COP22 update: Delegates drive on with climate action amidst Trump trepidations

As reports about US President-Elect Donald Trump's determination to walk away from the Paris Agreement emerge, delegates at COP22 in Marrakesh have forged ahead with ambitious new climate frameworks and bold pledges aimed at accelerating the global low-carbon transition.

Soon-to-be President Donald Trump has made no secret of his desire to “cancel” the Paris Agreement

After Trump confirmed that he intends to go full steam ahead with plans to cap immigration and build his flagship wall, delegates entering the second week of the COP22 climate conference have been struggling to shake away clouds of doubt and uncertainty out in the Moroccan desert.

Trump reinforced his campaign with pledges to strengthen the fossil fuel industry, and once he moves into the Whitehouse a Republican-controlled Congress could well give him free reign to tear away at climate commitments.

Neighbouring delegates visiting Marrakesh are likely to follow the events with a keen eye. During COP21, the US pledged to reduce emissions by 26% to 28% by 2025 against a 2005 baseline. But if the US pulls out of the Agreement – which it is entitled to do in 2020 – developing countries are likely to feel the brunt of the impact.

Analysts Verisk Maplecroft’s new Climate Change Vulnerability Index has revealed that Africa is home to 18 of the 20 most vulnerable countries to climate change. If the US were to disregard its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) – more on them later – then these countries will face exacerbated impacts beyond “hottest years on record”, which looks set to happen for the third year running.

Fortunately, COP22 is hosting the Africa Regional coordination Unit of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). The Convention offers five regional implementation annexes that aim to coordinate approaches to tackling desertification and drought.

However, these annexes rely on stakeholder interaction, which again places the US and its vast resources back into the spotlight. As well as throwing the global climate goal into chaos, Trump could also leave a gaping hole in the $100bn climate pledge to aid developing countries.

Verisk Maplecroft’s senior analyst for environment and climate change Will Nichols said: “Just days after the Paris Agreement on climate change came into force, the election of Donald Trump is a nightmare scenario for those wanting to advance the world’s decarbonisation pathway. A Republican-controlled Congress is unlikely to stand in the way of his plans to strip back domestic environmental regulation and pull out of the agreement.

“Technically, the US is unable to exit the Paris Agreement for four years, but Trump could simply ignore the deal’s terms with little recourse. Trump would further undermine the pact domestically if he makes good on plans to ramp up coal production, ditch the Environmental Protection Agency, and scrap President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

“However, the falling cost of renewable technologies makes green investments more economically viable with each passing year. These cost savings may prevent such investments being dropped in the absence of federal support. States and cities such as California and New York City are likely to continue to pursue strong carbon reduction policies regardless.”

Carbon tax and national contributions

The US does have delegates present at COP22. Outgoing US climate envoy Jonathan Pershing told reporters at the conference that the “change in the US will not change the actions of others”, noting that his Chinese counterpart had personally assured him that the country was going to strive towards the Paris goals regardless.

Despite China’s pledge, Verisk Maplecroft’s analysis warns that the actions of the US could discourage other heavy emitters, like India and Japan, from catalysing the low-carbon transition. In light of this, French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has called for the implementation of a European-wide carbon tax on American imports if Trump goes ahead with his Paris plans.

“Well, I will demand that Europe put in place a carbon tax at its border, a tax of 1-3% for all products coming from the US, if the US doesn’t apply environmental rules that we are imposing on our companies,” Sarkozy said.

While the French candidate was not present in Marrakesh, his views did reach the ears German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks. Speaking at COP22, Hendricks claimed that “Germany has decided not to go down this path, but opt for emissions trading”. Her views were echoed by the European Commission’s (EC) climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete, who told reporters at the summit that the EC “is not thinking on any proposals” in regards to a carbon tax.

Hendricks was in Marrakesh as part of the formal opening of the Paris Agreement. Today (15 November) marks the first time that all the ratified parties will come together. Hendricks issued a rallying call in the video below.

