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COP22 in Marrakesh : Concern Replaced By Steadfast Determination

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Marrakesh, Friday, November 18, 2016

The negotiations of the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), held in Marrakesh, came to a close in the early hours of Friday morning. COP22 aimed to set actions in motion in line with the spirit and hopes of the Paris Agreement. The Canadian delegation continued to play a leading role in the complex negotiations needed to implement the agreement.

What I will remember most of all are the reassuring, often moving speeches made by heads of state, representatives from local governments, indigenous peoples, young men and women, and other members of civil society. Their speeches reaffirmed that we have entered a new era of action, and that we urgently need to take steps to combat climate change.

These calls to action were prompted in part by the results of the American election, and how it will impact the United States' future participation in the Paris Agreement.
They brought out the big guns in Marrakesh: Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon and American Secretary of State John Kerry were in attendance, along with Barack Obama's climate change adviser, sent to reassure attendees. In all, more than 100 heads of state came to get involved in the rapid implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Laurence Tubiana, the main architect of the Paris Agreement, provided reassurance that this agreement is robust and was designed to withstand the vagaries of changes in government. Tubiana also reiterated the crucial role that subnational and local governments play in reducing GHG emissions and meeting the obligations stipulated by the Paris Agreement.

China: A new champion of the Paris Agreement

China did not delay in responding to the potential implications that the new American administration could have on the Paris Agreement. "China's policy remains unchanged. China is still eager to work with the other countries, and I believe that a wise political leader should take stances that conform with the international trend of fighting global warming," Xie Zhenhua, China's top climate negotiator, stated last Thursday. The Chinese delegation added that, in the event of American disengagement, China's climate change policy will not be altered.

This is a marked change since the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit, where China was on the defensive, and eyed summits on climate change with suspicion. Today, taking action to combat climate change is a matter of national interest for this economic superpower.

What caused this sudden about-face? Clean technologies, including renewable energies, represent an enormous export potential for China. China is currently the world's largest investor in clean technologies, and is investing heavily in its domestic energy transition. It is grappling with an air quality crisis caused by coal-based electrical generation, and wants to safeguard its energy security through locally-generated renewable energies.

China's Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs went as far as to appeal directly to the United States: in an unprecedented statement, China, which ordinarily never comments on foreign election results, declared that they "hope that the United States will continue to play a leadership role in the climate change negotiation process."

In the same vein, hundreds of American companies released a joint letter urging the President-elect to maintain the United States' support for the Paris Agreement.

I would even go so far as to say that the specter of "you-know-who" has had a mobilizing effect on the countries gathered in Marrakesh; without this uncertainty about the United States' future participation, the other countries may have been more complacent, and may have taken the progress made during last year's negotiations in Paris for granted.

Money makes the world go round…

Keep in mind, this was Africa's COP. Africa's under-developed countries have repeatedly implored the parties involved in the Paris Agreement to grant more than $100 billion in international funding by 2020. These countries are highly vulnerable, and already severely affected by climate change, so they need funding to adapt to these impacts.

The countries represented in Marrakesh therefore committed to providing $81 million to fund this adaptation — a good start.

Not only do less developed countries urgently need funding to adapt to climate change, they also want to contribute to the expansion and development of clean technologies. COP22 featured a large, highly encouraging display of new African businesses that are striving to take part in the booming international market for clean technologies and innovation. For example, the first 100% electric Formula 1 race on the African continent was held in Morocco!

Canada: Still a champion of the Paris Agreement, but with a few contradictions

Following the results of the American elections, the world's gaze turned to Canada, anxious to see how North America's climate commitments might evolve. The Honorable Catherine McKenna, Canada's Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change, was in Marrakesh to reiterate unequivocally Canada's support of the Paris Agreement.

The Canadian delegation had clearly been given a mandate to follow through with and take the lead on several projects, including support for gender integration, a just transition of the workforce, and increasing less developed countries' capacities to implement the agreement.

Minister McKenna stayed very busy while in Marrakesh, with multiple speeches and bilateral meetings with her counterparts from the other countries and international organizations, such as the World Bank. Canada, Germany, Mexico, and the United States were the first countries to submit their long-term decarbonization strategy, one of the Paris Agreement's requirements.

The Premier of Quebec, Philippe Couillard, as well as the Ministers of the Environment from Ontario and Saskatchewan, were also in attendance. They shared about the Canadian provinces' advances in the energy transition, and discussed the merits of the carbon market between Quebec, Ontario, and California.

Quebec's Minister of the Environment had a message for the US, based on the lesson learned in Canada: in the absence of leadership at the national level, subnational governments' initiatives should still be given the green light. Several representatives of American states explained their climate change policies and programs, and reassured attendees that they would intensify their efforts. Hypothetically, there is a possibility for increased cooperation between the Canadian provinces and American states, including potentially adding new member states to the carbon market between Quebec, Ontario, and California.

However, there is a black mark on Canada's otherwise green image: the international community is not blind to the contradiction that exists between Canada's leadership on the international stage with respect to climate change, and its recent approval of hydrocarbon infrastructure projects, such as the recently approved Petronas natural gas terminal project in British Columbia. Several participants from civil society and First Nations representatives took the opportunity to express their opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline to Minister McKenna during her visit to Marrakesh.

Postponed decisions

Marrakesh was not like Paris. Expectations were rather high, perhaps even unrealistic. In a way, the Paris Agreement was a victim of its own success. It seems clear that the agreement's rapid ratification did not allow enough time for several countries to prepare adequately to negotiate its implementation. Consequently, in Marrakesh, the inevitable questions of procedures, governance, modalities, etc., involving more than 190 countries, took up a great deal of time.

Several delegations, including Canada's, expressed their impatience and lament that several decisions have been postponed.

An important aspect of the agreement is the "facilitative dialogue" mechanism, introduced in Marrakesh, which will enable countries to make their GHG emissions reduction targets, which must be adopted by 2018, more ambitious.

After the United Kingdom ratified last Thursday, there are currently 111 countries that have ratified the Paris Agreement. And, despite a certain President-elect's skepticism, the conference in Marrakesh was dominated by the unwavering ambition of the member states, including the world's largest economies and largest GHG emitters, to make progress.

The parties of the Paris Agreement will continue their negotiations in Bonn in May 2017 at a mid-session meeting ahead of COP23, which should also be held in Bonn, but chaired by the Fiji Islands.

You can read the summary of the agreements reached in Marrakesh here.