In November 2016, the UN Climate talks in Marrakesh, known as the COP22, began with great optimism bringing together 200 countries to discuss the next steps for the Paris Agreement implementation. The talks served as a follow up to the 2015 Paris Agreement which established general climate targets, but left the details regarding its implementation for future meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COP). According to the discussions in Marrakesh, the implementation strategy of the Agreement should be completed by 2018.
The COP22 negotiations made great strides in tackling human-induced climate change by developing an action plan. One of the main outcomes of the formal negotiations included the Marrakesh Action Proclamation for our Climate and Sustainable Development, outlining key steps countries agreed to take to fight climate change. The negotiations also created a space for informal talks where policy makers, organizations, and private actors could discuss new strategy plans and initiatives in parallel with the official climate negotiations.
Climate finance topped the COP22 agenda; countries were strongly encouraged to dedicate USD 100 billion a year by 2020 for climate adaptation and mitigation activities. Furthermore, nations agreed on a five-year work-plan starting in 2017 to deal with the “loss and damage” particularly affecting small island countries and other vulnerable territories. The plan aims to address slow onset climate change issues such as non-economic losses and migration. Countries such as Australia, Germany and Canada have injected USD 50 million to support transparency efforts throughout future negotiations. At the Climate Vulnerable Forum, the 47 poorest countries in the world committed to progressively transition to generating energy through 100% renewable sources, updating their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) by 2020, and developing their long-term adaptation and mitigation strategies.
Reasons to keep climate hope alive
o South-South Cooperation
The Climate Partnership for the Global South, also known as the Southern Climate Partnership Incubator (SCPI), was initiated in parallel to the signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement in New York this past April by Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, the former UN Secretary-General. The SCPI aims to facilitate and support partnerships among developing countries and match these countries with counterparts facing similar issues. So far, SCPI has reviewed at least 300 successful cases of bilateral and multilateral partnerships among developing countries. The South-South cooperation continues to grow and developing countries are working in cooperation to implement the Paris Agreement.
o China’s Carbon Market
China publicly announced its intention to open a national carbon market next year, which is expected to enable emissions reductions starting from 2020. Experts predict the Chinese carbon market to issue 3 billion to 5 billion tons of carbon allowances per year. The EU Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS), the world’s largest carbon market, issues only two billion tons of allowances each year. According to the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the new carbon market will initially apply only to companies that use more than 10,000 tons of standard coal equivalent (TCE) in the following sectors: petrochemicals, chemicals, buildings materials, steel, metals, paper industry, and aviation. More than 7,000 firms, representing half of China’s emissions, qualify to participate in the new market. The opening speech of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, reinforced China’s willingness to take the lead in green finance and potentially lead the climate change fight in the coming years.
o European Union Energy Transition
On November 30, 2016, the European Commission presented the long-awaited “Winter Package,” a clean energy proposal for all Europeans. The Commission asserts that the European Union (EU) should not only adopt the clean energy transition but lead it. Accordingly, the EU has committed to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 40% by 2030, while it modernizes its economy and creates jobs. The Commission expects to mobilize up to EUR 177 billion in private and public investment starting in 2022, and consequently, increase the GDP by 1% over the next ten years while creating 900,000 new jobs. According to the proposal, the main goals are to promote energy efficiency, provide fair deals for consumers and lead the energy transition worldwide. Still, experts insist that there is a lot of work to be done in the European Parliament and Council to attract investors in the long-term. They assert that to become number one in renewable energy, the Commission’s proposal must be further developed.
o City Mayors tackle climate change
Following the COP22, the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, an initiative of 7,100 cities dedicated to addressing climate change at the local level, was launched in Mexico City. Cities around the world committed to take action at the local level and contribute to the global fight against climate change. This city-driven coalition aims to support local leaders in setting the strategic direction and priorities in their individual cities to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. For example, the mayors of Paris, Mexico City, Madrid and Athens announced their intention to ban all diesel vehicles from their jurisdictions during the C40 Summit by 2025. Today, cities represent over 70 percent of global energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and urbanization is expected to increase. It is therefore critical for cities to be at the epicenter of climate solutions and innovation.
Populist right and climate denial
The climate enthusiasm in the COP22 was hampered by the election of Donald Trump as the United States President, which raises serious concerns about the future of the global climate deal. The confirmation of Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator nominee Scott Pruitt and Secretary of Energy nominee Rick Perry brought even more doubts about the future, as all of them have publicly questioned the impact of human activity on climate change. The new administration clearly expressed its reluctance towards recognizing climate change within hours of President Trump’s inauguration by removing President Obama’s renewable energy and climate-related policies information from the official White House website.
Interestingly, prior to his appearance on the political scene, Donald Trump was not always among the climate deniers. In 2009 before the Copenhagen climate conference, he was a signatory of a letter to President Obama, published in the New York Times, that urged his administration to take the lead in the fight against climate change. However, since 2012 Trump regularly argued on Twitter that climate change was a hoax created by China in order to gain a competitive edge over the United States.
Despite the election of a President who is unwilling to support efforts to combat climate change, Americans are increasingly convinced that it is real and poses a serious concern. A survey conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication in late 2016, found that 61% of a sample of 1,226 American adults were “very” or “somewhat” worried about global warming. These fears shared by climate activists, policy-makers and civil society regarding the rise of climate deniers in politics deserve further attention.
Other countries besides the United States are also pursuing a populist nationalist agenda less favorable to the Paris Agreement implementation. For instance, factions of the movement that advocate the UK leaving the EU are also skeptical about scientific evidence of climate change. Poland is no different; the President Andrzej Duda is opposed to strengthening EU climate regulations because his country’s economy depends on highly polluting coal.
On the other hand, some populist leaders that understand the importance of climate change in the international agenda are using distorted climate and environment speeches to attract more voters. The launch of the “New Ecology” movement created by France’s National Front is a good example to illustrate that phenomenon. Created by Marie Le Pen, New Ecology is based on national interest and patriotism, and lacks coherent environmental protection strategies.
What is clear is that climate change is an inopportune truth for nationalists, as it cannot be solved at the national level. Since climate change is a global challenge, it can only be addressed and confronted through collective action between states, regions, local communities and cities. Any country that isolates itself will be less impactful in fighting climate change. Humanity as a whole will suffer from the devastating impact of global warming if countries that have signed the Paris Agreement withdraw or dismiss their commitments.
Disruptive change is necessary not just from governments but from investors and businesses to avoid a climate calamity. Even with the ups and downs of the climate negotiations, it is clear that investors are choosing more than ever to invest in low-carbon technologies and that people’s awareness about climate change is increasing. Thus, even with the rise of populist, climate skeptic governments, together we need to start 2017 with a determination to continue the hard work required to implement the Paris Agreements.