An unstoppable force: Seven things we learned from the COP22 climate talks
As political and business leaders board flights home from Marrakesh after two weeks of proactive discussions, edie looks back at some of the highlights of the UN's COP22 climate talks.
A fortnight ago, the green business community was full of hopes and wishes as the COP22 conference began.
Underpinning the plethora of pledges and announcements that followed was a feeling that delegates shouldn’t merely use this event as a self-congratulatory exercise for the Paris Agreement. The conference provided a platform for nations to decide how to practically enact that climate Agreement and work with the private sector to push us beyond current commitments.
The Conference kicked off with a bang, as it was confirmed on day one that more than 100 countries had ratified the Paris Agreement. The first two days of COP22 then hammered home the need for “ambition” to rise to a vanguard of business and government action in order to steer nations towards a well-below-two-degrees pathway.
But that initial sense of optimism from a fantastic opening 48 hours of COP22 seemed to evaporate overnight due a seismic political development in the West. On the third day of the talks, Government representatives and delegates woke up to the news that Donald Trump had pulled off the biggest electoral shocks in US history to become the next US President, throwing global climate action into doubt due to Trumps’ climate change scepticism.
While UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon congratulated Trump on his election win, private discussions were taking place to assess the potential ramifications of a President who once infamously described global warming as a “Chinese hoax”. But despite speculation mounting that the US could pull out of the Paris Agreement, delegates and business leaders forged ahead with ambitious new climate frameworks and bold pledges aimed at accelerating the global low-carbon transition.
Throughout the two weeks, hundreds of high-level business leaders and investors met with leaders from Government, civil society and the UN in a show of resounding support and commitment to taking action on the Paris Climate Agreement. The external political uncertainty ultimately failed to dampen spirits in the transition to a global low-carbon economy. To the contrary, COP22 proved that responsible businesses across the world stand ready, willing and able to deliver bold climate action.
Seven things we learned from COP22
1) Trump won’t stop the global climate movement
A sense of defiant optimism has pervaded the conference in the days since Trump seized the keys to the White House.
Indeed, Trump’s campaign pledge to strengthen the fossil fuel industry was boldly talked down by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who delivered a rousing speech in Marrakesh to assert that US climate commitments would not be reversed. Kerry stated that the low-carbon transition would be dictated by market forces, rather than policy, as the US presented a long-term strategy for ambitious emissions reductions.
Building on that positive rhetoric, a call for political leaders to rapidly demonstrate greater ambition in the low-carbon agenda was issued by 196 national governments. The Marrakech Action Proclamation demanded the “highest political commitment” to accelerate decarbonisation, sending a clear message to Trump about the “irreversible” momentum built up in recent months.
The Proclamation statement reads: “We welcome the Paris Agreement, adopted under the Convention, its rapid entry into force, with its ambitious goals, its inclusive nature and its reflection of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances, and we affirm our commitment to its full implementation.
“Indeed, this year, we have seen extraordinary momentum on climate change worldwide, and in many business multilateral fora. This momentum is irreversible – it is being driven not only by governments, but by science, and global action of all types at all levels.”
2) Businesses are now willing and able to lead the climate charge
Ki-moon delivered several rousing speeches during the conference, urging companies to further increase their climate commitment and noting that “business has an enormous role” to play to ensure that the gap closes to meet the well below 2C pathway.
The business world responded emphatically. Despite President-elect Trump’s plans to pull out of the Paris Agreement, more than 360 US-based companies and investors – including Ikea, Unilever, Mars and Nike – reaffirmed their commitment to supporting the historic deal and the need to accelerate the low-carbon transition.
In a statement, the companies and investors warned that a failure to build a low-carbon economy will put “American prosperity at risk”.
“Implementing the Paris Climate Agreement will enable and encourage businesses and investors to turn the billions of dollars in existing low-carbon investments into the trillions of dollars the world needs to bring clean energy prosperity to all,” the statement reads. “Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk.”
Individual green business announcements were also rife at COP22. On energy day of the talks, insurance firm Swiss Re pledged to double its energy productivity through the EP100 campaign, while Mars announced a new wind power purchasing agreement to purchase its Mexican operations.
More positive news then came towards the end of the talks, with the announcement that the Science Based Targets initiative – which calls on businesses to revamp corporate climate goals in-line with global climate commitments established under the Paris Agreement – is now “far exceeding” it’s timeline, with 200 companies signed up to the scheme, just 18 months after its inception.
3) The UK remains a leader on the international stage
The UK effectively secured a seat at the table for future climate talks on the penultimate day of COP22 when Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson put pen to paper and officially ratified the Paris Agreement. The news has sent a strong signal to world leaders of the UK’s commitment to international leadership on climate issues, despite the uncertainties of Brexit.
