Four revelations from the climate talks in Marrakesh

From uncertainties about America’s future climate change policies to pressure on Canada to do more in the international effort to combat global warming, here are four takeaways from COP22 in Morocco.  

By: /
November 18, 2016
Marrakesh
Greenpeace stage a protest outside the UN Climate Change Conference 2016 (COP22) in Marrakech, Morocco, November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal

At last year’s climate change conference in Paris (COP 21), nearly 200 countries reached a historic agreement on how to fight global climate change. The accord aimed to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – the level many scientists agree is the safest for the environment – and to push for a more ambitious 1.5 degree limit.

The agreement, which took years to negotiate, came into force this past Nov. 4, after 55 countries that account for more than 55 percent of global greenhouse emissions formally accepted it. This came days before the start of this year’s climate talks (COP22) in Marrakesh, Morocco, which kicked off on Nov. 7 and end on Friday.

The primary goal of this year’s talks was to find ways to implement the accord and to create a review process that would hold the countries accountable to the agreement.

With the talks coming to an end Friday in Marrakesh, here are four revelations from the conference.

1. Future U.S. climate commitments are uncertain.

The United States presidential elections took place a day after the talks began in Morocco, and Donald Trump’s win caused a stir at the conference, prompting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to reaffirm America’s commitment to the Paris accord. “The U.S. is on our way to meeting all of our climate commitments,” he said earlier this week.

During his campaign, Trump had said that he would pull America out of the Paris climate agreement, in addition to claiming that climate change is a hoax “created by and for the Chinese.” Because the agreement was ratified by Washington and came to force prior to the election, the U.S. is required to remain part of it for three years, after which the Trump administration would need to wait another year before it could officially leave. But if the President-elect decides he doesn’t want to meet the agreement’s targets, he could simply choose not to take any of the actions necessary for the U.S. to live up to its commitments.

His actions so far make U.S. commitments — and the success of the entire Paris agreement — extremely uncertain. Trump has said he would stop the U.S.’ contributions to the Green Climate Fund – a fund established by the UN with the goal of raising $100 billion by 2020 in order to help developing nations with projects dealing with climate change. He has also chosen Myron Ebell, a climate change skeptic, to head the transition at the Environmental Protection Agency. 

2. No conflict of interest policy, yet.

During this month’s conference, companies such as ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and others were given open access to the talks, resulting in the circulation of a petition, created by Corporate Accountability International, asking for fossil fuel lobbyists to be excluded. Organizations that represent fossil fuel companies, such as the World Coal Association, Business Europe and Business Roundtable, also had access to the talks. Additionally, the petition called for the screening of “non-state” participants for conflicts of interest.

The petition was “forced into the hands” of the U.S. delegation in Morocco on Nov. 16, after the delegation had initially refused to received it.

The petition built on previous efforts by countries such as Ecuador and Venezuela earlier this year to create a conflict of interest policy, which were squashed by the EU, the UK, U.S. and Australia. In a statement regarding the petition, a member of the Ecuadorian delegation said: “Too much is at stake to continue allowing the world’s biggest polluters and their agents to undermine this process.”

Over 600,000 people have signed the petition, which can be viewed online.

3. 2016 was the hottest year on record.

On the first day of the conference, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported that 2016 will likely be the hottest year on record. According to its report, the global temperature this year was 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

This is close to the 1.5-degree limit that many countries pushed for last year in Paris.

El Niño has played a part in the increased temperatures this year, but WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas said that on top of its effects, we can expect temperatures to keep rising. “Another year. Another record,” said Taalas said in a statement. “The extra heat from the powerful El Niño event has disappeared. The heat from global warming will continue.”

The news was met with a renewed sense of urgency at the summit. A statement released on Nov. 17 by the nearly 200 countries at COP22 said that “our climate is warming at an alarming and unprecedented rate and we have an urgent duty to respond.”

Despite this news, a separate report showed that carbon emissions have not been increasing for the past three years, even though there has been economic growth. This is being credited to the fact that China has been burning less coal. 

4. Canada reaffirmed its commitment to Paris accord, but it was criticized for fossil fuel expansion.

Canada drew international attention last year when, led by newly minted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a 300-strong delegation attended the Paris talks. It also drew attention with its promises made there, pledging $300 million a year to clean technology innovation and support for the stricter 1.5 degree limit. 

This week, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna reaffirmed Canada’s commitment to the Paris accord, despite the Trump win: “We’re moving forward, as is the world.” She also said that Canada will continue to move on its other climate change promises, including setting a national minimum carbon price, supporting clean technology and working to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 80 percent below its 2005 levels by 2030. 

Despite this, Canada faced some criticism at the conference, regarding the federal’s government approving of a liquefied natural gas project in British Columbia and its openness to oil pipeline proposals and expansions. 

“With Trump threatening to stall U.S. climate efforts, it’s more critical than ever that Canada pull its weight and get to its fair share of the global effort to combat climate change,” said Catherine Abreu, Executive Director of Climate Action Network Canada, in a statement. “Our current 2030 goal to cut climate pollution is insufficient, and our contributions to international climate finance need to increase."