World leaders of almost 200 countries met during the 22nd climate change summit, COP22, in Marrakech, Morocco (which is a leader in green energy in Africa and the Middle East) for the annual United Nations gathering climate talks, which ran from November 7-18. Morocco ranked seventh in the world in the 2016 Climate Change Performance Index and it’s also one of only five countries to have achieved a “sufficient” rating for the efforts it made to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius in the Climate Action Tracker.
Morocco has also started to launch some interesting initiatives, like pushing 15.000 mosques to renewable energy, as well as banning the production, sale and use of plastic bags. During the 12-day conference, global negotiators debated over the future stages to adopt for implementing the Paris accord: 1) how to attest that commitments are being met, and 2) how to finance poor countries that cannot afford the technology or energy disruptions for the enforcement of the agreement. The Paris Agreement represents a milestone for climate change policies and, as Morocco’s incredible transition to green energy demonstrated, the real progress possible in this field. Nevertheless recent events, which overwhelmingly irrupted in the international political arena, may cause a serious stall in its future implementation.
The Paris Agreement
In December 2015, for the first time, 195 countries adopted a universal and legally binding climate agreement at the Paris climate conference (COP21) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Paris agreement sets up a global action plan which, through a set of long-term strategies, aims at reducing gas emissions and fostering the gradual elimination of net greenhouse gases, building resilience on the disputing effects of climate change. One of the key priorities in the document regards the encouragement of international cooperation and the promotion of global awareness on the strict connection between economic damage and desertification, extinction of certain animals and plants, and rising sea levels. Hence, world leaders agreed to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius and to eventually pursue a tougher target of 1.5 degrees Celsius. The agreement also posed the long-term goal of net zero emissions, which would effectively phase out fossil fuels. To accomplish these objectives, countries have submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) outlining their post-2020 climate action. Moreover, in the Paris agreement, developed countries also reaffirmed their will of mobilising $100 billion in climate finance, from both public and private sources, by 2020 to help developing countries. The main challenge is to plan an effective global response to the climate change issue. This agreement has been formally ratified by 109 countries, representing 76 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions including the United States with 18 per cent.
Marrakech Climate Change Conference (COP22)
The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016, and the recent US presidential election on 8 November contributed to really fuel the debate on the climate change controversy. Donald Trump’s unexpected victory puts the spotlight on the future of American environmental policies, opening the way to new concerning scenarios. Although, during the electoral campaign, he never mentioned in detail his policy agenda, his speech gave a signal towards several energy and environmental policies that will receive his attention. He accused the Paris Agreement of putting the United States in an economic competitive disadvantage, especially when comparing it to large developing nations like China where there are less constraints on carbon emissions.
The elected president publicly declared that he believes climate change is a “hoax” and he stated he is not “a great believer in man-made climate change”. He affirmed the agreement would undermine US jobs, such as those in the coal industry for instance. For these reasons, Trump announced that he intends to cut federal spending on clean energy and to discard the regulations that the Obama administration has implemented in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He said he would renegotiate or even cancel the Paris accord, in which the Obama administration pledged to reduce CO2 emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per cent below 2005 level by 2025. Yet, the targets are not binding and the country would face no penalties for non-compliance. As a matter of fact, he wants to find a quick way to pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement, completely disregarding the theoretical four-year procedure necessary to rescind the agreement.
Trump’s declarations definitely had a considerable echo during the Marrakech meeting, where participating countries reaffirmed their highest political commitment to combat climate change. The US delegation was present and negotiated with representatives of other countries and, unsurprisingly, the challenge of a Trump presidency dominated the first days of the talks.
