Cop22 After Trump

The Good and Bad News for Climate Change

Participant arrive at the UN Climate Change Conference 2016 (COP22) in Marrakech, Morocco, November 10, 2016. Youssef Boudlal / Reuters

On the Monday before the U.S. presidential election, climate negotiators gathered in Marrakesh, Morocco, to begin the long, hard process of implementing the Paris Climate Agreement. But all eyes were on the United States, and when the news that Donald Trump had won the election hit Marrakesh early Wednesday morning, it was not well received.

Under U.S. President Barack Obama, the United States had forged an important alliance with China to put forth more ambitious climate policies and to move the world toward signing the momentous Paris Agreement last year. That comity was still on display in Marrakesh, but little else of consequence has happened so far, other than strategizing about how to respond to the U.S. election results.

The political uncertainty surrounding a Trump administration added confusion to a task that was already extraordinarily difficult. Global warming is a near-perfect example of the tragedy of the commons, as it is a problem that no individual action, no single country can resolve on its own. On the one hand, this suggests a great danger to a Trump presidency: his reversal of climate change policies could bring about a global knock-on effect, pushing the world toward harsh nationalism and reduced international cooperation. On the other hand, there is a veiled hope that the negative impacts of U.S. climate policy—or lack thereof—under Trump will be limited by the current momentum in technological advancement and other factors.

The United States under Obama had taken a number of positive but preliminary steps toward getting the world to collectively cut greenhouse-gas emissions. But any form of global cooperation involving the United States is now in doubt. Of course, the scenario of unraveling global alliances, especially in the climate realm, is far from certain. In fact, early moves, now evident in Marrakesh, indicate the opposite: others, especially China, are seeking to take the climate leadership mantle from the United States under a Trump presidency. On November 14, China’s vice foreign minister,

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