Climate Minister Nick Hurd spoke at various events in Marrakesh to reassure the international community – EU Member States in particular – that the UK will remain a positive and constructive force on climate action before, during and after exiting the bloc.
In one session, Hurd told Marrakech delegates: “We’re at the table. We were very constructive in terms of the early ratification of the Paris Agreement, I think that was appreciated. So I think in terms of the EU conversation there’s absolutely no friction. It’s more about how do we land a successful COP and how do we keep this momentum which is so critical.”
4) Water is no longer in the shadows of global climate issues
In the international move to tackle climate change, water scarcity has been something of a hidden spectre, lurking behind other issues without truly being examined and acted upon. Midway through COP22, businesses were issued a “wake-up call” by a major new CDP report which revealed that water risks fuelled by climate change cost the private sector $14bn (£11.3bn) over the last year.
However, the COP22 fortnight did see a tangible shift towards water scarcity-related commitments. The inaugural Global Climate Action Day for Water at COP22 called for more attention to be given to looming threats of water scarcity and security. The World Water Council emphasised the need to create interactions between the water and climate arenas, between finance, governance, and academia.
Three recommendations for water action were then set upon at COP22, include harmonising water and climate policies; extending water access and sanitation services in Africa and reinforcing resilient water governance; and promoting inclusive and integrated water resources management.
In one session during the talks, World Water Council honorary president Loic Fauchon said: “In Marrakech, for the first time in COP history, the issue of water is at the forefront of the agenda, enabling the world water community to propose concrete solutions and actions today.”
5) The Paris Agreement is just the beginning…
Just before the Marrakech conference, a not-to-be-forgotton report from the UN pointed out that, even if the Paris Agreement is fully implemented and enacted upon, it will still only place the world on track for a temperature rise of 2.9-3.4 degrees this century – clearly not enough to avoid catastrophic impacts of climate change.
That report was followed by the Global Carbon Budget 2016, which revealed that, while global carbon emissions growth stalled for the third year in a row, the annual growth rate of atmospheric CO2 concentration reached a record-high last year and remains on course to increase in 2016.
In the acknowledgement that rapid action must be taken to steer the world away from global warming, private sector leaders came together at COP22 to call for countries to fully implement their national climate action plans through strong domestic legislation so that the many climate commitments of the private sector can be speedily implemented.
6) Climate finance: Crucial to realising low-carbon objectives
Capital investment will be critical to deploy clean technologies which can accelerate the low-carbon transition. So said numerous expert speakers during the two-week talks.
Towards the end of COP22, the World Bank Group announced a new plan to ramp up support for countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to confront the multiple threats of climate change. Over the next four years, the World Bank aims to nearly double the portion financing dedicated to climate action, taking it to around $1.5bn a year by 2020.
Meanwhile, a host of major nations including Canada, the EU, Japan and the US revealed plans to deliver more than $23m for capacity building and technical assistance at the request of developing countries across a broad range of mitigation and adaptation technology and policy sectors.
During the talks, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa said: “Accelerating the deployment of clean and green technologies is going to be crucial for realizing the aims of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“Finance will also be key if that deployment is to happen at the speed and scale required. I am thus delighted that the UNFCCC’s Climate Technology Centre and Network is announcing new and additional funding support for its unique work.”
7) Innovation is front and centre of sustainable development
Following on nicely from that last point, low-carbon innovation was hailed as a game-changer at COP22, with cleantech and green consumer goods and services promoted as key solutions that could de-risk global climate mitigation battles.
The University of Hull was one institution present in Marrakech, attending on behalf of the UK’s Department for International Trade (DIT) to highlight to global delegates how research, development and innovation can drive down renewable energy costs.
Meanwhile, a groundbreaking new clean technology alliance was launched at COP22 by the Solar Impulse Foundation with the aim of driving collaboration and supporting the global low-carbon transition. The Solar Impulse 2 zero-emissions airplane completed its historic round-the-world solar flight in July and the new World Alliance for Clean Technologies is designed to bring together businesses in the field of sustainable technologies to foster more collaboration and innovation to drive climate action.
Solar Impulse co-pilot Bertrand Piccard said: “We need to embrace clean technologies, not because they are ‘eco-logical,’ but because they are ‘logical’. They are a way to bridge the gap between ecology and economy.
“Even if climate change didn’t exist, energy efficient technologies would make sense: to create jobs, generate profit and boost sustainable growth while also reducing CO2 emissions and protecting natural resources.”
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