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03/12/2016

Climate action facing stronger headwinds at COP22

Climate & Environment

Climate action facing stronger headwinds at COP22

Marrakesh held its first climate march on Sunday (13 November).

[Takver/Flickr]

Donald Trump’s election appears to have stalled the momentum of the Paris Agreement. Concern over the future of the deal is palpable among participants at the COP22 in Marrakesh. EurActiv France reports.

“After a difficult year, we have things to celebrate,” said EU Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete. “Not only a historic agreement on the climate, but also progress on HFC gasses and aviation emissions.”

But as the Marrakesh climate conference entered its second week on Monday (14 November) Cañete insisted that more needed to be done “to keep the spirit of Paris alive”.

One year on, this spirit is wavering. And Donald Trump’s threat to pull out of the Paris Agreement has many fearing the worst.

“I have been coming to the COP for 15 years… Maybe next year I’ll be out of a job,” one Asian negotiator joked.

At European level, Cañete maintained that leadership should be followed by real action against climate change. “We will announce our clean energy action plan by the end of the month,” the Commissioner said.

The Commission’s “winter package” will include improvements to the renewable energies directive to bring the objectives into line with the new 2030 emissions targets and “will concentrate on energy efficiency objectives for the building sectors”, the Spanish Commissioner said.

Despite Paris Agreement, more ambitious EU emissions target unlikely

EU regulators will say this week the European Union does not need a more ambitious greenhouse gas target until the next decade, according to a draft text, even though the Paris climate deal stipulates goals should be reviewed in 2018.

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But this does nothing to raise the bloc’s ambition at a time when even China has promised to uphold its climate commitments, regardless of the future position of the United States.

Questions over the United States

On Monday, the American Secretary of State for Energy, Ernest Moniz, also mentioned the “many transitions” that would need to be managed in the future. “We have the transition from Paris to Marrakesh, we have political transitions, social transitions,” the American politician said, being careful not to show too much concern.

For his colleague Principal Deputy Director of the Office of Energy Policy Jonathan Pershing, there are still many unanswered questions surrounding the plans of the next administration. He believes that leaving the agreement may be too difficult, as it would take four years: parties to the deal cannot leave within the first three years and must give notification one year in advance.

“The momentum built in Paris shows that the question is no longer whether we should accelerate, but rather when and how we should do this,” the civil servant said.

Optimists hope that the United States will simply see that it is not in its best interest to leave the race against climate change after all.

“If the United States leaves the Paris Agreement, who will suffer the most? The world or the United States? I think it will be the United States,” said Manuel Pulgar Vidal, the Peruvian former environment minister, now director of WWF international.

Neutralising the naysayers

Others, like Bertrand Piccard, the founder and pilot of the solar plane Solar Impulse, prefer to tackle these issues head on. A tireless advocate of energy efficiency, Piccard silenced his doubters and sceptical scientists when his plane successfully circumnavigated the globe without fuel. And he has no problem pointing out the problems with our current approach to energy.

EU overcomes sovereignty fears to secure deal on climate change

The European Union today (30 September) overcame fears over parliamentary sovereignty to secure a fast-track deal paving the way for the bloc to ratify the Paris Agreement on climate change.

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“Governments have understood that the climate objectives are profitable and create jobs. The next question is, why are we not going further? Why has half of the EU not signed the Paris Agreement?” Piccard said.

So far, just 14 EU member states have ratified the deal. The reluctance of the other 14 forced European diplomats to be creative, ratifying the Paris Agreement on behalf of the EU after receiving the green light from the European Parliament.

While this allowed the agreement to enter into force as planned on 4 November, the concrete consequences of the deal, which must be defined by 2018, are still in limbo. In the current context, the EU’s lack of ambition and unity of vision is all the more worrying.

Why Europe’s climate action has been put on hold

Angela Merkel’s absence from the COP 22 is symbolic of a European climate and energy policy beset by indecision and infighting. EurActiv France reports.

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“There are still some people that do not care at all about human suffering or the protection of the planet. We should neutralise this category of person with regulation, otherwise they will slow down the momentum we need,” said Piccard.

In this category, he included “presidents that want to make their countries great again”.