John Kerry’s Antarctica Visit Highlights a Continent, and Climate Policies, Under Threat

Date: 20th November 2016

Source: The New York Times
Author: Justin Gillis

SCOTT BASE, Antarctica — A group of hikers in red parkas approached a half-dozen seals resting on floating sea ice. The leader of the entourage — Secretary of State John Kerry — raised his arms and ordered everyone to halt.

As an ethereal silence descended, Mr. Kerry cocked his head in the stillness of one of the world’s last truly wild places.

In that moment, the frozen landscape seemed timeless, but it is actually in grave peril, as Mr. Kerry had been told by scientists only minutes before. The ice across large parts of West Antarctica may be starting to disintegrate because of global warming, and if it goes, the world’s coastal cities face destruction, too.

The presence of Mr. Kerry, the highest-ranking United States government official ever to visit Antarctica, lifted the morale of scientists working to understand the icebound continent. Yet the visit, at the end of last week, was shadowed by anxiety.

In his nearly four years as secretary of state, Mr. Kerry has hurled himself into conservation issues, making them a central focus of American diplomacy and winning a string of ambitious deals to limit global warming and protect the oceans.

But with last week’s election results, the prospect looms that Donald J. Trump will rip up the Obama administration’s work — and throw global efforts against climate change into confusion.

Mr. Kerry and the aides traveling with him to Antarctica, many of them young liberal Democrats, were not expecting Mr. Trump to win. The trip began a day before the election, and Mr. Kerry had confidently predicted a Hillary Clinton victory.

He was flying over the South Pacific toward New Zealand the next day when the results began to come in. His aides rushed around the plane, shocked at some of the states Mrs. Clinton was losing.

The results were not definitive until he was in his hotel room that night in Christchurch. In an interview the next evening, and in a series of chats on the trip, Mr. Kerry trod carefully, declining to offer any direct criticism of Mr. Trump.

He and his aides plan to welcome the Trump appointees who will soon run the State Department, hoping to build relationships with them and, possibly, persuade them to keep some of Mr. Kerry’s diplomatic deals.

But Mr. Kerry also made clear that when he leaves office Jan. 20, he will rejoin the political struggle over climate change, speaking publicly on the issue and perhaps campaigning against members of Congress who dispute the validity of climate science.

“I’m ready to continue to fight,” Mr. Kerry said. “We’ve made too much progress.”

On Wednesday, in Marrakesh, Morocco, Mr. Kerry is expected to urge delegates at a United Nations climate conference to redouble their efforts to limit emissions.

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Cover photo by Mark Ralston/ Agence France-Presse 

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