Compared to last year’s COP21 in Paris, the work that needed to be hammered out in Marrakech was never going to be the most glamorous, but as we again break global records for the hottest year on record, it is especially significant.
And it delivered more of a roller-coaster course than expected. From celebrating the Paris Agreement becoming international law in record time to an unexpected US election result and the usual twists and turns of the negotiations themselves – the Marrakech climate talks have been an exciting ride.
The big news story was of course the surprising election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States. The atmosphere at the conference on results day was sombre – after all he’d described climate change as a Chinese hoax – but negotiators took it in their stride and got on with their work.
The resolve of nations to fight climate change didn’t waver, and all nations clearly restated that they are in this for the long haul in the Marrakech Action Proclamation, and national statements. Momentum is encouraging on several fronts. Eleven countries including Japan, Australia and the United Kingdom have ratified the Paris Agreement since the day of the US election. As the conference closed in the late hours of Friday night, 112 countries covering nearly 79 per cent of global emissions were members of the Paris club. The highlight was a commitment by 48 of the most climate-vulnerable countries to shift to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050 and to look at improving their current climate pledges in 2018 – this is real leadership!
The world is moving to low-carbon and there is irreversible momentum that will grow as commitments across all sectors of society pour in.
Several countries pressed ahead with their long-term carbon-reduction plans in the 2050 Pathways Platform which also sees commitment from businesses and cities to engage in solving our climate crisis. These pledges are becoming more significant as cities and businesses recognise the benefits these sorts of actions bring.
While COP21 was a hard act to follow, this round of negotiations did what it needed to do in terms of setting out the timeline to agree the rules of the game by 2018 – these rules will guide the implementation of the Paris Agreement, including transparent emissions baselines and the five-year cycle to toughen targets. Important, too, was the process on the so-called “2018 facilitative dialogue” which will be an opportunity to compare national and aggregate Paris Agreement targets to the latest science and to start to tighten them.
The efforts by countries, cities, businesses and more are welcome but there still remains a growing “emissions gap” between what is needed to limit warming and the Paris pledges. Rapid and deep emissions reductions along with preparing for worse climate impacts are essential for the world’s future prosperity, safety and security.
The story in the UK is still mixed. The ratification of the Paris Agreement, the commitment to phase out coal-fired power generation by 2025 and the setting of the fifth carbon-budget under the Climate Change Act are great signals by the UK. However, moves to expand airports and support fracking over renewable energy are sending the wrong signals. The government needs to maintain the positive momentum and publish the awaited Emissions Reduction Plan that sets out how the UK will follow through our climate commitments. This plan needs to outline a coherent set of policies and deliver action over the next 15 years to achieve the fifth carbon-budget and keep the UK on the right track towards our 2050 goal and a sustainable and prosperous future.