Marrakech: Can COP 22 live up to the expectations?


The 22nd Conference of Parties (COP22) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) ended on November 19, 2016 in Marrakech. This beautiful little oasis in the desert hosted the COP for the second time, the first one in 2001 when COP7 was held here. This writer had the privilege of attending both COPs as a negotiator of Bangladesh, and can say that there has been an interesting similarity in the outcomes of these two COPs.

COP7 adopted the Marrakech Accords – the completed rulebook for bringing the Kyoto Protocol into effect, a process that took three years. COP22 was meant for starting the homework, assigned by COP21, of establishing the rulebook for implementing the Paris Agreement. The deadline for the purpose has been fixed as COP24 in 2018. So the Marrakech outcome can be judged as moderate progress, setting the ball rolling for the next negotiations from May 2017 onward.

But the expectations from this COP ran high perhaps for two reasons. The Agreement has come into force with supersonic speed, just after 11 months of its adoption in Paris. So there was euphoria of implementing it in earnest. Second, there was a felt need to show strong solidarity and determination among the 195 parties, including the US delegation representing the Obama Administration, given the shadow of uncertainty in effectiveness of the Paris Agreement cast by the victory of Donald Trump, a diehard denier of climate science, in the US election. Still, the stoical negotiators did try to do the spadework well. It may be mentioned that back in 2001, President Bush Jr. declared US’ intention to not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, dubbing it as a ‘flawed treaty,’ while the presidential candidate Donald Trump called climate science a ‘hoax,’ wishing to withdraw from the Agreement once he is elected.

However, President Obama took a reverse approach this time – it is the US which pushed for the Agreement’s early entry into force, as Obama used his executive power to approve it, bypassing an obstructive Congress. Other countries followed suit in rapid succession, only to Trump-proof the Agreement. Again, the justification for not joining the Protocol then and the potential withdrawal from the Agreement now by the incoming Trump Administration is the same: provisions of the Protocol/Agreement for the US remain unfair compared to other major emitters.

So, the COP during the second week of negotiations witnessed the arrival of about 80 world leaders. In their Marrakech Action Proclamation, the leaders solemnly declared: “We welcome the Paris Agreement and we affirm our commitment to its full implementation.” US’ Secretary of State John Kerry gave an emotional speech, recalling his personal efforts in crafting the Paris deal. While outlining the measures taken to address climate impacts mainly with national resources, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina declared her government’s unequivocal commitment to the Paris Agreement, the rapid implementation of which will save millions of livelihoods and check migrations.

In Marrakech, speculations were ripe about the possible approaches to the Agreement under President Trump. One strand says the US will withdraw without going through the formalities under the Agreement which will take a total of four years; instead Trump may take a route to leave the UNFCCC in just one year.

Another strand argues that a continuation of the US in the Agreement will be worse for whatever effectiveness the Agreement may have, because of likely and continued obstructions by the Trump team. This strand views that the world sans the constantly balking US could even have a stronger and legally binding deal than this Agreement.

In between these extremes, a third line of though says that Trump’s policies do not matter since many US states, cities and businesses have embraced the economic and environmental benefits of a rapidly growing and competitive clean energy and technology market. Thus Trump, as a businessman, will be an ultimate convert. Currently, the price and capacity of renewable energy rivals fossil fuels, particularly coal, in many developed and developing countries. Though during the campaign Trump promised to revive coal in US energy mix, the latest study by the International Energy Agency shows that growth of coal is slowing to a crawl, with just 0.2 percent a year against a 50 percent growth by natural gas, and majority of the investments are going to renewables. Global investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency attracted a record USD 329 billion in 2015 – most of it for solar and wind power, more than any other energy sector. Meanwhile, installation of new renewable energy sources has now surpassed fossil energy. China as the leader might even be happy to see the US sitting on the sidelines of this clean growth opportunity.

As a citizen from Bangladesh, a country regarded by many as the ‘ground zero’ of vulnerability, we will expect, though not as my preferred option, that President-elect Trump embraces the third option –- using market principles in solving climate change, which the Paris Agreement actually represents. For example, once China starts its emissions trading scheme from next March, over half of the world’s GDP will come under some kind of carbon pricing. The danger of US’ withdrawal is that it may have a domino effect, particularly on rapidly growing emitters from developing countries.

In terms of climate finance, a US withdrawal will have more negative effects particularly for the most vulnerable countries. US’ discontinuation of the pledged USD 3 billion to the Green Climate Fund will immediately impact adaptation finance, which trails far behind mitigation initiatives. Though the available finance falls short of real needs in terms of magnitude, US’ withdrawal will further deepen the fiscal cliff.

Obviously, climate finance stands at the core of negotiations, always being the most rancorous agenda. Marrakech was no exception. Almost two weeks of intensive negotiations failed to produce an agreed framework on long term finance, which ultimately was salvaged by the Moroccan COP presidency, adopting an innocuous and anodyne text, just urging the developed countries to scale up the pledged mobilisation of USD 100 billion a year by 2020.

Against all these political pitfalls, climate science continues telling us a grimmer tale: 2016 is going to be declared as the hottest year, with 1.2 degree C temperature higher that of the pre-industrial era. Sea ice levels are reaching record lows at both the poles, threatening to cause watery deaths to many small island states and to permanently inundate low-lying coastlands of countries like Bangladesh, a nightmare just waiting in the corner. The Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping temperature rise below 2 degree C relative to pre-industrial level could remain just a pipe dream if we fail to take action now!

Let me conclude with a statement that Winston Churchill gave at the House of Commons on November 12, 1936, which remains relevant to this day:

“So they [the Government] go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent … Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have entered upon a period a danger … The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences … We cannot avoid this period, we are in it now.”

We can only hope that as we already live in a climate-changed world, the global community, including the US, will not procrastinate any longer in taking decisive actions.

Source: The Daily Star


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