As the international meeting on climate change neared a close in Morocco on Thursday, parties endorsed a strong statement declaring that the “momentum is irreversible” when it comes to global action on climate change. In the wake of the Nov. 8 U.S. election, that statement may have been aimed at one specific climate-change doubter, President-elect Donald Trump.
“We call for the highest political commitment to combat climate change, as a matter of urgent priority,” the statement, endorsed by heads of state, declared. The Marrakesh gathering is the first official meeting under the Paris climate agreement that was signed by 195 countries late last year and ratified by enough of them to bring it into force in less than a year. During the meeting, additional nations ratified the accord, including major emitters Australia, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom.
The newly released document doesn’t mention Trump, but it’s hard not to read it in its current political context.
“While this proclamation has long been planned, it’s taken on far greater symbolic and political significance in the wake of Trump’s threats to withdraw from the Paris Agreement,” said former Clinton White House climate official Paul Bledsoe, who was attending the negotiations.
“It is a stiff upper lip reaction, really, and it’s appropriate I think. You have to do this,” said John Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, shortly after returning from Marrakesh. Schellnhuber said that in the first week of the meeting, many delegates were “really panicking.” But the tone shifted to a more measured realism in the second week, he said, driven in large part by reassurances that China, the world’s largest emitter, remains seriously committed to the accord.
“If China stays the course, I think we have a very good chance to overcome the Trump bump in the road,” Schellnhuber said. He said he suspects there will be some minor damage to the climate from U.S. recalcitrance, but far more damage to the U.S. economy in the long term if it cedes leadership in the clean energy space to rivals such as China and Germany in favor of a backward-looking emphasis on fossil fuels.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the Marrakesh statement was a call for “urgently raising ambition and strengthening cooperation amongst ourselves to close the gap between current emissions trajectories and the pathway needed to meet the long-term temperature goals of the Paris Agreement.” That will not happen at this meeting, but it is an acknowledgment that if countries don’t move quickly on their emissions cuts, key climate goals will be lost.
As the meeting neared a wrap-up Friday, there remained a few issues to be negotiated, but the main accomplishments included progress on laying out the rules for how parties must conform with the Paris agreement, explained Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. In two years, countries are expected to finalize rules for reporting their emissions, and how much they have reduced them, under the agreement.
“There’s almost 120 different elements that have to be finalized and worked out to give full meaning to Paris and guidance to countries on how to revise and report on their nationally determined commitments,” Meyer said.
That’s not the only thing looming in 2018 — so is a meeting to ratchet up every country’s commitment to cutting said emissions, which is sure to be difficult. By then the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is expected to have completed a report studying what it would take for the world to limit the planet’s warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — a hugely ambitious goal that may not be possible to achieve.
“We see that as the next big political moment in this process,” Meyer said of 2018. “It’s when there will be a clear acknowledgement that we are not on track to meet the Paris temperature goals.”
So, after reeling from Trump’s election and its potential impact on global climate change, delegates have steeled themselves to push ahead — with or without the United States. It all sets the stage for quite the international climate saga in the coming years.