German delegates have been keeping busy in Morocco. The country will reposition its international climate finance – which hit around €2.7bn last year – to raise €4bn towards the new NDC Partnership which was launched at the conference this week.

The NDC Partnership is a coalition of 42 developed and developing nations – as well as global institutions – that will aim to ensure that countries receive the technical and financial support to reach targets related to the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“National climate plans, or NDCs, are at the heart of the Paris Agreement,” Morocco’s minister of energy, mines and water Dr Hakima El Haite said. “Launching at COP22, the NDC Partnership comes at an opportune time to accelerate climate action worldwide.

“This Partnership is a vital, collaborative platform for helping countries embed their NDCs into all sectors and all levels of decision-making. Through the NDC Partnership, we will also engage more of the private sector, encourage South-South cooperation and make donors more responsive to countries’ needs. The NDC Partnership is exactly the sort of smart, action-oriented initiative that we need to deliver on the promise of the Paris Agreement.”

UK presence

Both the NDC Partnership and the formal opening of the Agreement look set to take place without a UK representative at the table. Despite Prime Minister Theresa May vowing to ratify the Paris Agreement by the end of the year, progress, if any, has remained silent.

According to Climate Home, things could change this week. The site suggests that the UK will ratify in the coming days with climate minister Nick Hurd mooted to make the announcement at COP22. In UK law it is custom to subject international treaties to 21 days of “negative procedure”. This timeframe handily expires this week.

The University of Hull is also present in Marrakesh, attending on behalf of the Department for International Trade (DIT), to highlight to global delegates how research, development and innovation can drive down renewable energy costs. Both Siemens and former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott also form part of the DIT’s presence.

In other COP22 news…

While the UK’s climate aspirations are being dragged into the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, US companies are accelerating low-carbon aspirations in an attempt to futureproof the US green economy against Trump’s new regime.  

Later today, the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) will highlight a recent statement penned by 11 leading corporations, that calls for partnerships with governments to be introduced in order to drive the low-carbon agenda.

The statement – endorsed by Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Calpine, HP Inc., Intel, LafargeHolcim, Microsoft, National Grid, PG&E, Rio Tinto, Schneider Electric, and Shell – states: “As businesses concerned about the well-being of our investors, our customers, our communities and our planet, we are committed to working on our own and in partnership with governments to mobilize the technology, investment and innovation needed to transition to a sustainable low-carbon economy.”

The likes of Mars and Microsoft are among the 150+ US firms that have also committed to new climate targets as part of the American Business Act on Climate Pledge. The letter and the Climate Pledge wants to facilitate long-term direction and transparency through carbon pricing and low-carbon investment.

Away from the business sphere, 29 new signatories joined the Under2 Coalition at COP22 on Friday. The Coalition – which aims to strengthen relationships between highly industrialised areas and emerging economies – was signed by the Australian Capital Territory, the Indonesian provinces of South Sumatra, East Kalimantan and West Kalimantan, the Italian region of Abruzzo and the Mexican states of Tabasco and Michoacán. Also, 23 city members of the Alliance of Peaking Pioneer Cities – which includes Beijing – all agreed to join.

As part of the Coalition, sub-national governments will commit to limiting emissions to two tonnes per capita by 2050, which equates to carbon levels 80-95% below 1990 levels. The Climate Group will act as secretariat.

Finally, the UNFCCC has launched the World Biogas Association (WBA) at COP22. The WBA and its founding members will aim to demonstrate how biogas and anaerobic digestion (AD) industries and technologies can act as huge drivers in lowering global emissions. The WBA will facilitate the growth of technologies that utilise AD and biogas and will be tailored to help with the implementation of the SDGs. Companies and associations have been invited to join the WBA in the hopes of enhancing growth.

Overall, the WBA aims to: reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by around 20%; deliver flexible, storable baseload green gas; fuel HGVs, buses, tractors and other vehicles, reduce and recycle food waste; recycle sewage and waste water; return carbon to the farm; keep farmers farming sustainably; restore depleted soils; providing energy to villages in developing countries and reduce poverty and hunger.

COP22 continues…

Matt Mace

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