Representatives from almost 200 countries arrived in Marrakech two weeks ago for the latest annual climate change conference, COP22. This was viewed as an opportunity to showcase progress and commence the important process of turning the COP21 Paris Agreement into a detailed plan of action. The beginning of the talks were overshadowed by the US election with the expectation that Clinton would secure a victory. By Wednesday, Trump had become the president-elect and a huge question mark hung over the COP22 conference in contemplation as to whether he would pull the USA out of the Paris Agreement. The negotiations continued in the shadow of the potential threat that cast doubt on whether the agreement could survive should this happen.
The Paris Agreement set out the overarching goals and framework for international climate action however deciding the detail is a much longer process. The participating countries agreed that this should be completed by 2018 with progress being reviewed in 2017.
There was little progress with regard to finance with countries being urged to continue scaling up their contributions towards the pre-agreed goal of $100bn a year by 2020. There was also some wrangling over the Adaptation Fund, a body which exists to serve the Kyoto Protocol (the deal struck in 1997 committing developed nations to emissions cuts up to 2020). Many have argued that this should be incorporated into the Paris Agreement to ensure it remains a political focus but discussions fell flat and the only outcome was an agreement to debate this at a later date.
Negotiators also battled, without resolution, with the ‘orphan’ issues of the Paris Agreement; tasks for which no one has been assigned responsibility. They include important issues, such as common timeframes for future climate pledges and a new goal for climate finance.
A major focus of the conference was long term decarbonisation plans. In Paris, countries were asked to present their strategies, setting out their plans to 2050. Twenty-two countries have signed up to this including the UK. Despite the outcome of its presidential election and the declarations of its president elect, the USA delivered its roadmap for an 80% reduction in its emissions by mid-century. Whilst the consensus of the conference soon established that the COP21 Agreement was bigger than any one country, a withdrawal from the USA has been widely recognised as fundamentally undermining the goal of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees.
It is clear that there is still much discussion to be had at future conferences if the UN is to make progress on climate change. Fiji will be the next president hosting COP23 in Bonn, Germany. Poland has expressed interest in hosting the 2018 conference and the 2019 conference is expected to take place in Latin America or the Caribbean.
Ahead of the next conference, one issue will be closely monitored by the participating nations. Donald Trump’s pledge to scrap the Obama’s Clean Power Plan and revive the coal industry may derail the COP21 agreement. That said, if Trump was not to honour commitments under the Paris Agreement, it is likely that this will negatively impact his ability to get the cooperation of world leaders on other issues such as trade and terrorism which are matters close to his heart.
Over the past 18 months, Trump has promised his supporters radical change. Some believe Trump deliberately over-promised with no intention of living up to such extreme pledges whilst others hope that the moderating influence of Congress will stop him from fulfilling these. It is to be noted that since election, Trump has struck a noticeably more moderate tone. The delegates of COP22 gave a resounding message to the world stage – the COP21 Agreement is here to stay and would be driven forward regardless of what America decides. We can only hope that, in the event that America does withdraw its support, the Agreement really is bigger than any one country as has been claimed.