Marrakech talks end, rest of world vows to press ahead

Shadow of Trump’s election hangs over Marrakech

Climate negotiators wrapped up the Marrakech summit last weekend with few formal accomplishments, but reaffirmed their determination to enact the Paris accord despite the about-face in US climate policy expected under Donald Trump. Climate finance for poorer countries proved a sticking point once again, although 47 vulnerable countries vowed to transition to 100 percent clean energy “as rapidly as possible.” US Secretary of State John Kerry gave his climate diplomacy swan song, asserting that the momentum of clean energy is unstoppable, even as the US will likely cede its climate action leadership role to other countries under a Trump administration. Although some delegates used the summit to float the possibility of carbon tariffs to level the playing field between nations that control carbon pollution and those that don’t, Germany and the European Commission rejected the notion, and economists promoted “carbon clubs”—groups of countries with coordinated climate policies, backed with trade incentives.

Businesses stand behind clean energy’s benefits

Even as Donald Trump’s election cast a pall of uncertainty over the UN climate talks, 365 businesses called on him to stand by the Paris agreement, citing clean energy’s benefits for competitiveness and job creation. Signatories included such global giants as Ikea, Unilever, Intel, DuPont, and Starbucks. The letter was released as a new UN Development Program report estimated a $12 trillion boost to the world economy if global warming can be held to 1.5˚C. US businesses continue to invest in new clean energy facilities: Amazon announced a 120-megawatt solar deal in Virginia; General Motors bought 50 MW of Texas wind; and Microsoft announced its biggest wind purchase, 237 MW for a Wyoming data center. Regardless of Trump’s election, the pressures driving businesses toward sustainability are likely to persist, writes one observer.

Police step up attacks at Standing Rock

Law enforcement officers escalated their attacks on native people and their supporters who are attempting to halt an oil pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota, spraying them with water cannons in the sub-freezing temperatures. The Morton County sheriff’s office also turned tear gas, rubber bullets, and percussion grenades on activists, injuring nearly 200 demonstrators and sending seven to the hospital. The Dakota Access Pipeline isn’t the only one attracting opposition: the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain project in British Columbia would bring 575,000 barrels of oil daily to a terminal near Vancouver, leading to a sevenfold increase in tanker traffic in the waters between Washington and BC.

An octopus in the parking garage... the canary in the coal mine of climate change, the Miami Herald said last week, as king tides pushed sea water into unaccustomed places along the eastern seaboard, aided by the Moon’s close approach to the Earth. In one case, the rising waters enticed a cephalopod out of the drainage pipes and into the parking garage of a Miami Beach apartment complex. At the North Pole, an irregularity in the jet stream has pumped warm air into the area, boosting temperatures 36˚F above normal and slowing the formation of the winter ice pack, now at its lowest level ever recorded for this date. Meanwhile, Siberia shivers in temperatures far below normal for this time of year, and Antarctic sea ice also remains well below average.

Trump’s climate impact getting clearer

Donald Trump’s early appointments augur poorly for the environment, as he nominated Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney-general, putting a climate skeptic in charge of enforcing federal environmental law. More details emerged about Myron Ebell, who is heading the EPA transition team—a veteran of the “wise use” movement, who worked to undermine President George W. Bush’s moderate EPA chief Christine Whitman and sow doubt about climate science. These climate views are common among people mentioned for positions in a Trump administration. Meanwhile, clean energy advocates comforted themselves with the thought that declining prices for wind and solar power and entrenched policies would support continued growth for their industry, shielding it from any executive actions Trump could take. One analysis pegged the additional US emissions from a single Trump term at 4 to 6 gigatons of CO2, out of the 220 gigatons that remain in the carbon budget for a 1.5˚C world. 

Before I say goodbye: parting shots from Obama

Racing to secure the president’s environmental legacy, the Obama Administration last week announced a five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program that bans new drilling in the Arctic, allowing it only in the Gulf of Mexico and southern Alaska’s Cook Inlet. Because federal law mandates that offshore leasing occur through five-year programs which take two to three years to develop, the announcement makes it difficult for the incoming Trump Administration to shift course quickly—as does oil’s persistently low price on the world market. The Interior Department also bought back drilling leases in Montana that had been issued during the Reagan years on land sacred to the Blackfeet Tribe. In global climate finance, the Department of Energy announced $125 million in new funding to clean energy projects in India, Africa, and El Salvador.

The road that might not be taken

The US has a pathway to reduce its climate pollution 80 percent by 2050, according to an 111-page report released last week by the Obama administration. The “deep decarbonization” strategy lays out a plan for increasing energy efficiency, shifting to carbon-free electricity, sequestering carbon in soils and forests, and cutting greenhouse gases besides CO2 that will lack federal backing during a Trump presidency. Germany published a similar plan last week as well, envisioning an entirely climate-neutral economy by 2050. In other moves toward decarbonization, Canada unveiled plans to shutter its coal-fired power plants by 2030, and the California Democratic Party announced it will no longer accept campaign donations from Big Oil.


Image: NW Native leaders at Standing Rock in September. Photo by Paul Anderson.

Seth Zuckerman's picture

Editor, ClimateCast

, Climate Solutions

For over 20 years, Seth has covered issues of natural resources and the environment as a freelance journalist for numerous publications, including The Nation, Sierra, Orion, Newsweek, and the Christian Science Monitor.  He is the co-editor and co-author of Salmon Nation: People, Fish, and Our Common Home (Ecotrust, 1999) and author of Saving Our Ancient Forests (Living Planet Press, 1991). He taught environmental journalism for two semesters at Brown University and directed the forestry programs of northern California’s Mattole Restoration Council from 2006 to 2011. Seth’s work with Climate Solutions marks a return to his academic roots: he holds an A.B. from Stanford in Energy Studies (1983), and an M.S. from UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group (1990).