The United Nations' 23rd Conference of Parties (COP) on Climate Change is underway in Bonn, Germany, where global leaders and activists have gathered to discuss policy to combat the effects of anthropogenic global warming.
The nearly two-week conference began on Nov. 6, and already made headlines when Syria announced it was signing the Paris Agreement, a treaty established two years ago at COP 21 that is the most recent international effort to curb global warming at two degrees Celsius.
After Nicaragua's move to sign last month, this leaves the United States as the only country in opposition to the Paris Agreement.
Though the United States is still technically a member of the treaty, President Trump indicated in a speech at the White House earlier this year he would be pulling the United States out. Due to the nature of the treaty, this will not take effect until after the next presidential election in 2020.
Trump's decision was met with applause from his base, including Senator Rand Paul, who commended President Trump for a move he thinks will save Americans jobs. But the move was largely an unpopular one, facing widespread condemnation from other Republicans, environmentalists, business leaders, and foreign countries.
The actions of the Trump administration add another layer to what is already a full slate of issues for the conference.
"What was once a 'technical conference' has been shifted into a potentially very political one due to the Trump administration's decision to disengage from the treaty," said Dr. Shannon Gibson, an Assistant Professor of Teaching in the USC International Relations department and political activist, who will be attending the second week of the talks as an accredited observer.
"Much of the world waits to see how the U.S. engages once in Bonn," Gibson said. "But the Trump decision really doesn't seem to be doing much to affect, much less derail the talks. If anything, countries have doubled down on the agreement and international and even domestic support has increased."
Since Trump won the presidency, world leaders have established new commitments to global climate governance. For example, a group led by California Governor Jerry Brown created the Under2 Coalition in May 2017. Members of the coalition agree to dramatically reduce their emissions by the middle of the century, and as of September, the group covers 39 percent of the world's economy.
With 2017 set to be one of the three warmest years on record, the focus in Bonn is on strengthening the Paris Agreement. The treaty is a non-binding agreement, meaning there is no method of punishing countries that do not comply. Instead, countries agree to set their own targets for pollution reduction, which they periodically review and strengthen.
Improving this mechanism is especially important, according to Gibson. Current pledges under the Paris Agreement would fail to cap global warming at two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, thereby missing a major goal of the Agreement.
But this is far from the only objective of the conference. A major theme in global environmental negotiations is the divide between the "Global North" and "Global South." Developed countries in the Global North tend to be wealthy and industrialized, while developing countries in the Global South historically have less industrialization and money, and are more significantly impacted by climate change. This disparity in power and interests is largely the reason why Nicaragua initially refused to sign the Paris Agreement.
As a scholar-activist, Dr. Gibson's time in Bonn will be split between studying the influence of non-governmental organizations on the negotiations and advocating for what she believes in.
"On the one hand I am researching the effect of groups demanding climate justice, and representatives of the Global South and indigenous populations," Gibson said. "But as a like-minded environmentalist, I am also there to support their movement by providing treaty and negotiation analysis and updates to NGOs to assist in their messaging and mobilizations."
With the conference still in its early stages, much is left to be revealed, including the policy objectives of the Trump administration. The conference ends on Nov. 17.