Cop22: Treading Water

As a veteran of 6 COPs, this writer has come to expect the last few days of the meeting to show certain characteristics. The deadlocks that typified the second week when the hard choices had to be made, the brinkmanship that lingered to late in the night and sometimes beyond, the ultimate hugging and self-congratulation of the platform party as some form of agreement was reached – all this was part of the ritualistic dance. Not so in Marrakesh where the 25,000 participants saw the event end with more of a whimper than a roar. This was a pity since it would have been fitting to have achieved something more substantial on what was after all Moroccan Independence Day.

The shadow cast by the US election hung over the conference. The possibility that the new administration might withdraw not only from the Paris Agreement but from the entire UNFCCC meant that the first objective of the conference was to reaffirm countries’ commitment to the Paris Agreement which entered into force 4 days before the US election. The Marrakesh Action Proclamation thus emphasised firstly the unstoppable global momentum on climate change engendered by the Paris Agreement. None of the almost 200 countries present at the COP indicated any intention of reneging on their responsibilities, irrespective of what happens in the USA.

The rapidity with which countries had ratified the Paris Agreement was unexpected and seemed to have caught the negotiators by surprise. It has after all taken 21 years to get to this point! Finalisation of the rules from the Agreement is not expected before 2018. Climate negotiators lack the urgency which the science demands, unfortunately. Meanwhile, the world warms with 2016 now projected by the World Meteorological Organisation, during the COP, to be the warmest year on record for the third time in a row.

Despite a recognition that the Paris Agreement failed to show a path to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees, and the emissions gap from what was needed in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) to achieve this suggested a trajectory for around 3.7 degrees of warming, concrete steps to increase ambition were not agreed. Instead the Conference decided to await an IPCC report on the impacts of a 1.5 degree warming. With the temperature for 2016 currently running at 1.2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, failing to bring forward the start date for Paris makes achieving even this target highly questionable. The global stocktaking envisaged for 2018 was seen by some countries as an opportunity to revise their NDCs, but for others (including the EU) this seems not to be on the cards before 2023. There is a distinct lack of ambition evident in the EU’s current stance. In contrast, the Climate Vulnerable forum, comprising 48 of the poorest countries most vulnerable to climate change, committed to revising their NDCs before 2020 and to using 100% renewable energy by mid- century.

Implementation of Paris for developing countries was tied to the finance commitments made by developed countries. This was to provide for developing countries to enhance their capacity to adapt to climate change and to reduce their future vulnerability. Increasing their resilience is essential for these countries who have contributed little to the problem. Munich Re have highlighted the fact that the impact of natural disasters (including climate-related events) is about 13% of the gdp of developing countries as opposed to 2% of the gdp of developed countries. But foot dragging on delivery of finance by the developed countries has continued.

Despite a commitment to generate a $100B per annum fund (only about 50% of what is reckoned to be required by2030), the excuses for failing to deliver on this continued. About $10-20B is all that has materialised thus far. By way of comparison, G7 countries alone provide $67B per year to support fossil fuel production. Freeing up this money would go a long way to delivering the objectives of Paris. In Ireland, for example over €100M per year is spent subsidising peat burning power stations. Unsurprisingly, the NGO’s ‘name and shame award’ of ‘Fossil of the Day’ went to a number of countries currently investing in new coal power projects, such as Japan. For almost 3 years now Ireland has promised around $0.50 per capita, 100 times less than some of the generous donors with a smaller per capita gdp and much smaller greenhouse gas emissions per capita. Reputational damage to Ireland is inevitable.

As the meeting ended and delegates made their way in warm evening twilight towards the fleet of busses that awaited, traditional Moroccan singers entertained them. The organisation of the event had been excellent throughout. COP23 will be located in Bonn, an altogether cooler location in November than Marrakesh. One hopes that serious implementation of the Paris Agreement will result then for as one young person’s tee-shirt said “There is no Plan B, because there is no Planet B.”

Professor John Sweeney, Marrakech


Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce. Tel: +353 87 241 1995
email: [email protected]
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland


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