A Blog from Professor John Sweeney at COP22 in Marrakech
(We will be publishing a series of Blogs from Marrakech by Professor John Sweeney, renowned Climate Scientist, previous President of An Taisce and member of An Taisce's Climate Change Committee giving his impressions of the event).
COP22 Marrakesh: The Paris Agreement Goes Live
In what was one of the fastest ratifications of a UN accord ever, the Paris Agreement received the assent of the required number of signatories accounting for 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions and entered into force on November 4th. Almost 100 countries have now ratified and submitted their “Nationally Determined Contributions”. These outline what actions they will take from 2020 to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and/or plan for adapting to the stresses which climate change in the short and medium term will bring.
So the 22nd Conference of the Parties sees a shift in focus towards implementation – a vital necessity since the sum total of the existing pledges are completely inadequate to achieve the goal of avoiding dangerous climate change, and essentially place the planet on course for a 3degC warming over the next 80 years – a potentially catastrophic outcome. Indeed already 2016 will be testing warming levels of 1.3degC, much sooner than what some sceptics termed ‘alarmist’ climate models were predicting.
It was the turn of Africa to host a COP, and Marrakesh has pulled out all the stops to make the event a success. The King has come and gone, and will return later this week. The army and air force are prominent, but the overwhelming impression is of Arab hospitality and efficiency. The venue covers an acreage probably in excess of that of the Paris meeting and contains the now familiar plethora of side events, plenary rooms and national pavilions. Most are built of chipboard and likely to be recycled quickly. Located on the outskirts of the city one can look back towards the brown haze of the traffic-choked metropolis, and in the other direction see the snow-capped Atlas Mountains.
As always the clientele at COPs can be divided into three groups. There are the ‘business suits’ of the government and semi state agencies that don’t see much daylight and negotiate behind closed doors for the most part. National self-interest seems to be the main motivating factor here, with briefs given and ‘red lines’ established before they travel. For the first week, only tentative agreements are made by them until the politicians arrive in week 2. The second group is the NGOs who try and find out what is really going on, but mostly fail, and largely talk to their own communities. Finally, there is the army of single issue vested interests who try to convince everyone that they are ready to save the planet, but often essentially are experts in ‘greenwashing’.
The big issues for this COP are firstly how to get action in advance of 2020. This requires leadership and a commitment by countries to see beyond their short term interests. For reasons that will be discussed later, the USA is not likely to be among this group. The EU equally has offered little leadership in recent years and seems paralysed by powerful sectoral interests in energy, transport and especially agriculture. It is for this writer quite sad to see the EU tread water on climate change - a subject they were instrumental in keeping alive during the dark days of the Bush presidency. The emergent climate leader here is ironically the country that was normally held up as justification for the rest of the world doing nothing, namely China. Chinese emissions have fallen, partly as a consequence of its economic downturn, but also as a consequence of a large programme of investment in renewables. China is currently fashioning a national emissions trading system to succeed a regional one and generally is switching away from coal at a time when other countries (such as Ireland) have been increasing coal consumption again.
The second big issue of course is what the future holds for the Paris Agreement in the Trump era. The Chief US Climate Envoy, Jonathan Pershing, attempted to answer a battery of questions on this at a press conference today. He made three good points. Firstly, economic and market forces will not easily change the currently accelerating US move away from coal and oil to renewables. Secondly, extricating a country from the Paris Agreement could take three years or more if official channels are used. But thirdly, in response to an audience question, the possibility of linkages beyond climate introduce very complex issues, not least of which could be carbon border taxes for US goods by trading blocs such as the EU. It seems tariff walls might join other walls elsewhere!
The third big issue is of course finance, and especially the commitment to mobilise $100B annually in climate aid to enable developing countries to develop sustainably and meet their climate targets. In some ways this is ‘conscience money’ from the developed world in recognition of their historic responsibilities for causing the climate problem. To date over $40B has been raised. Some countries such as Sweden have pledged over $50 per capita. Even a country with comparable population and wealth to Ireland such as Denmark has pledged $10 per person. Ireland, with the second highest GDP per capita in the EU and one of the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita has pledged $0.57. We await Minister Naughten’s appearance on Wednesday!
The politician’s 10 minutes of glory time starts tomorrow with the Heads of State, followed by the Prime Ministers and Ministers. It is not riveting stuff for the most part, and set piece speeches tend to make your eyes glaze over. But there are some interesting participants on the list and I intend to get in early to hear Robert Mugabe and some others that tend not to be seen much in Europe!
Professor John Sweeney, Marrakech
About An Taisce
An Taisce is a charity that works to preserve and protect Ireland's natural and built heritage. We are an independent charitable voice for the environment and for heritage issues. We are not a government body, semi-state or agency. Founded in 1948, we are one of Ireland’s oldest and largest environmental organisations.