News | Alternatives to Society - Socio-ecological Transformation - COP 22 - Climate Justice - COP 23 Marrakech Climate Change Conference 2016 – not a ‘COP of Action’

There were a great many beautiful words in Marrakesh but few good deeds. The key issues moved sluggishly forward or were not discussed at all – the alternative summit did not amount to much either.

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Demonstration in Marrakech 13 Nov 2016

Authors: Nadja Charaby, Tadzio Müller, Till Bender


Ahead of time, the UN climate summit in Marrakesh had been hailed by many as the ‘COP of Action’. But, it was in actual fact to a great extent – though not exclusively – a climate summit of entreaties. The negotiators’ proclamations to promote climate protection and the desire to keep to the Paris Agreement appeared almost to be delivered like a mantra – further strengthened by the apprehended consequences of Trump’s election on the sensitive negotiating framework (here our text about this). This discourse was crowned by the ‘Marrakesh Action Declaration’ which additionally documented this desire for affirmation in writing. ‘We summon the highest political engagement to fight climate change as a matter of urgent priority,’ it said in the document among other things. The declaration came about at the initiative of the Moroccan leading negotiators. An experienced observer of such processes talked about a ‘legacy syndrome’. They also said that, after Paris, they probably wanted to ‘bequeath’ something more meaningful than technical decisions to implement the COP’s various strands of work.

The clear facts and contradictions of the negotiations in Marrakesh were almost diametrically opposed to these statements, which appeared to be auto-suggestive. Although there was indeed progress in technical and procedural matters, those issues, which bring about large-scale political, social and economic implications, were postponed to the next negotiating round.

The substantial gap what happens before 2020?

First and foremost the frightening fact remains that the national climate targets which were lodged with the UN Climate Secretariat will lead to a minimum warming of 2.7 degrees Celsius. Two facts as a reminder – firstly, beyond the two-degree limit climate change threatens to develop a dangerous dynamic because tipping points like the thawing of the Siberian permafrost soils with their gigantic amounts of stored methane can no longer be stopped. Secondly, the emissions budget for the 1.5 degrees which is important for a few countries’ survival will be used up with the current global emission trend by 2020 at the latest.

Despite or because of the enthusiasm for the Paris Agreement coming into force, these facts have astonishingly little weight in the negotiations: the question as to what the world must do before 2020 was not a key issue, although this had been called for by the countries of the South at almost every negotiating round. The Doha supplementary agreement, which was passed in 2012 in addition to the Kyoto Protocol, and, which essentially regulates climate protection ambitions before 2020, has still not entered into force. This is indicative of the attitude of many industrial countries – for instance the US, Japan and the EU (where Poland has blocked ratification up to now). The most the advocates for greater commitment before 2020 could achieve was that the summit’s closing decision about the Paris Agreement’s entering into force includes a specific paragraph regarding enhanced implementation before 2020.

Plans for climate protection which merely formulate goals

Instead, countries like Germany or even the US and Canada allow themselves to be feted as successful trailblazers of climate protection. These three countries were the first after Mexico to lodge long-term climate protection plans. What is correct is that the long-term signal effect of such plans is important and it requires long-term climate protection plans. How little these plans are forcibly linked with real policy making is shown in the German climate protection plan (here our view on this). Celebrated in Marrakesh as an ambitious project, it reveals itself on closer inspection to be a toothless tiger which attaches more weight to economic interests than real climate protection and contains hardly any tools for real transformation.

This is symptomatic of the state of affairs: there are numerous commitments made by governments to climate protection, but scarcely any real measures which promote a complete phasing out of fossil fuels at a pace which is actually in keeping with the 1.5 degree limit. The lack of will on the part of the global North to act is particularly obvious when set against the background of the initiative of 47 countries which are severely affected by climate change (the Climate Vulnerable Forum): amid a great deal of media attention, on the last day of negotiations in Marrakesh, these countries had announced they would target 100% renewable energies by 2050 and not wanting to wait for the offers of support from the industrialised countries, which are coming in at a snail’s pace or not at all.

Instead of effective solutions, the wrong solutions and offsetting mechanisms continued to dominate in Marrakesh – like the Clean Development Mechanism, which had already been declared a failure, the questionable forest protection programme REDD+, now reissued for coastal areas and wetlands under the heading ‘Blue Carbon’ and negative emissions technologies such as ‘Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage’ (BECCS). The extent to which the thinking regarding negative emissions spreads is shown in the US Climate Protection Plan where BECCS comes up many times. The necessary fundamental social transformation, which Chancellor Merkel among others had called for roughly a year ago in Paris, was not up for debate in Marrakesh. Instead of which, the lines of discussion took the old patterns of market credibility and optimism about technology.

