Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to ease the minds of those who are concerned the next U.S. president will gut the historic global accord to mitigate climate change.
“I can’t stand here and speculate about what policies our President-elect will pursue,” said Kerry, speaking at the COP22 U.N. climate conference. “In the time I’ve spent in public life, one of the things I’ve learned is that some issues look a bit different when you’re actually in office compared to when you’re on the campaign trail.”
Trump, on the campaign trail as the Republican nominee, spoke of ripping up the Paris Agreement on reducing greenhouse gasses. Shortly after his surprise victory Trump appointed climate change skeptic Myron Ebell to lead his Environmental Protection Agency transition team.
“Climate change shouldn’t be a partisan issue in the first place,” Kerry said and explained it is not such an issue for leaders at the Pentagon, the U.S. intelligence community, corporate executives and local politicians.
In the audience at Kerry’s speech were representatives of the U.N., officials of numerous countries, members of U.S. congressional committees, and environmentalists who spoke among themselves about the uncertainly of American leadership on environmental issues under a President Trump.
“I hope the president-elect will listen to [Kerry’s] advice," Greenpeace International executive director Jennifer Morgan told VOA.
Morgan said, “I have not felt fear” among the international community attending COP22 that the climate change mitigation goals in the Paris Agreement are jeopardized by the impending change of administration in Washington.
But Greenpeace and other environmental groups are applauding indications by China it is committed to the agreement.
“One of the country’s high level diplomats has assured us that climate actions will continue in China regardless of the U.S. political situation,” said Li Shuo, the climate policy advisor for Greenpeace China.
In response to reassuring comments made at the COP22 news conference by the Chinese delegation Li remarked, “Inside every crisis is an opportunity. China has seized this.”
Kerry, in his speech which received a standing ovation, said despite the international consensus there is still no guarantee that the critical goals set will be met, even holding temperature increases to two degrees warming, which many scientists say is a tipping point.
“And if we fall short, it will be the greatest instance in modern history of a generation in a time of crisis, abdicating responsibility for the future,” Kerry asserted. “And it won’t just be a policy failure; because of the nature of this challenge, it will be a moral failure, a betrayal of devastating consequence.”
Kerry, who has long championed action on climate change, spoke at the conference after an "awe-inspiring" trip to Antarctica, where he took a helicopter ride to view the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
COP22, attended by 25,000 delegates, was intended to be a celebration of sorts, with the focus on implementation after years of negotiation, in which the United States played a key leadership role.