The UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakesh, known as COP 22, concluded on Saturday. Building on the momentum of the 2015 Paris Agreement, it began the process of putting the details of that historic accord into action.
Years in the making, the Paris Agreement set the target of holding global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels. To achieve this goal, nearly 200 countries submitted individual voluntary emissions reduction plans known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Based on the current collection of NDCs, which vary widely in ambition, the agreement will only cut greenhouse gas emissions by about half of what is necessary to reach the 2°C (3.6°F) goal. It does, however, legally obligate countries to publically report how much emissions they have actually eliminated and to reassess their plans every five years.
One of the main goals of the Marrakesh meeting was to create a standardized rulebook to monitor and report on these independent undertakings. But after two weeks of negotiations and to the dismay of those hoping for quicker action, the diplomats agreed on 2018 as the deadline for setting up this vital framework. The finance of climate adaptation – the touchy subject of who will pay for what in terms of helping poor nations adapt to climate change – was also punted two years down the road. However, they did issue the Marrakech Action Proclamation re-affirming their commitment to the Paris Agreement and their promises to combat climate change.
Although ratified in record time, the Paris Agreement is a fragile accord. All commitments are voluntary and vulnerable to the political will of individual governments – both now and in the future. Moreover, there are no penalties for those who do not live up to their promises. This is why the election of Mr. Trump as the next US President sent shockwaves through the meeting in Morocco.
The President-elect has famously called climate change a “hoax” and said he would withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement. While only time will tell if Mr. Trump will follow through on his rhetoric of climate change denial, the rest of the world seems willing to move forward with plans to tackle this critical issue.
Outside of the formal COP meetings, the positive spirit of the Paris Agreement pushed forward. Four countries – Canada, Germany, Mexico and the US – announced their climate action plans through 2050. With one of the more aggressive proposals, Germany aims to essentially stop using fossil fuels and reduce its emissions between 80% and 95% by mid-century. Furthermore, a group of forty-eight developing nations, members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, declared their intention to switch to 100% renewable energy between 2030 and 2050.
The Marrakech meeting was the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The next conference (COP 23) will take place in November 2017 in Bonn, Germany.