Struggles about the weight of ‘ecological guilt’ how much money for adaptation?

The process around the highly important thread of climate finance continues at an extremely sluggish pace. The Paris Agreement offers much scope for interpretation and consequently the possibility to call into question over and over again the demands of the countries of the global South. For years, there has been a dispute about the question of how much money the rich countries should make available to the global South in total for climate protection and adaptation. Here it is not simply a question of those countries which have caused climate change being asked to pay the bill. For many countries of the South, it is also conditional on whether they will pursue more ambitious or less ambitious national climate protection targets. What has been agreed for some time and recognised by all parties is that from 2020 the industrialised countries will mobilise USD 100 billion every year. However, how much of this money is already available and will become available is highly controversial: the OECD put forward a roadmap in Marrakesh, according to which the public funds for climate financing are to be increased to USD 67 billion by 2020; the remainder up to the 100 billion dollar threshold is to be sourced through private funding. However, what remains controversial is what actually counts as climate financing. In their calculations, critics come up with vastly smaller amounts than are actually flowing as additional climate finance. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) talks about a loophole for adaptation financing and is calling for an increase to the annual contributions of USD 140 to 300 billion by 2030. The rich countries’ commitment to the necessary financial pledges, however, remained as ever disappointing in Marrakesh.

In addition to the discussions about the complete extent of the climate finance, there was a key conflict about how the USD 100 billion was to be used. While the industrialised countries would like the largest proportion (around 80%) to be put directly into measures to reduce emissions, the countries of the global South were once again calling for at least half of the money to be provided for adaptation measures. As a principle, this concerns the struggle about the question as to the weight to be placed on the ‘ecological guilt’ borne by the industrialised countries as those countries have caused most of the climate change. The industrialised countries are also benefiting from climate protection measures in the global South because the pressure on them to act is reducing. The obligation to pay for adaptation measures is almost exclusively linked to the moral weight of the question of guilt.

The countries which have been particularly affected by climate change had to struggle for a suitable tabling of the issue of adaptation and financing right up to the concluding plenary at the summit. Among other matters, the issue was connected to the technical question as to whether the existing adaptation fund under the Kyoto Protocol will also be subject to the Paris Agreement. With the fund, there continues to be the approach of a working structure which could make the money for adaptation more readily available in future. In the interim, this point was completely up for debate. Now the negotiators should take preparatory steps so the fund can also be attributed to the Paris Agreement. This shows that despite public affirmations of many players wanting to take action and forge ahead, the Paris Agreement does not massively move the negotiations on as regards key issues.

To what extent the global South has to struggle with attracting attention to both the economic gap as well as the extent of the different ways in which they have been affected by climate change (the global South suffers much more from its implications), is revealed in the discussion regarding the UN Climate Secretariat’s bookkeeping of the climate targets: it revolved around the question amongst other things of the extent to which and how precisely the adaptation measures could be accounted for at a national climate target level. The countries of the global South are calling for ‘adaptation’ in the climate targets to be accounted for while the countries of the North would like to only pay for the measures to reduce greenhouse gases in this case.

Loss & Damage have no importance in the negotiations

What was even more clear was the struggle about the weight of the ‘ecological guilt’ and the question of climate justice and the Loss & Damage track to the tune of billions which is associated with it. Although the Warsaw mechanism, which came into existence in 2013, has fulfilled its previous purpose, the report by the executive committee was waved through. It was also agreed that in the next five years the Warsaw mechanism would continue to be tasked with climate loss and damage and that the executive committee is to concern itself with the financing of its activities and report on them on a regular basis. However, the hope of many people in the global South that the topic would be discussed in a prominent way in Marrakesh did not materialise (after the Paris Agreement appeared to concede ‘Loss & Damage’ the prominence of its own negotiating track through a specific article). It is not only that ‘Loss & Damage’ is still positioned on the home page of the UN Climate Secretariat with a very low-profile under adaptation. After Marrakesh, the negotiating track seems to still be in its infancy. The key question as to who should pay for the damage and losses which are already in existence and which will increase further in the future, and what kind of status climate refugees have under international law, has only been discussed tentatively; much is under dispute. In addition, the demand for compensation payments, a key demand of the call for climate justice, is being kept out of the negotiations. Marrakesh’s response to 25 million refugees in 2015 and the island states which are slowly disappearing from the map was unfortunately only (but at least) that the Warsaw mechanism can continue to work.

