US President-Elect Donald Trump has made his views on climate change quite clear, so his recent election sent shock waves across the pavilions at the COP22 climate conference that just wrapped up in Marrakesh. Trump’s comments – that climate change is a concept created by China – led China’s Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin to issue a public statement setting the record straight. For the international community, which has devoted such an incredible amount of time and effort into getting a global agreement in Paris last year, Trump’s success felt like a tough test of resolve and of political leadership at such an early stage of implementation.

However, quite surprisingly, there was no defeatism; on the contrary, it generated a higher sense of purpose. Perhaps it might have been just what was needed to solidify collaboration, fuel continued determination and spark new appetite for leadership. Events that unfolded in the first weeks following the US election certainly suggest this is the case.

By the end of COP22, 111 countries had ratified the Paris Agreement and the number continues to rise; 47 of the world’s most vulnerable countries made a commitment to 100% renewable energy; and four countries – the US, Mexico, Canada and Germany – presented their plans to decarbonize their economies by 2050, a partnership that 15 cities and nearly 200 businesses have indicated they will join.

It seems quite clear that government leaders across the globe are more informed about the devastation that climate change could create for their people and their economies. The need for global collaboration to ensure the most dangerous outcomes of global warming can be avoided helped spur the Marrakech Action Proclamation on climate change and sustainable development, providing a clear call by 196 countries to stand by the Paris Agreement and to implement it. Perhaps these actions played a role in Donald Trump’s latest comments on climate change, in which he promised to keep an “open mind” on the topic?

Just as national governments were quick to show their continued support for the Paris Agreement, states, cities, companies and civil society – often referred to as “non-state actors” – demonstrated that they have no intention of backing away from the win-win opportunities provided by enhanced climate action. The Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action, introduced at COP22 by the high-level climate champions, provides a more structured platform for these players in the years to come to do just that.

Environmentalists hold a banner which reads, crank up action
Environmentalists campaign in Paris.
Image: REUTERS/Mal Langsdon

There is already evidence of the critical role non-state actors have to play. During COP22, 350 US corporations raised their voice in support of continued climate action because “it’s good for business”; the Under2 MoU grew to 165 members; and 42 countries joined the NDC partnership to facilitate the implementation of their national decarbonization plans. The message is clear – all these actors are determined to stay on track with decarbonizing their economies.

The renewed passion of those who already have a clear vision of a cleaner, brighter and more equitable future was palpable in Morocco. But another potentially unintended consequence of Trump’s win has been the increased visibility of the pragmatic fact base – that even taking climate change out of the equation, there are plenty of other reasons that switching to a clean economy makes sense. It creates jobs, it is better for people’s health, and it’s good for the economy. Early decisions to put a climate sceptic in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency and to scrap NASA research into climatic changes may have people talking, but as the momentum of action from businesses, states and cities continues to accelerate, it’s clear that most people are more committed than ever before to tackle this global challenge.