Moroccan Foreign Minister and COP22 President Salaheddine Mezouar (L) and French Minister for Environment Segolene Royal launch the opening of the UN Climate Change Conference 2016 (COP22) in Marrakech (Reuters)
Moroccan Foreign Minister and COP22 President Salaheddine Mezouar (L) and French Minister for Environment Segolene Royal launch the opening of the UN Climate Change Conference 2016 (COP22) in Marrakech (Reuters)

The two weeks long UN Climate Change Conference 2016 or COP22 (the 22nd meeting of the parties signatory to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) recently concluded in Marrakech on a low note. The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States sent shock waves throughout the conference halls located near the King of Morrocco’s grand palace.

A well-known climate denier, Donald Trump has threatened to pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which was clinched last year by 197 nations at the previous UN Climate Change Conference. President Obama along with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon had been very active behind the scenes, pushing countries to ratify the agreement and on November 5 this year, the agreement came into legal force as it was formally ratified by 110 countries representing 76 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, including the US with 18 per cent, in record time. Pakistan too managed to ratify the Paris Agreement just days before sending its official delegation to Marrakech.

“As news of Trump’s victory started coming in during the early hours of the morning here at Marrakech, there was an initial wave of shock. Our colleagues from the US were visibly shaken,” said Kashmala Kakakhel, a Pakistani climate finance expert who attended the COP in Morocco. “However, as the news settled in, the focus went back to the negotiations and how to make it work in the new circumstances. Governments of over 25 countries reaffirmed their commitment to the process with or without America’s support.”

Indeed, as the conference wrapped up on Friday evening last week, negotiators from around 200 countries of the world reaffirmed their resolve to work together on implementing the Paris Agreement amidst all the political uncertainties. WWF-International noted that one of the most positive messages coming out of the COP was the “consensus to defend the Paris Agreement and push it forward.”


Climate activists continue to hope that Trump’s remarks on climate change were just hyperbole


There were few breakthroughs in the critical agenda items under discussion at the conference, including agriculture, finance, adaptation and pre-2020 actions. Discussions were essentially shifted to the next climate talks to be held in Bonn in Germany next year. Developing countries also complained that rich countries were again dragging their feet on issues such as providing climate finance and technical assistance. “The availability of climate finance, technology development and transfer, and capacity-building in the developing world must be ensured,” said Zahid Hamid, Pakistan’s minister for climate change in his speech at the conference.

There is, in fact, little time to waste — experts say that 2016 is the warmest year on record and efforts to curb climate change have not been sufficient. The UNEP Emissions Gap report warned that countries’ climate pledges (each country has pledged volunteer plans in the form of Nationally Determined Contributions) amount to less than half of the cuts needed to reach the goals they agreed on in Paris. What’s more, there is very little time to close this gap. Despite this, developed countries have not increased their ambition on finance or emission cuts for the pre-2020 period. “This shows their total lack of commitment and seriousness as historical emitters in addressing the climate change issue,” said Chandra Bhusan from the Delhi based Centre for Science and Environment. He added: “With Donald Trump as the president-elect, there is now a big question mark on the survival of the Paris Agreement if the US chooses to opt out of it”.

Experts say Donald Trump can void US involvement in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (signed in Rio in 1992) in a year’s time, or just issue a presidential order simply deleting the US signature from the Paris accord. Many nations still hope the US will stay in the agreement. Host Morocco said the agreement was strong enough to survive a pullout. “If one party decides to withdraw it doesn’t call the agreement into question,” Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar told a news conference.

At the colourful Pakistani pavilion, there was a small office where Pakistan’s official delegates congregated in between meetings. Irfan Tariq, the director general from the ministry of climate change said: “So far the US representatives are pursuing negotiations in the same manner as before. In my view it is really too early to predict anything about their plans.”

There was plenty of despair, however, in the media centre where journalists from all over the world were busy filing stories for their media houses. “I think many of the delegates here are burying their heads in the sand … Trump’s election is disastrous for the world,” said a veteran journalist from Nepal. According to Saleem ul Haq, a senior Bangladeshi climate expert who works for the London based International Institute for Environment and Development, “If Donald Trump takes the action on climate change that he threatens, this COP will mark the transition of global leadership from the US to China for the rest of this century. Climate change will be the defining issue of this century.”

Marrakech hosted a COP back in 2001, which was COP7. This was when the US pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol. “We survived that, we will also survive their pull out from Paris,” said one delegate. “Who knows how long Trump will stay in power. We should not be fixated on Trump; the momentum to build a low emission economy and shift away from fossil fuels must go forward.”

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 27th, 2016

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