ZME Science coverage of COP22

Secretary of state John Kerry addressed COP22 today, delivering an impassionate speech which included a plea for all of us, and the president-elect in particular: don’t ignore the science when considering your strategy.

John Kerry in Marrakech. Image: State Department/Flickr.

A long-time supporter of a climate agreement and environmental reform, Kerry’s efforts were at the forefront of the Paris Pact and he was at the heart of international negotiations. It wasn’t just one time that he was in the negotiation room until 5AM in the morning, only to return a few hours later to continue work. This year, he addressed the summit with a striking message, riddled with optimism but also realism.

“Climate change is deeply personal to me, but it’s personal to everyone in this COP, I know that and we want it to be just as personal for everyone in the whole world,” he said in the opening part of his speech. “We are all in this together, and when we left Paris, no one rested on their laurels. Instead, the world unified and moved expeditiously to pull the agreement permanently into force, crossing the threshold of 55 countries representing 55% of emissions, doing so far faster than even the most optimistic of us hoped for.”

“We have in place foundation based on national climate goals, 109 nations, each of them with their own plan, setting goals based on our own abilities and our own circumstances. This agreement is the essence of common, but differentiated responsibilities. It leaves no country to weather the storm of climate change alone.”

Still, despite his passion, there is a growing sentiment that at least some did rest on their laurels. Many representatives acted as if the Paris Pact is the be-all-end-all of climate problems, when in reality, the math doesn’t add up. The goal is to keep global warming within 2 degrees Celsius, but if you add all the national contributions, it’s just not enough. According to Climate Analytics, if (and this is a big if) all national contributions are fulfilled, we’re on a course for 2.7C – almost double 1.5C, which is considered a major threshold, and significantly more than the official 2C objective.

But of course, most people attending already knew that, and as Kerry himself said, it felt a bit like preaching to the choir.

“Whatever our background may be, this is an imperative. I know the danger of preaching to the choir, and all of us here are the proverbial choir. Here at the 22nd COP, no one can deny the progress that we have made, progress that was pretty hard to imagine even a few years ago”

Optimism from the market, pessimism from politics

The climate is heating up dramatically, the US delegation to COP says. But what will it say next year? Image credits: Andrei Mihai / ZME Science.

The climate is heating up dramatically, the US delegation to COP says. But what will it say next year? Image credits: Andrei Mihai / ZME Science.

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Perhaps ironically, Kerry’s optimism lies with the market and not within governance. The Paris Agreement was never going to solve all our problems, it was above all meant to send a signal to the global markets. Outside of government intervention, he says, global markets have been given the signal to react and start moving towards renewable energy – and they have.

For the first time since the industrial revolution, people are investing more in renewable energy than in fossil fuels, a trend which will only grow more pronounced. Furthermore, this is happening when oil prices are at a historic low, lending even more credibility to the idea of a renewable revolution. Still, this would not be possible without leadership from politicians. Much of this is happening due to President Obama’s initiatives, who has been a long-time supporter of an energy revolution. But with a new administration just around the corner, are there still reasons to be optimistic?

Earlier in the day, Kerry has reportedly told The Guardian’s Arthur Neslen (before he was blocked by the arm of a secret service attendee) that climate change is “bigger than one person, one president”. In fact, the result of the US elections has been one of the most debated topics and no one is overly optimistic. Among others, president-elect Trump has called global warming a hoax, has said he would rip up the Paris deal, stop any funding towards UN climate programs, and revive the coal industry. In Marrakech, at COP22, the US delegation has presented a long, 111-page document in which it calls for a “deep decarbonisation” of the U.S. economy by 2050, reducing emissions by 80 percent compared to 2005 levels. Sadly, the best thing we can hope for now is that Trump lied during his campaign.

“While I can’t stand here and speculate about what policies our president-elect will pursue, I will tell you this: In the time that I have spent in public life, one of the things I’ve learned is that some issues look a little bit different when you’re actually in office compared to when you’re on the campaign trail,” Kerry said.

Also, he argued, even with the results of these elections, the citizens of the US are still determined to see a sustainable future for themselves, their country, and the planet

“And no-one, no-one should doubt the overwhelming majority of citizens of the United States who know climate change is happening and who are determined to keep our commitments that were made in Paris.”

A plea for mankind

As for Kerry himself, this is the last time he addressed COP and the UN as Secretary of State. His mandate is coming to an end and there is good reason to fear what will come in his stead. Kerry has had a long-standing concern with environmentalism as a global issue and he was the one to mediate many of the negotiations which led to this pact. He was also the one to sign on behalf of the US. Amidst these troubled times, Kerry also became the first Secretary of State and highest-ranking U.S. official to date to visit Antarctica. He wanted to see, with his own eyes, how the frozen continent is faring. He didn’t go there to talk to the media or address a press conference, he went there to talk to scientists – and what he found confirmed his fears. The planet is changing, and the effects are already upon us. This is the canary in the coal mine, as he himself put it.

To a conference room jam-packed of journalists and representatives and sometimes with a breaking voice, Kerry urged world leaders to think about what they are doing – to consider the impact of their decisions.

“For those in power, in all parts of the world including my own, who may be confronting the decisions about which road to take at this critical juncture: I ask you, on behalf of billions of people around the world… to see for yourselves. Do your own due diligence, before making irrevocable choices.”

As we’ve said it countless times in the past and as we’ll no doubt say again and again, the science is in. Hopefully, politics will listen.