Countries around the world were quick to condemn Donald Trump when he announced his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. Unsurprisingly, small countries with glaciers, with their direct experience of climate change, have joined this round of condemnation. However, the details varied from country to country. And relatively few voices in these countries have emphasized the connection between their own experience of climate change and their opposition to Trump’s action.
The strongest reaction came from Peru, where the national government issued an official declaration on June 1, within hours of Trump’s announcement. It stated “The Government of Peru receives with concern and disappointment the announcement made by the Government of the United States of America to denounce the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.” The declaration underscored the actions of Peru in hosting a major international climate meeting that led up to the Paris Agreement, and in being the first country in Latin America to ratify it.
Newspapers in Peru also expressed their condemnation. A center-left newspaper, La República, stated on June 2 that Trump “has turned his back on the world.” The more conservative El Comercio emphasized that the U.S. was isolating itself from the other nations of the world.
Jesús Gómez López, the director of Peru’s Huascarán National Park, where the majority of the country’s glaciers are located, told GlacierHub, “This decision of the Trump administration is regrettable. It is a great concern that it works against progress that has been made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” He mentioned his particular concern about the rapid loss of glaciers in tropical areas.
Chile, another South American country with large glaciers, also issued an official response. On June 1, the Foreign Minister issued a statement indicating the country’s “great concern and deep disappointment.” It emphasized Chile’s vulnerability, citing floods and forest fires, and reiterated the country’s commitment to reducing its emissions of greenhouse gasses. Greenpeace Chile spoke against Trump’s decision and used the occasion to launch a petition to oppose oil exploration. The country director of Greenpeace, Matías Asun, called for a national law to protect glaciers.
European nations also responded strongly to Trump’s action. In Iceland, the European country where glaciers occupy the largest proportion of the national territory, the Minister of the Environment, Björt Ólafsdóttir, expressed her disappointment with Trump’s decision on June 1. She also recognized that some states, like California, were taking independent action in alignment with the Paris Agreement.
Dagur B. Eggertsson, the mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital and largest city, offered a visible response. He announced on June 2 that the city would shine green light on Harpa–its music hall and conference center, and an iconic symbol of contemporary Iceland–as a sign of commitment to the Paris Agreement.
Several Norwegians expressed their concern to GlacierHub. Marianne Lien, an anthropologist at the University of Oslo, wrote “Trump news is no longer even funny or interesting. His withdrawal from the Paris agreement is just another move in a series of events that makes the US more and more marginal in world politics, and especially regarding global climate policy. This opens up a space for others to take a lead, such as the EU and China. Perhaps Trumps withdrawal is a wake-up call to some, and could inadvertently raise even more awareness about the politics of climate change.”
Rasmus Bertelsen, the Barents Chair in Politics at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø, linked Norway and Iceland with Sweden, Denmark and Finland. He stated “President Trump’s speech withdrawing from the Paris Agreement marks a watershed in post-World War II international politics. The five Nordic countries have benefitted strongly from American international leadership after WW II, so an American political elite that chooses to sacrifice this leadership for domestic profit is a major challenge. They must seek new partners. Germany is becoming the immediate security partner, and China a distant trade and climate partner.”
There were also a number of responses in Switzerland. The center-right newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung spoke against the US withdrawal, calling Trump’s action “a dangerous, nationalist-colored policy.” A demonstration, led by Greenpeace, took place on June 2 outside the US Embassy in the Swiss capital of Bern. Signs in English proclaimed Trump as a “Fossil Fuel Puppet,” while signs in German called for “Climate Protection Now!”
During discussions of climate policy in the Swiss Senate, several members referred to Trump’s decision as a mistake. A representative from the Canton of Valais, a member of the centrist Christian Democratic Party, stated that climate change “can be directly observed in the mountains” through glacier retreat, showing the urgency of action on climate issues. Only a few members, from the right-wing SVP (Swiss People’s Party) spoke in support of the US withdrawal, calling it an “act of reason.”