Commenting on the results of the US presidential elections, Salaheddine Mezouar, the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs and the President of the 22nd UN Conference, asserted that even if some concerns were justifiable after the victory of Donald Trump “the Paris Agreement is now applicable and irreversible. It is the choice of the international system to combat and face climate-related matters”. The Moroccan Foreign Minister also invited to be careful towards Trump’s words because “we can’t judge [his future actions] based on an electoral campaign slogan”. During her opening address at COP22, Patricia Espinosa, the Executive Secretary for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said that while the early entry into force of the Paris Agreement was a cause for celebration, achieving the aims and ambitions were “not a given.” According to the UN, the “timetable is pressing because, globally, greenhouse gas emissions which drive climate change and its impacts are not yet falling.” “The Paris Agreement carries an enormous amount of weight and credibility,” she told a news conference. She also said the United Nations hoped for a strong and constructive relationship with Mr. Trump.
The Marrakech climate conference demonstrated that commitments made in Paris last year will be put into practice through a number of concrete measures. The Marrakech Action Proclamation is a call by heads of state and governments for the highest political commitment to tackle devastating climate change. It is not by chance that it sent a clear message and stressed on the importance of global unity, which is indispensable to reach the Paris goals and the transition to a global low-carbon economy. Furthermore, states encouraged transparency and the five-year ambition cycle showing their commitment for supporting their most vulnerable partners in dealing with the impacts of climate change. In Marrakech countries, states, regions, cities and companies came together under the Global Climate Action Agenda to display inspiring climate action initiatives. In particular, Morocco, Germany, France, Spain and Portugal signed a roadmap for sustainable electricity trade, which aims to identify barriers to trade in renewable electricity between the five signatory countries and suggest ways to overcome these barriers. The parties to the Paris Agreement will meet again in 2017 to review progress and outcomes on the implementation of the work programme.
Trump’s victory: the potential ending of the US-China alliance
Trump’s victory has shaken climate change policy projects to its core. Most importantly, on the Paris deal, Trump has merely showed the official position of the Republican party. Yet, what kind of strategies climate scientists, policy makers and world leaders are planning to deal with Donald Trump? Formally, withdrawing from the Paris accord will require a process that would presumably take at least three years because the deal has already gone into formal effect. Additionally, renegotiating the agreement would be almost unsustainable due to the fact that the accord is the product of decades of intense international work. The global damage of the non-participation of the US (which represents the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas polluter after China) may make the goals agreed upon in the Paris agreement unachievable in the future, although every other country will continue with its climate action. Moreover, some NGOs and green movements express their anxiety on the potential ending of the US-China alliance that made possible the deal in Paris, one years ago; and if the US withdraws or starts demanding renegotiations, there may be a chance that other countries will do the same. Those states, which signed the Paris agreement pushed by all the international pressure and now trying to put obstacle against the goals of the accord, could really take advantage of the political instability caused by Trump’s election. For instance, this trend has already received encouragement in Saudi Arabia in order to accelerate disruptive actions against the Paris agreement. Safa al-Jayoussi, Climate Action Network’s Arab world coordinator said that officials from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other states communicated their relief of Trump’s victory because of his decisive support for fossil fuels in his future action plan. Nevertheless, the hope is that market forces, with the help of civil society commitment and world leaders’ behaviour, will continue to push towards a transition far from polluting energy sources. In addition, if the Trump administration withdraws the United States from the Paris agreement, the country could probably face a massive global diplomatic issue, which could push the US to instability and to definitely abandon worldwide leadership, also in climate renewable energy.
MA in Global Politics and Euro-Mediterranean Relations (University of Catania)
Marrakech climate conference: world forging ahead on climate action. (2016, November 18), European Commission’s website – Climate Change News.
Morocco sees “no turning back” for climate pact. (2016, November 6), Al Jazeera.
Betioui H. (2016, November 16) King of Morocco Warns against Wait-and-See Attitudes in Addressing Climate Change, Ashqar al-Awsat.
Chestney N. & Doyle A. (2016, November 18), Trump fears push nations at Morocco talks to call climate action an “urgent duty”, Reuters.
Chestney N. & Torbati Y. (2016, November 16), Kerry warns of climate threat at talks overshadowed by Trump, Reuters.
England C., (2016, November 13) Donald Trump is seeking quick ways of withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, Independent.
Neslen A. (2016, November 18), Climate summit chief pleads with Trump not to ditch Paris treaty, The Guardian.