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Up to now there have been tangible measures only in the form of ‘Climate Risk Insurance’ which the G-7 countries, in particular Germany, are forging ahead with through their InsuResilience initiative. Although these insurances have (to some extent with justification) the reputation of being able to react more quickly than all government or donation-based relief efforts to weather disasters, despite the increase to USD 550 million, it is still nothing more than a drop in the ocean. Not only does this insurance not cover long-term, gradual deterioration, the thinking behind insurance is an economic one and communicates this message to the countries concerned: sorry that we have made life difficult for you with climate change, but you can buy an insurance policy from us.

The lobbyists are also at the table

It was impressive to see once again in Marrakesh in what an unquestioning manner the regulatory and ‘well-meaning’ market forces are relied on even within climate protection and regarding the generation of funds for climate financing – without there even being a debate about the interests of the companies whose representatives were walking round the conference grounds in large numbers. Numerous exhibition stands and sponsors from fossil-industry sectors were also there – with displays, fringe events, as observers and sponsors, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell and the World Coal Association. The fact that there is a trend to consciously incorporate business is also shown through the ‘green zone’, which, in addition to the halls for the discussion events, was characterised by a massive exhibition hall with ‘green technologies’.

In May 2016 the Like Minded Group of Developing Countries (LMDCs) lead by Ecuador criticised this conflict of interest and called for more transparency about the background to the observer organisations. The issue was also put on the agenda in Marrakesh once again for instance by Venezuela and the NGO Corporate Accountability International. Although all the negotiators in Marrakesh were in agreement about wanting to create more transparency in their processes, this topic did not have significant weight, not to mention the fact that the urgently required exclusion of the lobbyists was not agreed on. This cannot be expected to happen quickly either: with its paragraphs 134 and 135, the Paris Agreement opened up further gateways for private sector involvement and possible influence in the negotiations. At the same time, developments towards limiting civil societal participation at the negotiations in Marrakesh became apparent. At the rounds of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA), for instance, observers were admitted on a limited basis. The format of ‘round tables’ to be introduced by the APA from 2017 was also viewed with scepticism by civil society, as there are also no rules in place for observation here.

COP 22 – how is it shaping up?

Instead of the focus being quite clearly on more and more effective policies for climate protection in Marrakesh, it was mainly on procedural matters. On the one hand, these were triggered by the unexpected early entry into force of the Paris Agreement on 4 November 2016 and as a result also reveal the still-very-fragile framework of the climate agreement. On the other hand, profoundly political questions were still lurking in many of these technical negotiations. Although a few important processes were at least discussed or given new work assignments, Marrakesh remained far from being a ‘COP of implementation’. However, looking at it realistically, this was never to be expected; in this respect the designation ‘COP of Action’ has predetermined the gap.

The negotiations under the aegis of the Paris Agreement are also not quintessentially inspired by a spirit of optimism, but they continued to follow hard-nosed economic thinking: this was clear, for instance, from the question as to whether the contractual parties to the Paris Agreement should reconvene again in 2017 in order to discuss individual partial breakthroughs or whether it would suffice to present a complete package (of progress) from 2018. The industrialised countries pleaded for the later date in order to have more bargaining power. The countries of the global South, by contrast, hoped to be able to use the earlier interim review in order to influence individual aspects to their requirements. In the end, they agreed not to pass the rulebook for the Paris Agreement until 2018 and to ‘establish’ progress along the way by 2017.

What is clear is that the necessary major social and economic as well as political transformations which are necessary for policies in line with climate justice were also not on the agenda of the negotiations one year after the ‘historically’ celebrated Paris Agreement. How a 100% move away from fossil fuels can be combined with the democratisation of the energy sector. How alternative forms of mobility can be expanded nationwide in an accessible way to everyone – instead of only talking about electromobility. What connection there is between energy consumption and growth-dependent national economies. How our resources and energy-intensive lifestyles can be altered. You could get the impression that climate change is not actually going to happen until tomorrow and is not already reality today.

Sluggish mobilisation of the international activists for climate justice

These obvious blank spaces, in particular the omission of the important debate around the ‘major transformation’, actually present the perfect opening for a climate justice movement, which has been specifically insisting for years that such debates have to take place. But also in this respect, the COP in Marrakesh has been treated in a slightly second-rate way. That is because protests at the summit are usually only as relevant as the summits taking place around them. In the cycle of climate summits, every few years there is a ‘major summit’ (Kyoto, Copenhagen and Paris) and in between them the ‘small summits’. In the run-up to Marrakesh, it was already clear that this UN conference would only be a small, rather technically-oriented summit and that the climate justice movement would be less strongly represented outside the conference halls. This means that the focus was more strongly on dealing with the official negotiating process through organisations close to the summit and less about the movements on the street setting their own agenda.