Among glacier countries in Asia, reaction was particularly strong in Nepal, with an editorial sharply critical of Trump’s action in a leading newspaper, the Nepali Times, on June 2.
On June 5, Nepali youth from two organizations which represent the mountain regions of the country, the Himalayan Climate Initiative and the Climate Alliance of Himalayan Communities, brought a letter to the US Embassy, expressing their concern about “climate injustice” and indicating that Trump’s move would harm Nepal, especially “the people of mountain region with limited capacity to adapt” The deputy political and economic chief of the embassy Stephanie Reed acknowledged the letter and promised to send it on to her superiors. A coalition of mountain NGOs, the Nepalese Civil Society Mountain Initiative, delivered a second letter to the Embassy on June 12. It stated “leaving Paris Climate Agreement is a direct attack and threat to the poor and vulnerable communities of mountains.” Reed also received this and assured the delegates that she would deliver it to senior officials.
Tsechu Dolma, a senior staff member of the Mountain Resiliency Project, an NGO in Nepal, told GlacierHub “President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and the loss of American leadership could lead to tragedies worldwide, especially for climate vulnerable mountain and island nations. We are already feeling the adverse impacts of climate change with glacier lake floods. The Paris agreement would provide Least Developed Countries like Nepal international financing for adaptation. Our survival depends on it.”
By contrast, there was little response in Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. The independent journalist Ryskeldi Satke wrote to GlacierHub that Trump’s action “will certainly have a negative impact on the Central Asian states and in particular, the weakest ones, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, with low levels of adaptive capacity.” Referring to the mountain chains in these countries, he added, “We are already witnessing unusual weather patterns in Tian Shan and Pamirs.” However, he noted that in these two countries, where concerns about poverty, corruption and regional geopolitics dominate the news, the “press reaction to Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement was literally zero. People seem live in a different dimension when it comes to climate change.”
A visit by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to New Zealand on June 6 led to a number of reactions. There were several demonstrations against him. The Guardian reported that Tillerson received a “frosty welcome…complete with middle finger salutes.” Though an internet search did not turn up any photographs of these salutes, there were a number of images of demonstrations and protests.
The official welcome also brought a kind of confrontation. Tillerson was received with a pōwhiri, a Maori ritual ceremony of encounter. It includes a wero, or confrontation by a warrior, which serves to establish whether a visitor is a friend or an enemy. Only after the status of friend has been established do the hosts offer a welcome, with a series of dances, speeches, songs and gift-giving. A photo of the wero confrontation circulated widely in New Zealand.
One Wellington resident, who preferred to remain unnamed, wrote to GlacierHub:
“New Zealand supports the Paris Agreement and the global effort to respond to climate change. Every country needs to play its part. The US and New Zealand have a long history and the relationship has had its rough patches. We may not always agree but there are many values that New Zealanders and Americans have in common. The number of US states and businesses that have said they’re committed to the Paris Agreement’s goals illustrates this.”
In sum, most glacier countries have opposed Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement. However, they make relatively few references to glaciers directly. This pattern is a contrast with the small island states. Like the glacier countries, they have been strongly affected by climate change and have spoken in opposition to Trump’s action. The Alliance of Small Island States issued a declaration against it on June 1.
However, the small island countries directly reference sea level rise as a reason for their opposition. The Seychelles ambassador to the UN stated on June 3 that islands could “literally disappear off the face of the earth” On June 4, the former president of the Maldives described Trump’s action as a “death sentence” for his nation.
As climate politics continues to unfold, glacier countries may travel down the path that the small island states have taken by forming an association or council, or at least by recognizing their commonalities. The few references to glaciers this month may be an early sign of such awareness. Another opportunity to build connections is arising as well. In next two years, glacier countries and island countries will both be discussed in the meetings for a Special Report on Oceans and the Cryosphere that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is preparing. New forms of climate politics may well take shape as the Paris Agreement advances.