UN Marrakech Climate Talks End with Little Action

Hampered by the cloud of President-elect Donald Trump’s vow to lead the United States out of the landmark Paris pact on climate change, the &United Nations-sponsored 22nd Conference of Parties (COP) concluded in Marakech, Morocco at 2:00 am on Nov. 19, hours delayed from the time it was originally meant to end, with a fight between Brazil and Bolivia dragging on during the closing plenary.

During the last few hours of the UN climate negotiations, Brazil insisted on having common time frames for all countries to update their climate commitments. Bolivia, with the support of India and China, disagreed. Specifically, Bolivia wanted to ensure that there will also be a focus on pre-2020 ambition, which are climate commitments of developed countries made under the Kyoto protocol. Brazil’s proposal, on the other hand, puts pressure on all countries, including developing and least developed countries, to increase their climate commitments.

However, the problem seems to stem from the fact that developing countries have seen very little ambition from developed countries with their pre-2020 commitments and did not feel the issue has been discussed sufficiently at COP 22. Nothing had been agreed on and countries decided to postpone and tackle the issue in the Bonn pre-sessions in May 2017.

‘Actions’ at COP 22

Trump’s shock election, only three days into the negotiations, stirred one of the biggest controversies at the conclave. While the election plunged many at the conference into gloom, civil societies and governments made it a point to say that climate action will continue, with or without the United States.

“We came to Marrakech on a high note,” said Alden Meyer, Director of Strategy and Policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The outcome of US elections raised serious doubts about the US. However, not one country said that if Trump pulls out of the agreement that they will follow him. Countries will stay their course. Countries will move ahead of the Paris Agreement with or without the US,”

That was seen as a good sign, with countries not allowing for the Paris Agreement to meet the same failure as Kyoto Protocol, from which the United States also withdrew.

Segolene Royale, French environment minister and president of COP 21, also assured that the United States cannot withdraw from the treaty easily.

“The Paris agreement prohibits any exit for a period of three years, plus a year-long notice period, so there will be four stable years,” she said.

Other actions in the Marrakech meeting included:

  1. Climate Vulnerable Forum’s Marrakech vision – The Climate Vulnerable Forum, composed of 48 vulnerable countries to climate change, announced their vision to strive for 100 percent renewable energy and a long-term strategy to have low carbon economies.
  2. High Level Climate Champion’s 2050 pathway – Countries such as then United States, the European Union, Canada and Mexico also presented their 2050 Pathways Platforms. The platform “will support countries seeking to develop long-term deep decarbonization strategies, including through the sharing of resources (including finance, capacity building), knowledge and experiences.” Currently, there are 22 countries, 15 cities, 17 states and regions preparing their 2050 pathway.
  3. Least Developed Countries Renewable Energy Initiative – 48 of the poorest countries have launched their Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Initiative for Sustainable Development. This will scale up provisions of renewable energy while promoting energy efficiency.

    “The [initiative] demonstrates the continued commitment of the LDC Group to real solutions that benefit real people on the ground. The initiative will enable LDCs to leapfrog fossil fuel based energy and light up the lives of millions of energy-starved people through modern, clean and resilient energy systems,” said Tonu Mpanu-Mpanu, Chair of the Least Developed Countries Group and Head of Delegation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

  4. Adaptation Fund – US$80 million has been committed to the adaptation fund, with pledges from Germany, Sweden, Italy, and Belgium. However, this is only 0.1 percent of the entire adaptation needs. A United Nations Environment Programme Adaptation Finance Gap Report says that there is a need for US$56-73 billion for adaptation in developing countries and will rise to US$140-300 billion in the 13 years prior to 2030.

No real action

However, despite all these “actions” hailed by governments, more concrete action is necessary. While all these initiatives are great in theory, there are still very few concrete plans on how to keep commitments. The Climate Vulnerable Forum, for example, while they say all countries have committed to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, still have no plans made by each. The same goes for the High Level Climate Champions.

In the end, the ‘COP of Action’ actually saw more promises and little action — something no longer surprising at the conferences. But they are now running against time, and promises with no or little action will not get the world where it needs to be.

Originally published at Asia Sentinel