What is it all about?
In 2015, the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted a new, ambitious global climate agreement - the Paris Agreement. It is unique in the history of the United Nations as it has been ratified by more than half of all Parties within a year and coming into force long before the projected five-year plan.
At COP21 in Paris, the 195 countries highlighted the importance of an effective and progressive response to the urgent threat of climate change. They agreed upon the need to hold the increase of global average temperature well below 2°C with regard to pre-industrial levels, aiming for 1,5°C. As is commonly known, global warming is partly caused by mankind due to the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG). These have to be mitigated to reach the temperature goal. Furthermore, it was recognized that adaptation to current and prospective negative impacts of climate change – such as changing water patterns or rising sea levels – on communities is needed. This requires as much attention as mitigation measures for a long-term response on climate change. This year’s COP22 in Marrakesh was pivotal in deciding whether the Paris Agreement was just a political lip service or if it will be implemented as an effective tool for climate action.
Climate Action? Nay!
The outcome of the US presidential election became a topic of great discussion at the beginning of the conference. The USA had played a crucial, constructive role in negotiating the Paris Agreement. If Trump’s promises hold any truth, things would change drastically. Young North and Latin American people got emotional about the climate-change related step back, recalling Trump’s comments on the topic on Twitter, which stated he believed it to be a Chinese hoax. However, plenty representatives of countries - including the Chinese ones - reaffirmed continuously, that a possible US-American phase out would not change the ambitions of the remaining countries. Most of them rather believe that Trump will harm the USA more than the climate movement, as climate action is no longer perceived as an exclusively restricting issue of climate protection but also an economic advantage as a momentum for innovation and new businesses.
Even though the Moroccan presidency had proclaimed COP22 as a “COP of action” in advance, the experience had been a sobering one. NGOs and developing countries had expected more progress regarding climate finance and raising ambitions. Developed countries published a roadmap on how to fulfil their pledge to provide $100bn annually for adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. Yet, this roadmap was criticized for being insufficient and not in line with the Paris Agreement. Institutions like UNEP and the World Bank estimate that multiple financial resources are needed in developing countries in order to adapt to climate change and to mitigate emissions. Moreover, it was agreed upon in the Paris Agreement that the distribution of finance for mitigation and adaptation should be balanced, meaning equal. Currently 10-20% of financial resources are provided for adaptation. Factors contributing to the unequal distribution include lack of awareness of developed countries as well as an unclear definition concerning measures for adaptation. The fact that developed countries regard mitigation as more important contributes to the problem. Because developing countries lack financial capabilities and therefore being more vulnerable to climate change, they recognize that providing sufficient financial resources for adaptation is a key issue in global climate negotiations.
The Facilitative Dialogue, which was established during COP21 to encourage communication between countries and review of plans, has not been implemented as effectively as expected to increase ambition regarding the national climate action plans. Progress is urgently needed, since the current national climate action goals lead to a temperature rise of 3,6°C referring to pre-industrial levels. There is a huge gap between reality and the 1,5°C-goal, that needs to be closed as soon as possible.
Climate Action? Yay!
Nevertheless, progress concerning negotiations has been made. Achieving capacity-building in developing countries has been broadly discussed. This is particularly important in order to reduce the vulnerability of these communities to climate change. Capacity-building in this regard does not only include restructuring and strengthening of administrative structures or legal frameworks, but also promoting awareness on climate change challenges, and local expertise. Such expertise allows for context-specific, self-reliant long-term strategies and predictions, making sustainable and effective use of financial and technical resources possible.
A number of countries, namely Mexico, Canada, USA, and Germany, took initiative and published their long-term strategies of mitigation and transition until 2050 during the conference. Aiming for drastic emission reductions or even a carbon-neutral society requires broad changes in almost every sector, from agriculture up to transport. Even though these long-term strategies are positive, they lack one of the most important aspects: divestment from fossil fuels subsidies and replacing current energy sources with Renewables.
On the last day of the COP22, all 48 members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, which consists of some of the most vulnerable countries, pledged to use 100% Renewable Energies by 2050. This was a very important political statement, that puts pressure on developed countries to increase their ambitions and finally decide to phase out fossil fuels as well.
Climate Action! What can we do?
The COP22 showed that fighting climate change is no longer a strictly national issue. Many urban, regional and economic initiatives were presented and provided essential sub-national momentum for fostering public awareness, mitigation and adaptation. Even though one has to exercise caution when talking about such initiatives, as they can be an attempt at green-washing, it is important to support the committed ones - even the private sector has realized by now that climate change impedes long-term economic progress as well as social prosperity, and needs to be tackled.
Participation of civil society and a broad consensus on climate change challenges are key aspects. Especially today’s younger generations play a significant role, as they are the ones that will have to suffer or benefit from insufficient climate action. Therefore young people need to take part in climate campaigns, get politically involved or organized otherwise to raise their voice for a long-term oriented decision-making process.
Due to extraction, manufacturing and transport, every product has a specific amount of used energy – energy that is produced in conjunction with greenhouse gas emissions. Whether we change our consumer habits, meaning consuming less or more sustainable products, is up to everyone. However, one has to be aware that climate action will only be effective in the combat on climate change when all different levels – from international institutions to individuals – do their part.
Climate Action! Where do we go from here?
COP22 proved that most countries are still committed to the pledges they made in 2015 and that the implementation of the international agreement will proceed; however, developing countries are being called upon to table responsibility and commit to action. Science supports the fact that the next four years are decisive in whether the 1,5°C-goal will be reached or not. Even though the implementation of the Paris Agreement will take more time, more ambitious national climate and mitigation targets are not impeded by the implementation process due to its bottom-up approach. Civil society and especially the young population should join the call for climate action.I am part of the German organisation “Youth Alliance For Future Energies”, which has been taking part in the international climate conferences since 2008. As civil society observers, we participated in COP22 on-site tracking the negotiations, developing young people’s positions on current topics in cooperation with other youth organisations and talking to country representatives about the youth perspective. This article is based on my personal experiences at COP22.