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Solving the Climate Change Conundrum
The Marrakech conference paves a rocky road toward action
By Deng Yaqing | NO. 48 December 1, 2016

 

Solar panels operating in a photovoltaic power plant built by a Chinese hi-tech company in Accra, capital of Ghana (XINHUA) 

Sleeping three to four hours every day, having little time to eat, dealing with different groups of negotiators, and running from one event to another—that was the life of Xie Zhenhua, China's special representative on climate change affairs, during this year's climate change conference. Acting as the head of the Chinese Delegation since 2009, the 67-year-old hailed the Paris agreement reached last year by 196 countries as a landmark in coping with climate change.

Xie initially held high hopes that representatives of those countries could turn their words into action at the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was convened in Marrakech, Morocco, on November 7-19.

"I think the Marrakech conference is a success, but we still have a lot more to work on," said Xie after the conference's closing session.

More than 25,000 people from different parts of the world attended the two-week event, during which the Marrakech Action Proclamation was issued. The proclamation aims to move forward on the implementation of the Paris agreement. Should these plans come to fruition, they would reduce greenhouse gas emissions during this century and limit the rise of global average temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

 

Senior officials celebrate after the Marrakech Action Proclamation is passed at the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Marrakech, Morocco, on November 17 (XINHUA)  

According to statistics from the UNFCCC, by the end of the Marrakech conference, 111 countries had ratified the Paris agreement.

Salaheddine Mezouar, Moroccan Foreign Minister and President of the COP22, praised those countries' willingness to extend their support for climate action and sustainable development.

China's Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin noted that the international community has now shown their intent to take joint actions to tackle climate change and to follow the global trend of green and low-carbon development.

Take China for example—despite being the largest developing country, it has pledged to cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 18 percent by 2020 from the 2015 level as part of its 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20). In addition, a nationwide carbon emissions trading market will be launched in 2017.

 

Two Moroccan citizens take a selfie with a China-manufactured pure electric bus in Marrakech, Morocco, on November 9ebei Province(XINHUA)  

Not just pledges

Last December, at the COP21, nearly 200 parties to the UNFCCC adopted the Paris agreement, aiming to strengthen global action on climate change.

"This momentum is irreversible—it is being driven not only by governments, but also by science, business and global action of all types, at all levels," reads the Marrakech proclamation. "Our task now is to rapidly build on that momentum, together, moving forward purposefully to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to foster adaptation efforts, thereby benefiting and supporting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its sustainable development goals."

In order to keep the Paris agreement on track, the Marrakech conference agreed to work out a rulebook by December 2018. This would be crucial for the success of these efforts, since the Paris agreement left many issues vague, such as how countries will report and monitor their national pledges to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

According to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, all countries understand that climate action is essential for their security, economic prosperity and the health and well-being of their citizens.

Global cooperation rooted in strong national action is essential, he noted, saying that no country, irrespective of its size or strength, is immune from the impacts of climate change, and no country can afford to tackle the challenge alone.

During the conference, 47 countries most vulnerable to climate change promised to cut their carbon emissions dramatically, and to become 100 percent reliant on renewable power more rapidly.

"Countries vulnerable to climate change will play an important role in making the goal of limiting temperature rise a reality. China appreciates their attitude toward fighting against climate change through actions," said Li Junfeng, Director of the National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation.

A number of countries have set out to fulfill the pledges they made in the Paris agreement. However, these steps need to be quickened, said Zhang Haibin, Director of the Center for International Organization Studies, Peking University. Zhang noted that though it has become a trend for countries to team up with each other to combat climate change, there are some uncertainties that require special attention.

 

Moroccan Foreign Minister and COP22 President Salaheddine Mezouar (left) receives the conference mallet from French Minister for the Environment Segolene Royal at the opening ceremony of the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Marrakech on November 7 (XINHUA)

Trump fear

The United States' President-elect, Donald Trump, was a hot topic at this year's climate change conference due to his reluctance to carry out the Paris agreement and his skepticism on climate change.

