For many watching the environmental space in South Africa, this was late night news that came with very little surprise. It had been a long day, filled with bitter anticipation of the disaster that was to come. And so it did. The US, one of the largest contributors of climate change, has now clearly chosen to abdicate its responsibility on climate change by withdrawing from the recently signed Paris Agreement.

As disappointing as the Trump Administration’s decision may be, in reality this decision cannot stop the momentum of climate action. Nearly 200 countries have signed the Paris Agreement since it came into effect on the 12th of December 2015 - an overwhelming show of support for climate action.

The African group of negotiators were instrumental in ensuring that the Paris Agreement was signed, largely because they are fully aware that Africa is on the frontline of climate change. The fact that Africa is one of the hardest hit by impacts of climate change was at the forefront of the negotiators’ minds. Like many other countries and regions in the world, the African negotiators compromised significantly in order to reach a universally applicable agreement.

Trump Administration’s decision is a unilateral and ill-advised. It has given the world a chance to stand against a nation that was long believed to be a leader. From the moment the USA hinted its imminent withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, many world leaders condemned the possibility and now have also spoken out against the actual decision. Trump’s decision today, although threatening, does present an opportunity for other global leaders to assume responsibility and leadership with regards to climate action.

South Africa needs to step up and send a strong and public message against the announcement made by the Trump Administration. Leaving the Paris Agreement cannot be without consequences and repercussions. South Africa can lead the way in ensuring that continued G20 action on climate and clean energy is defended.

As the worst drought in a generation has taught us in South Africa, climate change is a threat multiplier, and the people on the African continent are immensely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. We cannot afford to delay action on climate change, and this is the perfect time for the South African government to strengthen and reinforce our own climate commitments.

The EU and China have already come out strongly in support of the Paris Agreement without the US. The fact of the matter is that the Paris Agreement is the beginning and not the end destination. In the case of Africa, we are already living with the impacts of climate change so there is no turning back on climate action, for Africa it is in our own interest and responsibility to address the climate change question. As the biggest emitter on the African continent, South Africa has a particular responsibility to show climate leadership and action.

It is obvious that the momentum is socially, politically and technologically unstoppable. The world has come to terms with climate change and the world collectively without Trump will forge ahead. African countries should be on the forefront of the climate movement, which has a momentum that is unstoppable. Out of the chaos of the Trump Administration’s announcement, it is becoming crystal clear that the global community will forge ahead with a climate regime that protects the people and planet, leaving the USA in the dust.