The actions of Donald Trump’s administration could yet undo international progress made on climate change during the Obama presidency, outgoing secretary of state John Kerry has said.
On Thursday, Kerry delivered his final memo to president Barack Obama, outlining the achievements of eight years in office and delivering a warning that: “There is much more work to do, and the months and years ahead will be critical to the success of our efforts.”
Kerry said the US should build on the establishment of the Paris climate treaty by ensuring other countries remained committed to the deal and investing heavily in green technologies.
“The international community expects nothing less – and will react in a highly unfavorable manner if we abdicate our responsibility,” he said.
Kerry described the moment that he took over the US’ key diplomatic role as a pivotal time for climate change. The world, he said, was divided over whether climate change was truly a global threat.
“Meeting by meeting, phone call by phone call, the State Department’s top officials made sure climate change was addressed in virtually every bilateral relationship,” he said.
Eventually he said, high emissions countries such as India and China, once adversaries, became partners in international climate negotiations. This lead to a bilateral deal with China’s Xi Jinping and the signing of the Paris climate deal in 2015.
Since Paris, he noted further agreements on hydrofluorocarbons and aviation emissions that his state department had helped to broker.
In the days after the election of Trump in November, Kerry flew to the UN climate conference in Marrakech, Morocco and made an impassioned speech that contained a barely disguised plea to the incoming president to surround himself with the best advice.
But Trump, who has threatened to withdraw from the Paris deal, has nominated a coterie of climate sceptics and billionaires to the key government positions that will guide his administration’s climate policy. Kerry’s own replacement is the CEO of the largest public oil company on earth, Exxon Mobil’s Rex Tillerson.
Since the election, senior Obama administration officials have made bullish statements that the transition to a clean future is unstoppable. But in his valedictory memo, Kerry made it clear that success was far from guaranteed.
“If we can build on this course in the decades to come, there is at least a chance that our children and our grandchildren will look back at the last years of this Administration as the moment the world finally woke up to the threat, and they can take pride in America’s role in taking the global actions necessary to change the course of our planet’s history,” Kerry wrote.
“Climate change is no longer a niche issue to be addressed by experts far from the corridors of power. Today, thanks to President Obama’s leadership, it is a fixture on the international agenda and a top national security and foreign policy priority for the United States. There is much more work to do, and the months and years ahead will be critical to the success of our efforts. We can build on the foundation of Paris by helping ensure countries take action in a manner that supports their development and the US economy, and we can lead the world in developing and deploying the clean technologies that will create jobs and drive major investment over the coming decades. The international community expects nothing less – and will react in a highly unfavorable manner if we abdicate our responsibility. Thanks to the work of the last eight years, we have laid a strong foundation for overcoming the climate challenge and building a better future for our planet.”
Kerry is due to make a climate change speech at Boston’s MIT on Monday, according to the Boston Globe.