By Scott Stephenson, Assistant Professor, Geography
With the Paris Agreement entering into force ahead of schedule on November 4, the rhetoric at the COP22 opening plenary in Marrakech was decidedly optimistic, with ambitious appeals to meet the goals set in Paris one year ago. While there were the usual calls to global collective action, a focus on regional climate justice issues surfaced as an early theme. Morocco’s Foreign Minister and COP22 President, Salaheddine Mezouar, set the tone by highlighting the significance of holding the meeting on African soil at a time when “climate change in Africa is the most cruel and unfair.” Pointing out that 15 of the 36 most climate-impacted countries are in Africa, and that it would take three Earths to meet the consumption needs of the world’s wealthiest citizens, he issued a challenge to those in attendance to bring about “justice for Africa” here and throughout the years of negotiations ahead:
“The world wants more transparency…we have a huge responsibility to address the needs of the most vulnerable populations. We must provide them with the resources to adapt to the most disastrous consequences of climate change.”
At the same time, Mezouar took time to highlight the agency and responsibility of African nations in initiating and pursuing climate action. Hosting the conference in Marrakech “emphasizes Africa’s desire to take its destiny in hand, to reduce its vulnerability and strengthen its resilience,” through action plans such as the African Renewable Energy Initiative. The point came as a welcome reminder that LDCs – 33 of which are in Africa – have been active in shaping climate negotiations since the establishment of the UNFCCC in 1992. In the days to come, COP22 will go about the business of implementing the commitments made in Paris, such as setting the rules for emissions accounting, advancing consensus on a framework for loss and damage, and facilitating integration of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in national policies and investment plans. The hope, as stated by IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee in his plenary address, is that COP22 will be a “COP of action.” While the agenda here appears to be focused squarely on the work ahead, I expect that tomorrow’s long-awaited U.S. Presidential election will be on the minds of more than one of the negotiators, given the promise of one candidate to cancel the Paris Agreement if he wins.