Text by Suzanne Baaklini
In comparison with the frenzy that accompanied the previous UN Conference of Parties (Cop) for climate change in Paris, in 2015, which led to the adoption of the Paris Agreement by 195 countries, the Marrakech Cop of November 2016 seemed extremely calm, proceeding at a rather slow pace.
In the venue hallways, pressure was much less perceivable than a year earlier. The stakes were lower indeed: when the Cop started on the 7th of November, more than 100 countries had already officially ratified the Paris Agreement, including the United States (US) and China. It came into force on the 4th of November, three days only before the beginning of Cop22. The first days of this summit were, therefore, marked by a genuine optimism.
Negotiators looked ahead to two weeks of discussions on the details of the agreement’s application, most importantly the roadmap on the finance issues – how to ensure the 100 billion US dollars a year starting 2020 – and the preparation of the book of rules that will determine the ways and means to implement the agreement, under the supervision of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The discussion on this book of rules is supposed to extend until 2018, knowing that little progress was done in Marrakech.
Another very important point was supposed to be discussed at this Cop: how to prompt countries to reduce their green house gas (GHG) emissions. This point is absolutely crucial in order to meet the objective set by the Paris Agreement, which stipulates that it is necessary to keep global warming lower than two degrees compared to pre-industrial levels, and to keep it as close as possible to 1.5 degrees.
However, the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) of the countries (their propositions for GHG emissions’ reduction), which were all presented in 2015 before the Paris summit and the Paris Agreement, are not enough to meet this objective. The calculations based on these NDCs showed that, even if all the promises are fully kept, they keep us on a track of a rise of 2.9 to 3.4 degrees compared to the pre-industrial levels, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Leading climate scientists estimate that these national contributions are therefore largely insufficient to reach the global goal of saving life on the planet, as we know it. Further discussions on this point were left to later summits.
A climate skeptic in the White House
As discussions were starting in Marrakech, the result of the US presidential elections, on the 9th of November, impacted greatly the course of this summit. The election of climate change denier, Donald Trump, as President of the US, on the second day of the Cop, was a shock for all participants.
Mr. Trump had threatened, during his campaign, to pull America out of the Paris Agreement, and rumors were circulating at the Cop of efforts already being made by the future Trump team to take a different stand on the global agreement. Although no confirmation of this fear was made public in the weeks following the election, serious apprehensions were expressed all through the summit by negotiators, members of civil society as well as world leaders in their speeches, including the outgoing UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon. All political leaders, however, assured that the efforts towards a carbon free world would go on, regardless of the American position.
Moreover, pulling out of the Paris Agreement is not an easy thing to do. As civil society activists pointed out during the Cop, such a process would require an average of four years. However, even if the new US administration does not go for a radical solution, the leadership shown by the second biggest polluter in the world during the negotiations towards the Paris Agreement will certainly never be the same. These activists pointed out that the US is not just a big polluter, but also a significant donor in the process of financing future efforts to combat climate change.
John Kerry made his last appearance in a world climate summit as US Secretary of State in Marrakech. During a much-anticipated press conference, Mr. Kerry estimated that a majority of Americans believe that climate change is a reality, whatever the election results. He also pointed out that the US would have to contribute to the global objective of reducing emissions because markets would dictate that, stressing that such a trend was irreversible.
In one last attempt to save the Paris Agreement, shortly before leaving office, the former president of the United States Barack Obama ordered to transfer 500 million dollars to the United Nations Green Climate Fund, which aims to finance mitigation efforts in the world. On the other hand, according to American press, new president Donald Trump, sworn into office on the 20th of January, is likely to undo regulations on oil drilling and coal that Obama had imposed during his mandate, confirming environmentalists’ worst fears.
“No clear increase in climate finance”
In addition to Donald Trump’s election, which was felt as a setback during Cop22, the outcome of this conference was considered quasi unanimously as a disappointment, especially on the finance issue.
“At the end of these two weeks we just want to express our extreme disappointment that no clear and concrete increases in climate finance pledges have been put forward by developed country governments,” said Lidy Nacpil of the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development.
“After the jubilation, in Marrakech, over the Paris Agreement’s entry into force, countries found themselves at loggerheads over what was actually agreed,” said Meena Raman of Third World Network. “The Agreement is very clear that addressing climate change is about much more than emissions reductions-it is also about finance and technology to support those efforts, in addition to adaptation.”
“Science is clear, we only have three years before the Paris Agreement’s goal of 1.5 degrees (above pre-industrial levels) becomes beyond our reach”, said Asad Rehman of Friends of the Earth England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. “The pledges on the table for those 3 years will not deliver this goal, effectively condemning millions more people to pay the cost of inaction. The outcome of Marrakech failed to change the dangerous course we are on – no matter how it is spun, what really matters is the real cuts in carbon pollution. Now as we look towards 2018, we have a last throw of the dice to beef up those climate targets. Failure is simply not an option if we value our planet and the lives of our fellow citizens.”
There is not much time left, declare the activists. However, it should be noted that during Cop22, the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) took a strong stand in favor of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees (above
pre-industrial levels), stressing in their press release that “climate action does not limit development”. Lebanon also joined the CVF group in Marrakech, a group of more than 40 developing countries from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific.
Lebanon’s participation to the CVF group is not a binding commitment, but it is supposed to confirm a certain tendency to prioritize the use of alternative sources of energy, and to ask, along with other climate vulnerable countries, for a more effective transfer of technologies from industrial nations. Whether this participation to the CVF group is contradictory with the new decrees on oil and gas exploitation in the Lebanese waters, recently signed by the new government, remains to be seen.
Lebanon had previously made two climate related commitments: in 2012, the country announced it would raise its energy production from renewable sources to 12% by 2020. More recently in 2015, in its NDC, Lebanon committed gas emissions reduction by 15% by 2030, or 30% if international financial assistance is available.
Although it does not have much clout over the whole process of climate negotiations, this forum of countries greatly affected by climate change committed to a stronger climate action through the following means: to ask for an update of the NDCs as early as possible before 2020, to prepare long-term low GHG development strategies as early as possible before 2020, and to strive to meet 100% domestic renewable energy production as rapidly as possible. Will this lobbying work, and will international action be fast enough to spare the world the worst effects of climate change?
Source : WE Magazine issue #15