Chapter 2: The Ghost of Conferences Present
The climate conference in Marrakech this year was where the Paris Agreement entered into force, but also where news of Trump’s election in the US hit the screens.
Some climate experts have tried to soften the blow of Trump’s election by saying the transition to renewable energy is “unstoppable”. This is misleading and dangerous, playing down the importance of US participation in the international regime. First, the renewable transition is by no means a fait accompli without adequate finance for developing countries, and cooperation on technology. If Trump carries out his threat of not even fulfilling current, inadequate, financial promises, many countries will not even be able to fulfil their current, inadequate, NDCs.
Secondly, the energy transition addresses only the mitigation part of the problem, and the Paris Agreement is not only about mitigation. Developing countries have emphasised again and again that this is as much about adaptation, and dealing with the impacts of climate change. They fought hard in Paris to ensure a balance between dealing with the causes and the impacts of climate change. Any disruption of this balance will further strain the frail threads that hold the Agreement together.
Third, the Paris Agreement is a quid pro quo agreement. Europe sought reciprocity from the other countries. Developing countries agreed to act if developed countries show leadership. India’s conditions for ratification, for instance, include availability of global climate finance, how the rest of the world performs, and access to cleaner sources of energy.
These countries will need to be convinced to not only fulfil their first NDCs, but to also ramp up ambition to meet even the 2°C target of the Agreement. Simply holding the space and waiting for the US to return, as in the case of the Kyoto Protocol, will not do. The success or failure of the Paris Agreement relies heavily on countries increasing ambition in the pre-2020 period – to a much higher level if the 1.5°C aspiration is to be met.
The sooner we recognise the seriousness of the situation if and when the US decides to opt out of the Agreement (or even the Convention), the less likely we are to make excuses and look for false silver linings. We will have to seek ways engage with the US in the new circumstances, while persuading other countries to pick up the slack instead of waiting and watching. We will have to seek ways engage with the US in the new circumstances, while persuading other countries to pick up the slack instead of waiting and watching. How we can do that is a tale for the Ghost of Conferences Yet to Come.