The Marrakech mandate
Pledges taken at the Marrakech conference show that global action to address climate change is here to stay, with or without Donald Trump
As world leaders gathered in Marrakech (November 7-18) to discuss the implementation of the Paris Agreement at the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP-22), the election of a leader in the U.S. who has disavowed climate change cast a pall on the deliberations. Donald Trump has previously stated that if he were elected President, the U.S. would block the Paris Agreement. However, since the Agreement entered into force earlier this month, there is nothing that can be done immediately to stop it from moving forward. But, to imagine the most extreme cases, the U.S. could ignore its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), pull out of the Paris Agreement in four years, or withdraw from the climate convention altogether. These options seem too dramatic to consider, and they would also be very irresponsible, especially since the U.S. is the world’s largest cumulative emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and the second largest annual emitter. Further, the implementation of the pledges by most countries depends on finance and technology support from the developed world. The U.S. has an important, even a central, role to play in taking forward the global agenda of limiting global warming.
Mr. Trump’s choice of Myron Ebell to head the U.S. Environment Protection Agency’s transition team has also set off alarm bells. Mr. Ebell is quoted to have called the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan for GHGs illegal and has also said that the Paris climate treaty “is clearly an unconstitutional usurpation of the Senate’s authority.” He has also expressed his interest in reviving the coal industry in the U.S. Still, being President and governing are quite different from campaigning, and one hopes that President-elect Trump will not inflict damage to a global endeavour that aims to save the planet.
In Marrakech, nevertheless, delegates from around the world had to shrug off these considerations when they began the long and painstaking process of figuring out the scope and modalities for implementing the Paris Agreement. It was also the occasion of the first meeting of the CMA, the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement, the group responsible for supervising the execution of the deal. Several substantive details remain to be worked out and, in fact, will be completed only by 2018. These include accounting of the NDCs, adaptation communication, building a transparency framework, the global stocktake every five years, and other procedures that facilitate the implementation of and compliance with the Agreement.
Financial support for developing country action on the NDCs was an important agenda item of this meeting as was the issue of transparency. Seven years ago, in Copenhagen, a Green Climate Fund was promised with the aim of making available $100 billion a year by 2020 primarily to support developing countries to address the impacts of climate change and find ways to reduce their GHG emissions. The Copenhagen Agreement stated that the money would “come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance”. Since then, there has only been a trickle of pledges but a torrent of controversy over claims made by OECD countries that finance was already forthcoming from them largely in the form of private investments in developing countries. The Marrakech negotiators simply noted that these issues remain to be resolved in forthcoming meetings.
With global temperatures predicted to cross the 1.5° Celsius lakshman rekha in the 2030s, why should countries wait to take action and fulfil obligations? The second Kyoto commitment period until 2020 is an opportune time for rich countries to make an effort to build confidence through their actions to reduce emissions and support developing nations. At this point, however, the language of the negotiations sometimes appears to be aimed at gaming the system.
Cause for cheer
One of the remarkable announcements at the Marrakech COP was the pledge by the Climate Vulnerable Forum, comprising 48 least developed countries, including Bangladesh, Ethiopia and South Sudan, to get 100 per cent of their energy from renewables by 2050. Along with them, 165 sub-national jurisdictions, calling themselves the Under2s, announced that they would reduce their emissions by 80-95 per cent below 1990 levels and limit their per capita emissions to under 2 tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050. These governments range across states like California, New York and Telangana and cities like Manchester and São Paulo, and contribute to over a third of the global economy. Another cause for cheer is that the Science Based Targets initiative got a boost in Marrakech when over 200 companies worldwide committed to emissions reductions targets. With regard to the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, the framework for a five-year rolling work plan was approved. It will serve as the basis for developing corresponding activities, starting with the first meeting in 2017. Since adaptation has limitations, this is a global mechanism to provide support to countries that sustain ongoing and future harm from climate change. The aim will be to address issues such as extreme events, non-economic losses, displacement, migration, slow-moving climatic changes and risk management.
It is not clear whether these actions will be sufficient to put the planet on a path to a stable climate with warming below 2° Celsius, let alone the more ambitious target of under 1.5° Celsius. Nevertheless, they show that Mr. Trump or no Mr. Trump, global action to address climate change is here to stay.
Sujatha Byravan is Principal Research Scientist, Center for Study of Science, Technology & Policy, Bengaluru.