Photo: Indigenous environmental activists at COP21 in Paris in December 2015. - Photo: 2016

After U.S. Elections, Environmentalists Vow to Keep Fighting

By A.D. McKenzie

PARIS (IDN) – As news of Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential elections spread around the world, some of the first reactions came from organisations working to combat climate change: they vowed to fight any attempts to block environmental action or the Paris Agreement.

The date of the elections, November 8, coincided with the second day of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 22) in Marrakech, Morocco, and a range of groups quickly made their positions clear.

“President-elect Donald Trump threatens our environment and we vow to fight him every step of the way,” stated Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth U.S.

“Like Sen. Bernie Sanders, Trump tapped into a deep resentment about the governing establishment of both the Democratic and Republican Parties. He spoke using fear, suspicion, racism and hate to people who felt the government had left them behind,” Pica added.

Friends of the Earth U.S. said that the “political establishment has ignored the fight for justice and the environment”. The group said it rejected the “politics of fear utilised by Trump”, while recognising that the “fundamental issues of equality, race and class that divide the United States” needed to be addressed.

“Some things have not changed: we are a nation divided and half of this country is determined to continue the progressive fights it started,” said Pica. “The People’s Revolution, the Standing Rock Sioux, the Movement for Black Lives and Keep it in the Ground activists will not go gentle into the night. We will fight to protect our land, air, water and the people who depend on them for survival.”

Trump and many of his supporters are climate-change sceptics or deniers. The President-elect has said that he intends to cut federal spending on clean energy and to discard the regulations that the Barack Obama government has implemented to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He has also called global warming a hoax.

In the face of such a stance, environmental coalitions such as Climate Action Network (CAN) have said they will mobilise to protect the Paris Agreement, which came into force on November 4. The main aim of that agreement is to keep a global average temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

“The climate movement is a people’s movement. 103 countries have ratified the Paris Agreement, testimony to the power of people to push their governments to act on climate change,” CAN said from Marrakech.

“Climate Action Network is determined to build on and carry forward on this momentum despite uncertainties and political shocks that threaten to derail our focus, to defend the millions of people already impacted by the devastating consequences of climate change and to leave behind a safer, cleaner and more secure world for future generations,” it continued.

CAN (which describes itself as a “global network of over 1,100 NGOs in more than 120 countries working to promote government and individual action to limit human-induced climate change to ecologically sustainable levels”) said that its movement “goes beyond governments to represent a broad and diverse coalition” of cities, businesses, local communities and individuals”.

The coalition stated: “No one government or individual, however powerful, can deny the transformational change that is unfolding before us and the growing scientific evidence that we need to act urgently to move away from destructive fossil fuels and embrace a 100 percent renewable energy future.”

“President-elect Trump must recognise the moral, economic and social imperative to lead and act on climate change and carry forward the commitments made by the United States under the Paris Agreement,” CAN said.

In a linked statement, Mohamed Adow, senior climate advisor for the UK charity Christian Aid, stressed that while the United States would suffer from any obstruction of the efforts to combat climate change, such action would also risk the “lives of millions of the world’s poorest people who have done nothing to cause the problem yet are the most vulnerable to its effects”.

Meanwhile, May Boeve, executive director of the environmental organisation, said that “Trump’s election is a disaster”, but she warned that “it cannot be the end” of the international climate process.

“We’re not giving up the fight and neither should the international community,” Boeve stated. “Trump will try and slam the brakes on climate action, which means we need to throw all of our weight on the accelerator. In the United States, the climate movement will put everything on the line to protect the progress we’ve made and continue to push for bold action.”

Boeve said that American environmentalists needed the rest of the world to charge ahead and look beyond the White House to partner with civil society, businesses and local governments, which are still committed to climate action.

“Our work becomes much harder now, but it’s not impossible, and we refuse to give up hope,” she added.

Some NGOs have themselves faced criticism related to their work and fund-raising, and critics have questioned the value of a seemingly never-ending series of climate summits. But environmental activists say that pressure on policy-makers needs to be maintained to achieve results.

Even before the elections, the United Nations and NGOs had expressed their concerns that the road to turning the Paris Agreement into action would be long and difficult. At her opening address at COP22, Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said that while the early entry into force of the Paris Agreement was a cause for celebration, achieving the aims and ambitions were “not a given”.

“We have embarked on an effort to change the course of two centuries of carbon-intense development. The peaking of global emissions is urgent, as is attaining far more climate-resilient societies,” Espinosa said.

According to the United Nations, the “timetable is pressing because, globally, greenhouse gas emissions which drive climate change and its impacts are not yet falling”.

The incoming Trump administration could conceivably opt out of the Agreement because Republicans will control the U.S. Senate as well as the House of Representatives. But Michael Brune, executive director of the U.S.-based Sierra Club, was blunt about the choices facing the President-elect.

“Trump must choose whether he will be a President remembered for putting America and the world on a path to climate disaster, or for listening to the American public and keeping us on a path to climate progress,” Brune said.

“Trump better choose wisely, otherwise we can guarantee him the hardest fight of his life every step of the way.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 10 November 2016]

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

Photo: Indigenous environmental activists at COP21 in Paris in December 2015.

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