Trump has claimed that climate change is a hoax fabricated by China, and has outlined plans which favor the use of fossil fuels over renewable energy. He has also threatened to halt U.S. taxpayer funds for UN climate programs.

Frank Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji, which will host next year's climate conference, has invited Trump to visit the South Pacific nation to see the effects of stronger storms and rising sea levels with his own eyes.

Mezouar, the COP22 President and Morocco's Foreign Minister, made a direct plea to Trump to join the struggle against global warming. Mezouar called on Trump to display his pragmatism as well as commitment to the spirit of the international community for the future, the planet, humanity and the dignity of millions of people.

In the face of the shadow cast by Trump over the Marrakech conference, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry argued no one has the right to make decisions that affect billions of people based solely on ideology or without proper input.

Aside from that, some world leaders and negotiators maintain optimistic views on the stance that Trump may take after assuming the presidency. "I am sure that he will make a good, wise decision," said UN Secretary General Ban, stressing that action on climate change has become unstoppable.

China's top climate change envoy Xie believes a wise leader will follow historical trends. "For now, we hope to build bridges, not walls."

But what will happen if Trump carries out his statements from the general election? Zhang predicted that if that were the case, it would become more difficult to reach the global emission reduction goals and it would set a bad example for other developed countries.

Furthermore, developing countries would receive less financial support in their fight against climate change, the global energy transformation and low-carbon development would be disturbed, and the global climate governance system based on the Paris agreement would be undermined, Zhang said.

 

A wind power plant in Zhangjiakou, north China’s Hebei Province  

Divergences

Although most of the issues which were a source of concern to developing countries were included in the Marrakech Proclamation, some believed that the agreement reached at the conference was not entirely satisfactory.

In the Marrakech Proclamation, developed countries reaffirmed their vow to give their developing counterparts $100 billion per year by 2020 to support climate action.

Yet, little progress has been made in working out a concrete road-map or an accounting method with regard to the funding issue. The poorest countries have not been given enough money to adapt to changes caused by global warming, said Isabel Kreisler, Oxfam International's climate change policy leader.

"We saw a stubborn refusal from developed countries' ministers and negotiators to fill the adaptation finance gap and face the fact that the Paris agreement doesn't fully protect lives that will suffer the most from climate change," said Kreisler, adding that adaptation finance should not just be an abstract numbers game.

"Rich countries have been trying to wriggle out of their pledges to help poorer countries meet the costs of coping with impacts and greening their economies," said Harjeet Singh, a global leader on climate change with ActionAid, an international non-governmental organization.

Since the rulebook will not be worked out until 2018, the world's poorest people in the most vulnerable countries will have to continue waiting before substantive decisions are made on how the Paris agreement will be put into action, said Andrew Norton, Director of the International Institute for Environment and Development.

The main obstacle is the lack of funding available to developing countries to adapt to the effects of climate change. It's vital that developed countries provide financial support to the developing world, said Norton.

As the largest developing country, China has been willing to help other developing countries fight and adapt to climate change, said Xie Ji, Deputy Director of the Department of Climate Change, National Development and Reform Commission.

According to Xie Ji, China has founded the China Fund for South-South Cooperation on Climate Change and contributed 20 billion yuan ($2.89 billion) to it, established 10 low-carbon demonstrative parks in developing countries, launched 100 mitigation and adaptation projects, and trained around 1,000 professionals to tackle problems arising from climate changes in developing countries.

Chao Qingchen, Deputy Director of the National Climate Center, noted that little progress has been made in setting up a fund operation mechanism and emergency model under the Paris agreement, completing the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol and reaching the $100-billion goal for the Green Climate Fund.

"Though positive results have been generated at the Marrakech conference, more efforts need to be made to fill the gap between reality and expectation," said Chao.

(Reporting from Marrakech, Morocco)

Copyedited by Bryan Michael Galvan

Comments to dengyaqing@bjreview.com  

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