Climate change politics have changed a lot since Ed Miliband emerged bleary-eyed into a freezing cold Copenhagen dawn insisting the negotiations were not in tatters and achieving progress was still possible. He was half right. Climate change campaigners learned from their mistakes and despite the risks that lie in Trump’s presidency we no longer go at the pace of the slowest.
Instead this year in Marrakech, the task was the hard yards of making the commitments made by national governments last year a reality.
So what has changed? Paris – where the talks took place last year – changed everything.
Last December governments from around the world came together to sign the United Nations climate change agreement in Paris at COP 21. This historic event was the first global commitment to tackling climate change since Kyoto in the 1990s, but this time mandating countries to plan the transition their energy systems and economies to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees with a states ambition of keeping it even lower – below 1.5 degrees.
This means the politics is closer to the science than it has ever been – not as close as it should be – but with momentum driving it forward.
So in Marrakesh the task at hand was to thrash out the details, rules and timelines within the Paris agreement. Whilst far less newsworthy than the work last year these vital discussions centre on how quickly the Paris rule book would come into play as well as providing the tools to deliver the transition. It was also a moment countries to officially join the Paris agreement, as many had still not ratified the agreement domestically. COP 22 had to show that there was sincerity, resolve and urgency from everyone who had signed the agreement the year before.
The politics of the Paris agreement were staggering. The collective leadership and diplomacy that got everyone to agree was incredible feat.
It also means national leaders own their responsibilities which makes it more likely they will deliver on them. It comes along side a shift in communicating on climate change: that hope trumps despair. That this is the path to economic prosperity and better lives for all: from cleaner air to better jobs.
There was always a risk that US election could undermine these talks and the progress that had been made. Donald Trump had made his views on climate change clear when he said global warming was ‘a hoax’ cooked up by China. So his victory on the third day of the COP could have been a moment where the collective resolve came apart.
However the opposite was true. Leaders and ministers showed their resolve and determination to deliver the Paris agreement. Through statements, initiatives, pledges and ratifications the Paris agreements was not just celebrated but was given further momentum.
Countries such as Australia, Japan, Italy and Pakistan joined the 192 states in ratifying the Paris agreement which now comes into affect due to the 55 per cent threshold of signatories being met. Boris Johnson also ratified the agreement on behalf of the United Kingdom.
Further to these ratifications several significant economies set out their 2050 road maps. These were ambitious plans to decarbonize their economies and get closer to the global targets set last year. Germany announced its 2050 Climate Action Plan which established carbon emissions reduction targets for individual sectors. US and Canada outline routes to an 80 per cent reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2050.
The UK again demonstrated its commitment to the global agreement and played a role in maintaining the momentum of the economic transition. The government detailed its plan to end coal power in this countries as well as its ratifying of Paris. The key now for the government is to see how their position in Paris is reflected in policy. Will Greg Clark’s industrial strategy being a route map to a low carbon economy? Will we see the government working with cities and councils across the country to help them manage their transition successfully?
A year on from Paris the agreement has come into effect in surprisingly quick time. Leaders reinforced their commitment with a series of announcements and pledges. The COP agreed 2018 as a key date for establishing the Paris rule book. But vitally the politics were not blown off course by Trump’s win. For the world to get its act together on achieving global temperatures below 1.5 degrees this resolve will need to be even stronger, and the ambition even greater in the next two years.
Polly Billington is a former adviser to Ed Miliband and Scott Langdon is an environmental campaigner with Here Now.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.