Marrakesh Climate Summit 2016 – Trouble, Triumph, and Trump

By Debadrita


Country flags outside of the COP venue in Marrakesh. (Photo: UNFCCC)

The United Nations climate change summit, or COP 22, was held in Marrakesh, Morocco, from the 7th -18th of November this year, and depending on who you ask, it was either a decisive victory for campaigners of climate-change, or a dismal failure of UN politics. Let’s take a look at what went down in Marrakesh in the last two weeks. 

First of all, what was the Marrakesh Climate Conference?

It was the 22nd Conference of the Parties held in Marrakesh (also spelled Marrakech), Morocco. The COP is the supreme governing body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Their overall aim is to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. All 195 ratifying countries meet once a year for two weeks to evaluate the application of the Convention, and develop the negotiation process in front of new commitments.

What was the Marrakesh summit leading off from?

Its parent is the Paris Agreement, or Paris Treaty, from the conference in 2015; this agreement itself was the successor to the Kyoto Protocol that is set to expire in 2020. The Paris Agreement’s overall goal is to limit global warming by 1.5°C. One of its shortcomings, however, is that unlike the Kyoto Protocol, it is not legally binding, and fails to assign specific emission-cut targets to countries. That’s where Marrakesh came in – it was meant to be the event at which the promises made during the Paris Agreement would be turned into action.

What did the summit deliver?

A few major things happened over the course of what was basically the 2-week breakdown of the Paris Treaty. The focus was to reinforce plans that already exist – for example, USA, Canada, Mexico, and Germany published strategies for cutting greenhouse gas emissions (a requirement of the Paris Agreement). The second important event, or rather the lack of it, was that the question of recompense for damages caused to nations by climate change was uncertain. Some small and developing states, which are already suffering from other countries’ pollution, complained about a lack of progress. The final important note  was that this summit was also billed as the African COP. African countries walked in with clear demands about meeting Paris commitments: asking for more money to adapt, and more support to develop infrastructure on data collection, climate diplomacy and research. Many leaders were keen to move beyond a dependence on aid.


American students protest outside COP 22 in reaction to Trump’s presidential victory. (Photo: Getty Images)

How does Trump come into all this?

A source of tension was the new US President-elect, Donald Trump. Trump has been everywhere we turn throughout this hectic year, and his presence did not fail to spring up like a Cheetos-coloured jack-in-the-box at Marrakesh. He previously called climate change “a hoax” perpetrated by China, and also promised that he would “rip up” the Paris treaty after he enters office. The Moroccan foreign minister and president of the COP 22 summit, Salaheddine Mezouar, even made a direct plea to said jack-in-the-box: “We count on… your commitment to the spirit of the international community, in a huge struggle for our future, for the planet, for humanity and the dignity of millions and millions of people,” adding “This is about what our planet is going to be tomorrow, and what we are going to leave behind.”

On the second last day of the Marrakesh conference, there was a call for all nations to honour promises made in Paris. Observers said it was extremely necessary for the conference to make a political statement of resolve after Trump’s election to presidency; in other words, it was a polite warning.

Supporters of the Paris treaty are worried Trump might be swayed by the financial implications of removing the US from the treaty, or abandoning efforts to cut emissions. Dr. Rush Holt, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, sums it up: “During the campaign, Trump was all over the place, saying different things about different issues at different times, and so it is hard to know really what he will do.”

Was the Marrakesh Summit successful?

While Marrakesh had its good moments, on the whole environmental campaigners expressed heavy disappointment with how the summit progressed, complaining of the heavy rhetoric being tossed around and of the lack of detailed plans.

The topic of finances was a crucial one. Moroccan foreign minister Mezouar stated, “It is a priority of this COP 22… to mobilize finance as this is really becoming a necessity and an emergency.” The summit, however, made little headway. An unnamed UN source said trillions would be needed to make development more sustainable, and asked “The question is, how are you going to change the whole financial structure on this planet to get these big sums going?”

UN Chair of the Least-Developed countries group, Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, mentioned that are no money-making opportunities available behind many of the possible plans. This means the plans have to survive on charity and public money, which is not going to cut it. There were also arguments that not enough money was being given to the world’s poorest countries to help them adapt to global warming changes that already are taking place. Isabel Kreisler, a campaigner at Marrakesh, said “We saw a stubborn refusal from developed country ministers and negotiators to fill the adaptation-finance gap and face the fact that the [Paris] Agreement doesn’t fully protect lives that will suffer the most from climate change.”

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Ending on a positive note. (Photo: UNFCCC/Flickr)

Or was the Summit a failure?

The Marrakesh conference was nowhere near an utter failure, either. There were positive notes to it, such as the fact that some of the world’s poorest nations made dramatic promises to cut carbon emissions and rapidly move to all renewable power. It was agreed by people such as former US Vice President Al Gore and Christian Aid spokesman Mohamed Adow to be “inspiring” to see some of the world’s most vulnerable countries lead the way.

Indian Environment Minister Anil Dave said the Marrakesh outcomes looked small in comparison to the Paris Agreement, but they were nonetheless important. “One should not look at it from the window of the Paris meeting last year. That was a big event. This [Marrakesh] is a movement towards implementation,” he proclaims, adding “From our point of view, the most satisfying thing about this meeting is that it has moved ahead in the right direction, and remained firmly on track.”

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