David G. Victor speaks on December 9, 2019 at COP 25 in Madrid, Spain, on the launch of a new report, “Accelerating the Low Carbon Transition: The case for strong, more targeted and coordinated international action.”
While appealing to President Trump’s penchant for drama and a year-long Republican drumbeat, designating Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) as terrorist groups will not bring any benefits or tools to U.S. policy. The designation of DTOs under the U.S. Kingpin Act already provides the United States with the same and complete tool box—including wiretapping, steep penalties, financial intelligence, asset seizures and money laundering charges—against any individuals associated with the groups. The United States can already deny visas to individuals collaborating with DTOs and can cut off their access to the U.S. financial system. Designating them terrorist organizations will counterproductively constrict and limit U.S. policy options. It would mandate that U.S. officials and other entities operating in Mexico guarantee that none of their money and resources reach terrorist groups. So, if the designation goes through, the United States may, for example, be self-deterred from delivering alternative livelihood programs in Guerrero if a terrorist-designated DTO could usurp some of the money. In Colombia, even after the peace deal, the United States cannot provide any assistance to any program in which ex-FARC members participate. In Nigeria, the United States needs to go through extraordinary legal contrivances to deliver assistance to a program for low-level Boko Haram defectors, even children who have been dragged into Boko Haram slavery. Worse yet, the United States can impose severe sanctions against countries and NGOs that deliver aid that could trickle to a terrorist group. This threat gravely increased the deaths of Somalis during the 2011 famine as international NGOs were scared off. In fact, U.S. and international sanctions against material support to terrorist groups have criminalized humanitarian aid. The Obama administration contemplated designating the Zetas as a terrorist group and wisely backed away from doing so. President Trump’s policy guideline does the opposite of what President Obama intended. Hopefully, U.S. professional foreign service officers and civil servants will manage to persuade Trump to refrain from applying the designation despite his inclinations.
[On US sub-national climate action] The effort at the subnational level absolutely cannot make up for what happens at the national level. On the other hand... there's 25 states trying to take strong action. If you did not have progressive governors trying to do good things in those states, the emissions of the US as a national entity would be higher.
[On COP 25, the UN climate negotiations in Madrid, Spain] The US, whether it was (former US president George W) Bush or Obama, or even during this period of the Trump administration, was obviously not a supporter of the kind of hard bifurcation of the old-fashioned firewall that was embodied by the Kyoto agreement (signed in 1997). We were not going to agree to look to anything which said, here's a set of legally binding obligations for developed countries, but nothing for developing countries. That was Kyoto... The negotiators could show up to negotiations during the Trump administration and still be free to continue to advance that type of position.
[On the future of the Paris Agreement and the effects of US withdrawal] The damage is that you just inevitably have countries who are not going to do as much as they could do, and who are going to have the feeling that, why should we go all out if the US isn't doing anything?... If Trump is re-elected I think that will continue. And to some extent, the distress will internationally increase in a more than linear way.
[On the Paris Agreement and climate action] It is going to sour for sure, if China doesn’t move in the right direction, quickly enough. We can’t possibly do what we need to do, unless China is doing quite a bit.
[On climate change] We are sort of entering a new world now . . . It is not just a sense of urgency, it is the math. Do the math, and you will see whether we are doing enough. The Paris agreement is going to rise and fall, on the level of political will in constituent countries. That has always been true. The fault is that there is a lack of political will in virtually every country, compared to what there needs to be.