The Trump effect

White House effect A man wearing a mask depicting US President-Elect Donald Trump protests during a demonstration against climate change in London. The news of Trump’s election on the second day of the 22ndmeeting of the COP22, at Marrakech, Morocco, meant that the conference began on a negative note REUTERS

M Ramesh on what Donald Trump's victory could mean to action on climate change

Last year 197 countries said what they could do to keep the planet from heating up and in Paris pledged to keep their word in what became known as the Paris Agreement. The idea was to limit global warming to 2 degrees from the average of the pre-industrialisation period of the late 19th century, by the year 2100.

Everybody hailed the Paris Agreement as “historic”. In fact, it was nothing more than a loosely-worded joint statement that would bind the signatories to keeping their word, with no penalties for breach, except public shame.

Earlier this month, the United Nations Environment Programme released The Emissions Gap Report, 2016, in which it says the promises made last year, even if fully kept, is no good. Temperatures would rise up to 3.2 degrees more than the benchmark, which is way, way higher than the target of 2 degrees, and the “ambition” of 1.5 degrees.

Enter Donald Trump.

The President-elect of the United States is pro-fossil fuels, doesn’t believe global warming is happening and doesn’t like the Paris Agreement. He has left the world with the juddering thought that the US, the world’s second largest emitter after China, will pull out of the Agreement. This implies that the US would produce and burn more coal and oil and many other countries might follow suit. There is little evidence of Trump listening to wiser counsels.

Since the election of Trump came on the second day of the 22ndmeeting of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP22, at Marrakech, Morocco, the conference practically began on a negative note. There wasn’t much to be expected out of it anyway, but the development across the Atlantic was a big minus.

It is not surprising therefore that the COP22 ended with a ‘Marrakech Action Proclamation’, which is a mass of sentences that are either self-congratulatory or calls for action. “Not bold enough,” says Arivudai Nambi Appadurai, Strategy Head – Climate Resilience Practice, World Resources Institute, who was at COP22.

COP of Action

The Marrakech climate conference has been described as the COP of Action, meant to make rules for countries to keep their Paris pledges. At least from the perspective of developing countries, things have not gone well. These countries are unhappy that things are generally going the developed countries’ way, with emphasis more on ‘mitigation’ (avoiding further global warming) rather than ‘adaptation’ (helping countries with the already-here effects), and even less on ‘loss and damage’ (compensating countries hit by the consequences of climate change.)

If the COP was meant to make rules for redemption of the promises made at Paris, there was little success in making developed countries sign up to modalities of their finance pledge, as mentioned in Article 9 of the Paris Agreement. Paragraph 1 of Article 9 says, “developed country Parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation”; Paragraph 7 says that developed countries “shall provide transparent and consistent information on support for developing country parties…”

So, how much would the developed countries provide and when? A ‘COP of Action’ should have tried to get answers to such questions. The conference clearly failed the developing world on funding. The Global Climate Fund, annual contributions to which are supposed to rise to $100 billion by 2020, has so far gathered $ 10 billion – cumulatively.

Against such an order of funding requirement, COP22 saw tiny commitments under various other heads: $23 million for a centre for promote sharing of clean energy technology; $50 million for helping developing countries keep better track of their greenhouse gas emissions; and $80 million for Adaptation Fund — and these were touted as a success of the conference.

There are doubts about even this little money reaching developing countries. Bangladesh’s environment minister, Anwar Hossain Manju, said that based on past experience “we cannot be confident that the road map will generate the expected level of funds and delivered on time.”

Similarly, there was dismay over the apathy towards ‘pre-2020’ action. The Paris Agreement is all about what countries would do after 2020, but that doesn’t mean the world can go on a holiday till then.

There were calls, including from India’s Joint Secretary on Climate Change, Ravi Prasad, that ‘pre-2020’ could not be abandoned. The most that came out of it was a call in the Proclamation for “further climate action and support, well in advance of 2020.”

Trump COP

COP22 is likely to be remembered less for its substance and more for whom it spoke to. Some climate-focused media publications have called this ‘Trump COP’. While the speeches were more or less anguished appeals to Trump, discussions were on how to Trump-proof climate action.

The best of the cries to Trump was made by the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, whose entire speech seemed to be addressed to his next President.

He appealed to “those in power in all parts of the world, including my own, who may be confronted with decisions about which road to take at this critical juncture” and implored the “leaders” to see what the Pope had to say and what the global business community felt about climate change.

On the overall, COP22 was a lacklustre conference. Nambi Appadurai describes it as “subdued” but nevertheless “grease we needed to keep the wheels going”. But clearly the wheels are neither running fast enough nor in the right direction, even if Donald Trump does not turn them backwards.

Published on November 22, 2016
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