The 2016 United Nations climate conference ended on Friday with reaffirmation by nearly 200 countries of their “highest political commitment” to combating global warming. With the landmark Paris Agreement now ratified, and climate sceptic Donald Trump elected as United States president, the conference delivered what Nobel laureate and former US vice-president Al Gore called a “bold vision that sets the pace for the world’s efforts to implement the deal”.
This reflects the fact that a highlight of the conference was presentations by individual countries of their plans to achieve agreed national targets in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. This is a key step and reflects the fact that the Paris Agreement is a flexible, “bottom-up” approach where countries develop bespoke plans to realise emissions targets with national and sub-national governments working in partnership with business.
In other words, while the Paris Agreement created a global architecture for tackling global warming, it recognises that diverse, often decentralised policies will be required by different types of economies to meet climate commitments.
While the wisdom of this appears obvious, it represents a breakthrough from the more rigid “top-down” Kyoto Protocol framework. While Kyoto worked in 1997 for the 37 developed countries and the European Union states who agreed it, a different way of working is needed for the more complex Paris deal which involves more than 170 diverse developing and developed states that agreed to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2050.
That this approach makes sense is reflected in the diversity of climate measures that countries, pre-Paris Agreement, had started to make in response to global warming. This was illustrated in a report last year by the Grantham Institute at the London School of Economics [http://www.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/publication/2015-global-climate-legislation-study/]which focused on 98 countries plus the European Union, together accounting for 93% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and revealed there are more than 800 climate-change laws and policies in place across the world, rising from 54 in 1997.
About half of these (398) were legislative measures and half (408) executive actions such as decrees. And 46 new laws and policies were passed in the 12 months prior alone — highlighting that domestic measures to address global warming are being approved at an increasing rate.
Some 45 countries, including the 28 EU members as a bloc, have economy-wide targets to reduce their emissions. Together they account for over 75% of global emissions.
In addition, 41 states have economy-wide targets up to 2020 and 22 have targets beyond 2020. Moreover, 86 countries have specific targets for renewable energy demand, transportation or land-use and land-use change and forestry — while some 80% of countries have renewable targets the majority of them are executive policies.
This underlines that the best way to tackle climate change is a decentralised approach with nations meeting their target commitments in innovative and effective ways that builds on this momentum. Take the example of Morocco, the host of this month’s summit, which has become a leader in renewable energy.
The country gets nearly 30% of its energy from renewable sources and is aiming for a goal of 50% by 2030. It is an agenda setter for other emerging economies and one of the highlights of this month’s summit was a pledge by almost 50 such states, from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Haiti, Yemen and Vietnam, to try to become zero-carbon societies by 2050, driven by renewable energies.
As Morocco illustrates, this can be done effectively through a national master plan (the Plan Maroc Vert), which relies on a combination of foreign direct investment and public sector monies to fund not just big infrastructure projects such as solar and wind plants, but also less expensive local, small-scale initiatives to encourage key eco-friendly projects, including in agriculture.
The idea is to completely integrate low carbon usage into the fabric of society with more than 600 mosques across the country being equipped with solar panels.
Thus, as well as major power projects such as the Energipro initiative, which has provided Africa’s largest wind farm and the about 2023-hectare Noor solar power station, there is a emphasis on encouraging the agricultural sector (which employs more than 40% of the workforce) to become more climate conscious. There are big plans underway, for instance, with irrigation systems, including in the Souss-Massa-Draa region, to reduce use of water and energy. One way to achieve this is through farmers moving away from traditional irrigation systems to more modernised water pressure methods powered by the most efficient drip systems, with the pumps being powered by solar energy to cut carbon emissions.
Morocco’s moves here are underpinned, in part, through international collaboration which highlights that another key strength of the Paris Agreement’s emphasis on decentralised solutions is the international partnerships spawning between regions, cities and institutions right across the world. For instance, the University of Hull in England has begun a relationship with the International University of Agadir, Universiapolis, to share climate research insights and technological solutions to help realise Morocco’s goals to promote lower carbon growth.
Hull is collaborating with Universiapolis on various key initiatives, including work on the benefits of moving from water and energy intensive irrigation systems in the Souss-Massa-Draa region to setting up a regional logistics observatory to promote the logistics and supply chain capabilities. The reason Hull is such a good partner for Universiapolis is the Humber Estuary region of northern England’s own experience in recent years of moving toward a greener economy through innovative, sustainable measures such as the deployment of renewal wind turbines.
Marrakech highlighted key reasons for optimism in the fight against global warming, despite Trump’s victory. The Paris Agreement provides a resilient, flexible framework for climate action that could potentially become a key foundation stone of future sustainable development for billions across the world.
Lord (John) Prescott was the former deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1997 to 2007 and Europe’s chief negotiator for the Kyoto Protocol. Andrew Hammond is an associate at the Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy at the London School of Economics.