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Don't Back Trump Into A Corner Over Climate Change

11/12/2016 21:57 GMT | Updated 12/12/2017 10:12 GMT
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You can imagine the mood that descended on the international climate conference in Marrakech last month when news emerged that Trump would be the next occupant of the Oval Office.

On the morning of 9 November, the usually unflappable US delegation arrived at the conference site with visible tear tracks staining their cheeks. Negotiators wandered aimlessly between meeting rooms, fearing the entire intergovernmental process they had engaged in for decades had become redundant overnight. It was an atmosphere that reeked of defeat and resignation.

And yet, by the second week, a kind of buoyancy had returned to the conference attendees. It was like the fire in their eyes had suddenly been relit and everyone felt comfortable, once again, to talk about action and ambition.

On the penultimate day of the conference, John Kerry convened a last-minute press conference where he reaffirmed the US's commitment to the Paris Agreement and even promised to 'double' efforts to meet that commitment.

As I listened to the rapt applause that marked the conclusion of Kerry's speech, I couldn't help but notice that it expressed the somewhat contrived relief and vindication of all those in the room. People obviously needed to hear that their efforts had not been in vain; but aside from offering group therapy for the environmental movement, what use were the words of the outgoing Democratic Secretary of State?

I watched people leave that press event with a rekindled sense of purpose and, sure enough, a few hours later breakout meetings hatched all over the conference, exploring how to address climate change in a post-Trump world.

At the time, I worried that we might be in denial about the reality of the situation - 'denial' being a characteristic that, perhaps ironically, is more commonly applied to detractors of anthropogenic climate change. What if we had blinded ourselves to the implications of a Trump Presidency as a sort of self-coping mechanism for the blow we had suffered the previous week?

On the last weekend of my stint in Morocco, I managed to finally escape the negotiations and explore, not just the 'Red City' of Marrakech, but also the neighbouring Atlas Mountains. It was then that I was reminded of how vastly different societies - in this case, Arabic, Berber, and French - can coexist in relative harmony. As a result, I started to consider ways that a Trump administration could be positively engaged in our work and, before long, I found my earlier reservations and cynicism diminishing.

By the time I boarded a plane back to London, I had already become privy to countless strategies that sought to embed what can be described as climate-friendly policies into US domestic politics. Many of these well-intentioned strategies are now taking flight but the emphasis, so far, has been to dictate to the President Elect the importance of the US's continued involvement in the Paris Agreement and, more generally, its support for a low-carbon economy.

Such a tone, I feel, may be misjudged. In my experience, bullies react in one, universal way to being told what to do: they do exactly the opposite. By provoking Trump in this manner, we are in danger of proverbially 'backing him into a corner', which may give our cause less room for manoeuvre over the course of his four-year term.

I am not suggesting that we blinker ourselves to the prospect of Trump's regime - and, in particular, to the appointment Scott Pruitt as Head of the Environmental Protection Agency - but before the official inauguration, I believe we should hold our nerve.

It is not the time to wag fingers in a schoolmasterly fashion at Donald Trump. Instead, we should use this interregnum - ahead of Inauguration Day - to shore-up our own messaging, so that we are ready for Trump's government, whatever it brings.

Unlike the feelings that stalked me midway through the Marrakech negotiations, I now know there is still so much cause for hope when we consider climate action. I predict we'll need all hands on deck in these coming years - both those trying to work with Trump and those trying to work against Trump - to ensure our messaging survives.

Ultimately, we all need to push from all sides, but please let's not wilfully antagonise 'The Donald' before we know exactly what we're dealing with.