Global climate action push ahead, despite slim pickings at COP22
Brussels November, 21st 2016
The UN’s 22nd climate change conference closed on Friday (18 November) with no tangible results. But the decision of the most vulnerable states to convert to 100% renewable energy is a good signal for the future.
Even the unseasonably hot Marrakesh sun failed to stir the international negotiators into action as COP22 drew to a close on Friday.
The final text, adopted in the evening of 18-19 November, does make some modest additions to the Paris Agreement. But apart from a declaration of good will, adopted on Thursday (17 November) in the form of the Marrakesh Action Proclamation, and a certain number of bilateral and national announcements, the participants at COP22 left without much to show for their time.
For some, the number of African leaders present at this African-organised event was reason enough to celebrate in itself.
Can we count on the invisible hand of the market?
“It was a good COP, there was good energy,” said one African negotiator.
But “many of the participants arrived empty-handed and there was talk of transferring responsibility from states to civil society,” said Denis Voisin, a spokesman for the Fondation Nicolas Hulot. The environmental NGO believes effort should be shared, not simply transferred.
This view is shared by anti-globalisation group Attac, which warned that “the invisible hand of the markets is naturally no greener than it is social or just”.
An idea that is particularly resonant in Marrakesh. In this oasis that marks the border between northern Morocco, where agriculture can flourish, and the arid southern part of the country, the shortage of water is ever more keenly felt.
It has not, however, stopped the city from constructing its ninth golf course; a project that demands enormous quantities of water. Golf courses also increase the value of the surrounding buildings, further demonstrating the weaknesses of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand of the market”.
And it shows just how necessary regulation is in driving climate action, even if the road is not always easy. The influence of lobbying on the European Commission’s directives is a case in point.
France’s Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) was unimpressed by COP22, which it saw as a meeting of observation and exploration of ideas, rather than one of action.
The shock election of Donald Trump in the United States may have played some part in blocking additional progress, but no country put itself forward as the catalyst of a new and more ambitious agreement.
“We did not see an obsession with preserving the momentum of the Paris Agreement in the same way as we did with the Kyoto Protocol after the election of George Bush,” said Teresa Ribeira, the director of IDDRI.
Some observers were disappointed by the European Union’s lack of drive. The bloc arrived at the conference empty-handed and without its most high-profile representatives. “The fact that the members of the Slovak delegation representing the rotating presidency of the EU speak, at best, poor English did not help things,” one British source said.
In the absence of a solid mandate from the member states for Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete, Germany tried to drive the European position with its announcement of a 2050 target. France also talked of becoming a carbon neutral economy by 2050, but gave no details of how it intends to do so.
Political change and climate finance
Announcements made at COP22 on climate finance also left much to be desired. Most of the new promises were made on a bilateral basis, rather than as part of a broader international commitment. This makes them susceptible to political change. And recent events in the US prove just how quickly international agreements can be forgotten.
Of the $100 billion per year pledged by the world’s rich countries by 2020 to help the most vulnerable adapt to the effects of climate change, the US was supposed to provide $3bn.
Big question marks also hang over the French contribution. Particularly the $5bn per year promised by President François Hollande to tackle climate change, of which $1bn is supposed to go to the most vulnerable countries.
If the National Front wins next year’s presidential election, it has promised to cut this money off at the source. As for America’s Republican Party, its position is less clear. But in light of the low probability that the left will still be in power come May 2017, France’s efforts are not likely to have a big impact on the world stage.
Most vulnerable countries show loftiest ambitions
The most ambitious initiative to come out of COP22 also left a bitter aftertaste. On the last day of the conference, theClimate Vulnerable Forumannounced an initiative to switch to 100% renewable energy in their territories.
But despite 15 days of bilateral meetings, the 47 countries failed to convince a single one of the other COP participants to join them.
The representative from the Marshal Islands, Mattlan Zackhras, put on a brave face. “The fact that 11 countries, including two G7 countries (the UK and Canada) joined the Paris Agreement during these two weeks of negotiations shows the level of solidarity and determination,” he said.
Agriculture will wait
Many African countries, including Morocco, had hoped to make concrete additions to the Paris Agreement on issues such as agriculture, for example, which is highly exposed to the effects of climate change.
A number of initiatives were presented at COP22, such as the movement for the Adaptation of African Agriculture(AAA), a research programme into farming in exceptionally hot and drought-prone areas, and the French “4 per 1000” initiative, which aims to help farmers increase the amount of carbon captured by the land.
But none had a particularly big impact.