Marrakech COP22: Threats arise, but countries push on Opinion Articles

Nov 16, 2016 - 5:05pm

This article was originally published in  Renew Economy  on Wednesday 16 November 2016.

John Connor   
CEO, The Climate Institute

Listen to John Connor being interviewed on ABC Radio Nation Breakfast.

Key points:

1. The threat of President Trump’s withdrawal hasn’t shifted any country to withdrawal or into an overt blocker role – Saudi Arabia, Japan, UK, Germany, China join Australia in reaffirming support, ratifying, releasing plans or in sensing economic and diplomatic opportunities.

2. Countries have made progress in the meeting’s task of developing details for the Paris agreement’s rulebook – the next few days will determine the extent of progress.

3. Ministers Bishop and Frydenberg have arrived and reaffirmed support for the Paris Agreement in numerous forums, but no substantive new announcements. Foreign Minister Bishop will be making a statement on behalf of Australia tomorrow and Australia will participate in a session on how to enhance action.

Threat of Trump withdrawal

The second and final week of these climate negotiations always marks a transition from diplomat-led technical negotiations to politician-led engagement. This political engagement defines the parameters around the outcomes achieved by the close of the meeting. While uncertainty about President Trump’s intentions still looms large, week two has begun with progress on Marrakech’s task of developing the details of the Paris Agreement. A range of national, state and city governments have pushed on, some emphatically so.

Last week I responded to some Australian politicians’ comments that the “Paris Agreement is cactus” with the comment that it was, like a hardy plant, resilient to adversity. My conviction in this regard has deepened since, as no other country has shifted in any substantial or surprising way away from their commitments or undermined the credibility of the Paris process.

Countries making progress

Countries continued to formalise their ratification of the Paris agreement. Saudi Arabia and Japan, not always climate action heroes, joined Australia in doing so after the US election. Now 110 nations have formalised their commitment.

China has continued with its commitment and development of carbon markets. Numerous reports detail that China senses opportunities for economic and international leadership in doing so. Last week, the UK released plans to phase out its coal power plants by 2025. Yesterday Germany released a detailed 2050 plan for transition to near net zero emissions economy. Minister Hendricks described it as a “modernisation strategy to make Germany competitive in a decarbonising world.”

Germany’s plan is backed by both major centre right and left political parties and, mindful of the political consequences of excessive disruption, includes processes and institutions to smooth the transition to near net zero emissions by 2050. It is worth remembering that their 2030 target is about 45 per cent below 2005 levels, compared with Australia’s 26-28 per cent. This plan sets out sectoral targets for energy, building, transport and more. In coming days more nations are expected to release 2050 strategies, a process encouraged by the Paris agreement.

Elsewhere there was a multitude of demonstrations of, and commitments to, action. The ACT and 28 other cities and states joined the “Under 2 MOU” now representing over a billion people. and US $25.7 trillion worth of GDP of similar jurisdictions focused on the climate goals of the Paris agreement. US-based multinationals, Walmart and Mars, also made new commitments to renewable energy and other investments

Australian Ministers arrive

Australian Ministers Bishop and Frydenberg have arrived and are participating in numerous events and forums. They are no doubt, and deservedly, relishing the respect for Australia’s ratification. However, while continuing support for worthy initiatives on rainforests and “blue carbon” (marine sources of carbon sinks like mangroves and seagrasses), there haven’t been any substantive new announcements.

Foreign Minister Bishop will be making a statement on behalf of Australia tomorrow and Australia will participate in a session on enhanced ambition.

In the negotiations themselves progress was made in developing the rulebook that will flesh out the rules behind the Paris agreement but political leaders will still need to clarify guidance on some key issues in the days ahead.

John Connor

John Connor was CEO of The Climate Institute from 2007 to March 2017. Whilst qualified as a lawyer, John has spent over twenty years working in a variety of policy and advocacy roles with organisations including World Vision, Make Poverty History, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the NSW Nature Conservation Council. Since joining The Climate Institute in 2007 John has been a leading analyst and commentator on the rollercoaster that has been Australia’s domestic and international carbon policy and overseen the Institute’s additional focus on institutional investors and climate risk. John has also worked on numerous government and business advisory panels.

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