Simply put, that means the first 20 UN climate summits ended in failure. Two decades of possible progress were lost to climate denial and political skittishness.
Thus, the claim in the top photo — We’re Accelerating Climate Action — looks like a lie to the critics here as it greets them each morning upon arriving at this modern conference facility made of glass and steel.
“Immediately after the UK signed the Paris Agreement, officials returned home and approved $3.3 billion in dirty energy subsidies for oil and gas companies,” said Asad Rehman with Friends of the Earth-UK. “Those subsidies should have been canceled given the Paris Agreement. We see a huge disconnect between what is said here (in Bonn) and what is happening here and at home.”
Rehman spoke at a May 18 press conference that assessed the Paris outcome and international action over the last five months. Impatience ran high among the panelists. So I posed a devil’s advocate-type question: “Global leaders in Paris agreed in December that the agreement did not go far enough. They all pledged to revise the strengthen the document in the months and years ahead. Don’t they deserve a little more time?”
“Our people are already dying,” retorted Lidy Nacil with the Asia Peoples Movement on Debt & Development, told me. “Fossil fuel projects should have been canceled right after Paris.”
Rehman added: “You must understand. It’s not just been five months. Governments have willingly failed to act for more than 20 years. The UN has called for carbon reductions in 1990. Since then, carbon emissions have increased globally by 60 percent.”
Celia Gautier with Reseau Action Climate of France said the recent French government’s ratification of the Paris Agreement “Is not not sufficient. There will not be a magic wand to change climate action around the world that will keep temperatures around 1.5-degree C.
“Countries need to phase out fossil fuels now. The G8 must take the lead. But they are still reluctant to provide a road map on how the money will be raised to achieve of the goals of the agreement. Rhetoric needs to be matched with action. And we are not seeing it.”
Tamar Lawrence-Samuel, associate research director at Corporate Accountability International in Boston, said the U.S. managed to take credit as a stalwart hero of the Paris Agreement while continuing to send contradictory messages at home. No to Atlantic Ocean oil drilling and the XL Pipeline; yes to increased oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic.
“The United States continues to pollute itself between a rock and a hard place,” she said.
In covering this grim and dire story of international climate change since 2013, I have tried to remain open to the possibilities that nations, states, cities, faith groups led by Pope Francis and other faith leaders, and innovators funded by Bill Gates and Elon Musk can and will bring about the change necessary to stave off the worst effects of climate change.
What choice do we have but to cling to hope?
Yet I am reminded every day in Bonn that optimism comes with a price and the expectation of uncompromising political will. And that despite the Paris Agreement being exactly what Christiana Figueres hailed — “a historic achievement ” — turning rhetoric into meaningful action remains a complex and daunting task.
The UN meeting here in Bonn runs through May 26.
My reporting in Bonn is being sponsored by funds provided by Wake Forest University, where I am a professor of journalism and director of the journalism program.
One third of the Peruvian population — 9 million people — live in Lima. Problem is, Lima is a desert. It does not rain there. At all. Lima depends on glacier melt for the sprawling city’s drinking water. Yet those Andean glaciers have shrunk by 30 percent due to global warming. On the evening of Dec. 1, 2015, the Triad’s top news anchor invited me on WGHP-TV to talk about the UN climate summit in Paris, I was more than happy to do so.