What happened at COP22 and what does Trump's decision mean for climate change?

Rachael Treharne has recently joined Hope for the Future as a volunteer. She has recently completed an internship with BirdLife International, an environmental NGO, with whom she attended the COP22 United Nations climate talks in Marrakech. Rachael shares her experience sitting in on the climate negotiations in Marrakech, giving an insight into the passion and commitment of world leaders towards action on climate change.

Rachael is a volunteer for Hope for the Future and attended the climate negotiations in Marrakech, 2016.

Rachael is a volunteer for Hope for the Future and attended the climate negotiations in Marrakech, 2016.

In November 2016 nearly 200 countries came together in the dust and heat of Marrakech to begin implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change. Two days into the negotiations, we woke up to the prospect of a US president who has referred to climate change as a ‘hoax’; a president who last week announced that the US would be withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement is an ambitious, global deal to hold warming well below 2˚C and adapt to climate change. The agreement works from the ‘bottom up’, encouraging each country to set their own, individual targets (‘known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs). The Agreement is an historic success: not only for its content, but for the unprecedented political momentum it has generated. However, the Paris Agreement is not perfect. While emissions reductions pledged so far will prevent an additional 1˚C of warming, they will still lead to overall warming of nearly 3 degrees.

In Marrakech, countries hoped to begin developing a rulebook for the agreement that would push countries to improve their pledges. Negotiations were erratic – there was frustration, confusion and even anger as countries clashed over different priorities and, especially, over the need to support poorer countries.

The Paris agreement in 2015 was a historic success. 

The Paris agreement in 2015 was a historic success. 

However underlying these conversations was a real commitment to the spirit of the agreement and to tackling climate change head on. Following the news of the US election, countries immediately responded with public statements of continuing support for climate action, culminating in the ‘Marrakech Action Proclamation’. The mood was summarised by one negotiator; ‘If the US steps back on climate change, it is up to the rest of us to step forward’.

However, the US is responsible for the largest share of the world’s cumulative emissions, and Trump’s planned withdrawal from the agreement is an undeniable blow. Withdrawing will take four years, and some have suggested that Trump may in fact re-join, having weakened the US NDC – allowing him to claim he’s negotiated a better deal. Nonetheless, ‘the Trump effect’ is likely to impact global emissions reductions and reduce support available for poorer countries.

So what does this mean for global climate action? Critically, much of the good news in Marrakech emerged outside the negotiating rooms. Most dramatically, 47 of the world’s poorest countries committed to 100% renewable energy production. There was also real leadership shown by the private sector, with major businesses committing to 100% renewable energy production and the ‘We Mean Business’ coalition highlighting over 1000 climate commitments from nearly 500 businesses.

This push for a greener future has been echoed in the days since US withdrawal was announced. Not only have leaders around the world have been quick to condemn to move, but cities, businesses and other groups across the US have stated that they will bypass Washington, working together to fulfil the US commitments under the Paris Agreement.  

This enthusiasm and determination within communities, constituencies and institutions is central to delivering climate action to an international level. While the changing political climate poses challenges to addressing climate change, it has failed to weaken the international momentum behind the Paris Agreement. It may even be galvanising extra support for climate change, in the words of a climate campaigner in Marrakech, creating an ‘organisers’ paradise’.