Making the voices of the most vulnerable countries to climate change heard, in particular African countries and island states was the aim of the so-called COP22 according to its President, Moroccan Minister for Foreign Affairs Salaheddine Mezouar. The 22nd meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Marrakech, 7 to 18 November, should have been the COP of Action, to further define the rules for the Paris Agreement’s implementation and lay out a viable plan for providing at least $100 billion by 2020 to developing countries to support climate action. Aware of the fact that it is urgent to act on climate issues linked to stability and security, the Parties were called to define a concrete plan.

The Paris Agreement came into force on the eve of the COP22 thanks to the ratification by the EU Parliament and 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55% of the total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession[1]. Up to now 113 countries have ratified the Agreement. It was signed in Paris by 197 countries with the aim of keeping a global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit its increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

COP22 was the chance to decide for a strong implementation

Barack Obama and the United States last year forged an alliance with China in order to put forth more ambitious climate policies, the first time since 1992 that a global agreement on climate change has been internationally accepted[2]. The alliance between the two biggest GHG emitters is one of the main reasons why the agreement was possible even if it is considered partially ineffective because not legally binding. Furthermore, a UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) Report[3] estimates we are actually on track for global warming of up to 3.4 degrees Celsius and that current commitments will reduce emissions by no more than a third of the levels required by 2030 to avert disaster.

So COP22 was the chance to decide for a strong implementation but soon became an opportunity to procrastinate. U.S. election that made Trump President elected threw the conference into chaos, serving as an alibi do decide as little as possible. The new President became famous during the electoral campaign for his climate change skeptic positions (he tweeted climate change is a hoax created by China in order to damage US economy). So, political uncertainty surrounding a Trump administration added confusion to a task that was already extraordinarily difficult. In fact, global warming is a problem that no single country can resolve on its own. This suggests a U.S. reversal of climate change policies could bring about a global knock-on effect, pushing the world toward nationalism and reduced international cooperation[4].


cop22-climate-change

A melting planet in an ice cream cone carried during a climate change march in Berlin, Germany. Photo: AFP


But Trump was just an alibi. The hard truth is that an agreement is far to be reached on Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to climate change and especially on the Green Climate Fund, the financial mechanism that should support developing countries with 100 billion dollars by 2020 for projects, programmes, policies and other activities in order to de-carbonize their economy. Donors, in fact, would like to verify how their donations will be spent and developing countries don’t see the reason for such a political interference. So, the only two political goals reached in Marrakech were about a general agreement to better clarify national commitments by 2018 and a declaration stating that no step behind will be possible on international climate change policies set by the Paris Agreement[5].

COP22 raised doubts more than resolving them

As said before, climate change has serious geostrategic consequences in several areas of the world and it is often combined with socioeconomic elements, such as agriculture or energy, in a relationship of mutual influence. Food security, for example, has become Africa’s greatest challenge (especially in Sub-Saharian region) after droughts and floods due to climate change[6]. Taking a closer look at the Mediterranean region we do not see a very different scenario. In the last decades, the scientific community[7] agreed to consider the Mediterranean basin one of the most vulnerable regions in the world due to the impacts of climate change interrelated consequences, its precarious socio-economic conditions, and its fragile political systems[8]. And we know how politically chaotic is the southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea since the Arab springs erupted. For example, a loss of agricultural productivity may accelerate the rural exodus posing serious problems in the major urban centres and in neighbourhood countries. Migrations are posing several threats to both EU and home countries. So climate change creates problems in at least three fields: agriculture, energy (looking for sustainable models of energy consumption) and governance because it needs coordinated Trans-Mediterranean energy and migration policies.

The EU Global Strategy in 2003 was able to highlight climate change as a threat multiplier, triggering conflicts between and within countries over the distribution of resources, management of migration[9]. For example, existing tensions over access to water are almost certain to intensify in this region. This will likely lead to further political instability with implications for Europe’s energy security and other interests. That’s why a global and regional commitment is necessary to win this challenge. COP22 raised doubts more than resolving them and the international community seemed to be too much frightened by political circumstances and not yet ready to really face the problem. Negotiations on climate change unsteadily proceed, reiterating the ritual according to which a slowdown is necessary after a milestone (e.g. the Paris Agreement). An attitude that will generate consequences and high costs in the future.


Notes

[1] Paris Agreement – Status of Ratification, retrieved from http://unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9444.php.

[2] F. Harvey (2016), Ratifying the Paris agreement will be a major step but must be the first of many, The Guardian, 23 September, Internet: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/23/ratifiying-the-paris-agreement-will-be-a-major-step-but-must-be-the-first-of-many.

[3] UNEP (2016), The Emissions Gap Report 2016, 4 November, Internet: uneplive.unep.org/media/docs/theme/13/Emissions_Gap_Report_2016.pdf-.

[4] G. Wagner, D. Keith (2016), Cop22 After Trump, Foreign Affairs, 21 November, Internet: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2016-11-21/cop22-after-trump.

[5] S. Froning (2016), Inside the COP22: the transitions is irreversible, News Vattenfall, 15 November, Internet: http://news.vattenfall.com/en/article/inside-cop22-transition-irreversible.

[6] A. Copley (2016), Figures of the week: COP22 and climate action in sub-Saharan Africa, Brookings, 21 November, Internet: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2016/11/16/figures-of-the-week-cop22-and-climate-action-in-sub-saharan-africa/.

[7] See M. Behnassi (2014) Geostrategic Implications of Climate Change in the Mediterranean, IEMed – Mediterranean Yearbook , Internet: http://www.iemed.org/publicacions/historic-de-publicacions/anuari-de-la-mediterrania/sumaris/avancaments-anuari-2013/Anuari_ClimateChange_Behnassi.pdf.  According to existing studies, many climate-induced impacts are highly relevant for the Mediterranean such as the degradation of freshwater resources, decline in biodiversity, regression in food production, environmentally-induced migration, and increase in storm and flood disasters. These impacts are currently affecting the water, food, health, environmental and political security of the region and have the potential to increase climate-induced conflicts among and within Mediterranean countries.

[8] Internet: http://www.cmcc.it/it/training-programs/climate-change-impacts-and-policy-in-the-mediterranean-basin. The Italian think-tank Euro-Mediterranean Centre for Climate Change (CMCC, Centro Euro-Mediterraneo per il Cambiamento Climatico) has a long-standing experience in this sector.

[9] See also A. Giordano (2010), Cultura dell’acqua e paesaggi mediterranei, Collana Ricerche e Studi della Società Geografica Italiana, n. 21, Internet: http://docenti.luiss.it/geografia-giordano/files/2010/09/Giordano-Paesaggio-Mediterraneo-acqua.pdf.