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Opinion: Hope for climate action, tempered by fear for the future

Although the unprecedented fast-track ratification of the Paris Agreement is a reflection of global society's concern over climate change, it seems effective implementation might hinge on a rather unhinged politician.

Even though I had heard rumblings in the international environmental community that the climate agreement - negotiated in suspense not even one year ago in Paris - could come into force in 2016, I hardly dared believe them.

After all, the Kyoto Protocol took a full eight years to come into effect. And a few short months ago, the word on the street was that the new climate treaty would most likely come into effect in 2017.

Well, obviously times have changed. With more than 74 parties to the treaty having ratified, covering just under 59 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the Paris Agreement will come into effect in 30 days, on November 4.

That is not a day too soon.

Getting hotter

This year's very warm September will likely continue an unprecedented streak, which in August marked 16 consecutive months of record-breaking global heat.

So as the planet warms, action to try and stave off climate change also appears to be heating up.

This is a clear reflection of increasing concern in the international community over climate change and its effects. Rising sea levels, superstorms and heat waves - to name a few of the effects being felt now - are helping to convince the world that something needs to be done.

A recent report indicating that global warming will cross the 2-degree Celsius (3.6-degree Fahrenheit) threshold unless nations double their greenhouse gas reductions marks another note in the song scientists have sung for some time now.

Data on global warming and its impacts have convinced me, along with countless other citizens and governments, of the urgent need for action.

Yet there is a man poised to become president of the United States who has vowed to dismantle the pact. And it's no coincidence that the treaty will come into force just a few days before the vote that might put that man into office.

A threat to the Earth

Donald Trump. The climate skeptic, the free marketeer, the orange man with the small hands. Hands that may hold the future of the planet.

Trump has called climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, and has vowed - if elected - to scuttle the Paris Agreement.

Donald Trump at US presidential debate (Getty Images/AFP/W. McNamee)

A closer look shows Trump's stance on climate change is not completely clear

But if you look at the record, Trump has in fact waffled on the climate change issue. Most recently - during the first presidential debate - he denied calling it a hoax (his press office later reversed this statement).

And Donald Trump is a pragmatic man (business acumen aside): At Trump International Golf Links Ireland, the Trump Organization is seeking to build a sea wall, citing rising sea levels and climate change.

I share the belief of many observers: Aside from his personal views on the issue, Trump is denying climate change in efforts to appeal to voters.

Divisive issue

US opinion is incredibly polarized when it comes to the topic. A recent Pew survey found that American perceptions of scientific consensus, climate scientists and their role in policy are split almost straight down party lines.

I recently read that Republicans in Congress rejected recommendations of a Navy task force to plan for sea level rise at US bases. Are they crazy?! It's the US military! Isn't national security in the bedrock of the Republican platform? This just shows the depth of that polarization.

Sonya Angelica Diehn Environment Team Leader Teamchefin Umwelt (DW/M. Müller)

DW's Environment Team Leader Sonya Angelica Diehn grew up in the United States

So who can blame Trump for saying things that reflect the views of his party, and broad public opinion, and that would help him win?

Yet the pressing, divisive topic of climate change is barely on the agenda in the current elections. Aside from Hillary Clinton having brought up Trump's denial, and a few sparred words between vice-presidential candidates, the topic has not been debated.

So when you look at the bigger picture, it becomes clear that the American public - and US media - would really be the ones to blame for scuttling the climate agreement. Because without efforts from the world's second-largest global emitter, the Paris Agreement would be virtually meaningless.

Luckily, even if Trump were elected and acted to pull US ratification of the climate agreement, this wouldn't go through until the end of his term, and by then another wind could be blowing. But the world needs those four years of climate action - also to implement Obama's Clean Power Plan, currently tied up in court.

More Americans need to wake up and join the rest of the world on climate action. They need to vote - casting it for climate protection, please. Because ultimately, the future of the planet is in their hands.

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