The election of Republican businessman Donald Trump as the next U.S. president is casting a cloud over the conference of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP22) and also will overshadow the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting later in the week.
"I know the American people support this overwhelmingly," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said of the Paris Agreement on climate change that President-elect Donald Trump during the campaign vowed to rip up. Kerry is to deliver a speech at COP22 in Morocco about the importance of mitigating climate change globally.
"The president-elect is going to have to make his decision," Kerry said during a brief joint interview with VOA and Reuters at Abu Dhabi airport before his departure for Marrakech. "What I will do is speak to the assembly about our efforts and what we're engaged in and why we're engaged in it, and our deep commitment as the American people to this effort."
Kerry this week flew to the Arabian peninsula after a sojourn in Antarctica meant to underscore the Obama administration's serious concern about environmental change.
COP22 was intended to be a celebration, including for Kerry, and a discussion about implementation following the conclusion of negotiations at earlier conferences.
What Kerry says in Marrakech will now be more closely parsed than it would have been if his like-minded predecessor, Hillary Clinton, had prevailed in the presidential election.
Shift to skepticism
There is anticipation that the new president will shift the U.S. government's official stance to skepticism about climate change, putting it at odds with other leading nations and jeopardizing the global pact that just entered into force on November 4.
"I hope he will really hear and understand the severity and urgency of addressing climate change," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday at COP22. "As president of the United States, I hope he understands this, listens and evaluates his campaign remarks."
Possible actions by the Trump administration include withdrawing under Article 28 of the Paris Agreement (which has been ratified by 110 member states), ignoring America's voluntary commitments under the pact and halting international funding for the reduction of greenhouse gases.
Following the climate conference, Kerry crosses the Atlantic to attend the annual ministerial meeting of the 21-member APEC forum in Lima, Peru.
There, too, the American statesman will confront anxious counterparts, especially those who signed on to the U.S.-led Trans Pacific Partnership. But Congress will not approve the TPP before the start of the next administration. Some critics have declared it doomed.
A so-called "lame duck" session of Congress — which occurs after an election but before members of a new administration or new Congress are sworn in — "always presents complications," Kerry said. "I think the TPP is going to be thoroughly and well debated. It deserves its full hearing before the United States Senate."
Trump strongly opposed the trade pact on the campaign trail, and Clinton also said she was against it.
President Barack Obama and his top envoy have been enthusiastic proponents.
"I think the business community overwhelmingly will see its passage as critical to their own prospects in the region, the fastest-growing region in the world," Kerry added.
Leaders of the 12 TPP nations are to meet on the APEC sidelines to ponder their next move in the wake of Trump's election.
Asked by VOA what he would tell them, Kerry responded that he would ask his counterpart TPP ministers to "stay at it, we're not finished at all," because in the United States, those "who support this are not suddenly going to vanish because there's a momentary lull in terms of a lame-duck session of Congress."
The trade agreement enters into force only after it has been ratified by six countries, but the list must include Japan and the United States.
A failure at this juncture by the United States to ratify TPP would clear the way for a bolder push by China for regional trade pacts that it leads.
"If China has a good idea, we should look at China's good idea and see whether or not it makes sense for us, too," said Kerry, an acknowledgment that at least for now, the Americans on this particular bumpy road might have to hand the steering wheel to the Chinese.