Summary

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing discussing the outcomes of the recently concluded international climate change summit (COP22) in Marrakech, Morocco. The summit drew representatives from more than 190 countries to discuss the implementation of the historic Paris Climate Agreement, making it a vital discussion that will impact everything from global commerce and foreign relations to electricity generation and agriculture.

Countries ratified the Paris Agreement at a rate unprecedented for an international treaty of such magnitude, allowing it to enter into force on November 4. Over 110 nations accounting for nearly 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions have joined the growing coalition that has already ratified the agreement and are working to limit manmade climate change. The United States remains a key leader in advancing climate solutions on the international stage. During COP22, it announced a cross-cutting domestic plan for meeting its obligations under the Paris Agreement. The presentation delved into core components of America's long-term climate strategy, how the proceedings at COP22 may influence that strategy, and the important ongoing partnerships between the United States and other nations to pursue climate-related goals.

 

BRIEFING HIGHLIGHTS

 

Christo Artusio, Director, Office of Global Change, U.S. Department of State

At the Department of State since 2001, Christo Artusio currently leads its Office of Global Change. He is an expert in international climate diplomacy and the United States' role in climate treaty negotiations. The Office of Global Change focuses on addressing a variety of international climate change issues by pursuing collaborative solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions both domestically and internationally. The Office operates under the guidance of the Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing.

 

Background on the Paris Climate Agreement
  • The Paris Agreement represented a continuation of bipartisan diplomatic efforts by the United States.
  • Paris set in place three consistent tenets developed over multiple administrations:
    1. The need for a transparent framework for all countries
    2. The need for action by all countries
    3. Voluntary nationally determined contributions for emissions reductions
  • The Paris Climate Agreement entered into force on November 4. The record ratification rate pushed the timeline forward by two years.

 

Discussion of the Marrakech Climate Change Summit (COP22)
  • The summit had a more serious, business-like vibe than Paris, with negotiators intent on following through with Paris obligations.
  • The CMA (short for the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement), formed by the Paris Agreement, met for the first time at COP22.
    • The members of the CMA will be implementing the agreement and are tasked with creating a work plan to achieve this.
    • They will seek to reach an agreement on the work plan by 2018, which is extremely quick for this sort of task.
    • They are working several years ahead of schedule now.
  • Transparency guidelines will be a major focus over the next two years.
    • The United States is co-chairing the transparency development process.
    • The countries have already agreed to an intensive process.
  • Transparency drives action.
    • Transparency allows governments to understand where action is needed.
    • Transparency informs other countries about progress and lets them apply peer pressure where needed.
  • The agreement withstood a push to re-open aspects of the deal at COP22.
  • Key events outside the negotiating session included:
    • An announcement of $500 million dollars for a blended finance vehicle to help developing nations. It will blend public and private funds for resilience goals. There has been difficulty in proving private sector benefits from investing in these projects.
    • The European Union announced a 3 to 4 billion euro fund for sustainable development.
    • Bill Gates and a group of over 20 investors around the world are investing in new technologies in tandem with the U.S. Mission Innovation program to drive down the costs of clean energy technologies. The 22 countries that are part of Mission Innovation have agreed to double their clean energy R&D investments over the next five years.
  • Nations continue to move toward domestic implementation of the Paris Agreement and are taking the process very seriously.
  • Major sources of renewable energy development around the world are leading to very cost-competitive projects.
    • Some examples of such projects can be found in Morocco, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Mexico, India, Brazil, and South Africa.
    • If the United States is smart about how it targets its public resources, it can achieve an outstanding return on investment in renewable energy.
    • When energy cost points start to shift in favor of renewables versus fossil fuels, countries become eager to get involved.
  • The main challenges to the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement are:
    • Emissions are not coming down as fast as needed.
    • Future U.S. action is in question.
    • Some nations remain hesitant about taking necessary actions.

 

Question & Answer Session

 

Please note that this is not a transcript of the Q&A session, but a summary written by EESI. An audio recording of the entire briefing can be found here.

 

Q. What is the status of REDD+? Is forest conservation included in the deal? Is food security in Africa included?

A. The Paris Climate Agreement doesn’t touch on details but sets the stage for nations to discuss these issues.

 

Q. What was the general feeling in Marrakech following the election outcome?

A. Uncertainty, with a focus on possible changes to U.S. domestic policy and climate leadership.

 

Q. Who might step into the lead role if the United States leaves the process?

A. China has expressed a willingness to take leadership of international climate action. But having China lead on climate raises questions of whether that would fit with U.S. domestic priorities.

 

Q. Can you clarify the process for possible withdrawal from the Paris Agreement?

A. There are three main options:

  • Changing the national targets to make them less ambitious. This could be done easily and quickly. The Paris Agreement obligates nations to submit plans and targets, but the targets are non-binding.
  • Leaving the Paris Climate Agreement would take 4 years. The process can only be initiated after a 3-year period, and then the process itself takes 1 year.
  • Leaving the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This would only take 1 year. The Paris Agreement derives from the Convention, so leaving the Convention would mean leaving from the Paris Agreement as well.

 

Q. Regarding the feasibility of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (the Paris Agreement target), can you offer any insight on discussions among delegates?

A. Geoengineering entered the conversation. They talked about how we can look beyond the 2025 targets toward 2050. There was an assumption that we'll need some sort of carbon capture and storage.

 

Q. Could you comment on Trump's statement that Paris will put the United States at a disadvantage to other nations?

A. Paris actually addresses that issue by requiring all nations to act and to do so transparently.

 

Q. If the United States withdraws from the Paris Agreement, is there talk about economic sanctions being imposed by other countries on the United States?

A. Countries are in a "wait and see" mode right now. At COP22, the U.S. delegation tried to convey the basics of the U.S. system of government, with its strong federalism and separation of powers, to allay worries of a drastic change in policy.

 

Q. How did the Bush Administration behave at prior U.N. climate conferences (COPs) and will we return to that structure?

A. The Bush Administration's policy evolved over eight years. It started out recognizing carbon as a pollutant in 4-pollutant legislation, but later decided to withdraw from climate action.

The Bush Administration was surprised at the negative foreign policy impacts beyond the climate change space when they withdrew from global climate action.

They later felt the need to articulate their own vision for how the negotiations should be structured. They felt it should not be top-down and must be transparent.

 

Q. Was there any overlap between the Kigali talks (on reducing global-warming hydrofluorocarbon, or HFC, emissions) and COP22?

A. Not really, but there was a lot of private sector involvement in both summits. [editor's note: the Kigali talks, which used the Montreal Protocol mechanism for a phase-out of HFCs, were deemed extremely successful and provided a mechanism to significantly reduce the large global-warming impacts of HFCs in the short term].

Speaker Slides