Their mobilisation was already very sluggish. After the intensity of the Paris climate conference and the activities of the movements around it, the climate justice movement (usually rather sceptical of the summit) took a long time to meet up to work together on post-Paris strategies. One reason for this was the fact that the signing of the Paris Agreement has bolstered international climate diplomacy’s capability to incorporate the more moderate global civil society. This is in stark contrast to what happened after the summit in Copenhagen: for a start, its failure had brought the more moderate organisations closer to the more radical ones. This was quite different after Paris: the re-functioning of global diplomacy has also changed the moderate civil societal organisations which view their relationship with global governance as being more of a partnership. The cooperation at and in the official process has once again become much more attractive to them as a result of Paris.

By comparison, the movements critical of the summit saw the COP22 as a technical summit for which it was not worth investing in the mobilisation of a lot of resources. Besides, there is a certain imperialist way of setting the agenda even in the global equality movements. The structure ‘major summit in the North, small summit in the South’ is reproduced here following the motto: not much will happen there so fewer activists will go so therefore not much will happen.

But the global climate justice activists had bitten off rather more than they could chew in the run-up to the conference: whilst the official summit gave itself the target of organising a ‘COP of Action’ – and failed to achieve it, the North African movements wanted to create a ‘COP of Africa’ – and also failed to achieve this. The Moroccan activists assembled in the Coalition Maroccaine pour la Justice Climatique (CMJC) took a big risk: if the global movement were already not going to be represented in any notable way then it would at least be worthwhile using the COP in an African country in order to (a) intensify climate as a discourse and unifying movement, and (b) develop an inclusive pan-African climate justice platform beyond the rather moderate Pan-African Climate Justice Coalition (PACJA).

The essence of this project was the alternative summit which took place from 14 to 17 November at a university in Marrakesh quite far away from where the summit was happening. In Paris, the physical separation did not represent a problem because the movements were strong enough to fill the public areas more with life than at the Green Zone which had been organised by the UNFCCC. In Marrakesh this does not work: hardly any people, hardly any dynamic, hardly any movement.

Divided Moroccan Movement

In addition to the absence of key representatives of global movements and key global organisations, this was attributed to an additional problem: the Moroccan movements themselves were divided. A few months before the summit, attac Maroc split off from the Moroccan Climate Justice Association and founded their own network with REDACOP. Beyond the criticism of the purported ‘undemocratic structures’ of the Moroccan Climate Justice Association (notorious in left-wing processes of division) one argument was put forward above all others: the Moroccan royal court would use the alternative summit to legitimise their green economy project which has been advanced with significant power (for instance, including the gigantic solar thermic project in Ouarzazate) and to conceal struggles against it and against the extraction of Moroccan resources. attac Maroc argued that the activities of the Moroccan Climate Justice Association had been ‘co-opted’ by the government. The association’s position was that it was quite simply difficult to create robust and legally secure spaces for international activists in an authoritarian regime. Therefore a certain degree of cooperation with the royal court and the power structure of the Makhzen surrounding it would be necessary.

This conflict led to a split in the social movements in Morocco. The international climate justice movement did not consider itself able to decide from the outside who would be right. As a result, the alternative summit lost substance as regards the politics of the movement. In short: the organisations which were close to the process were exclusively at the summit, those who are active within the campaigns for social justice had their own specific conflicts – and the space between them remained relatively empty and uninspiring.

Although a closing statement was formulated at the end of the alternative summit (which also contained the salient points of the climate justice movement), it was not formulated by a broad alliance from Moroccan, Maghreb, African and International social movements. A COP Africa did not really take place there (or at the official negotiating centre). In the end, the ‘green zone’ on the summit grounds was livelier than the area allocated to social movements.

The general thrust in the global movements is now: something like this should not be allowed to repeat itself in Bonn, where in November 2017 the COP23 will take place under the presidency of the Fiji Islands. Many see preventing the split between organisations and networks which are closer to the process and further away from it as a challenge. If the argument that only the successes which are vociferously called for on the streets and in front of the gates to summits can be achieved within the negotiating corridors is correct, the movements will have to join forces.