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Momentum Stalls in Marrakech, Despite Plea for Urgent and Ambitious Action


18 November 2016, Marrakech – “We lost a step in Marrakech that we couldn’t afford,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, from Marrakech where he was attending the negotiations. “Climate impacts are accelerating. We’re already at 1°C and moving fast towards 1.5°C likely in the next 15 years when we’ll face a cluster of tipping points that are expected to hit between 1.5°C and 2°C.  We need to accelerate the speed of our solutions as well as our ambition if we want to keep the climate safe.”

After a year of rapid progress following last December’s breakthrough Paris Agreement – including ratification by 111 countries bringing it into force in record time, and groundbreaking agreements last month on phasing down warming HFC refrigerants and on limiting emissions from aircraft – the meeting was supposed to produce both a celebration and an acceleration of action. But the champagne that flowed in Paris went flat after the US election, and the formal negotiations struggled in Marrakech to retain their forward movement.

There has, however, been encouraging progress outside the formal proceedings with individual nations from China to Chile describing ambitious plans to cut emissions and US states from California to Vermont making it clear that they will continue to accelerate action to limit climate change, whatever policies emanate from Washington.

Countries from around the world have made it clear that the move to a global low-carbon economy is now irreversible, including, 48 vulnerable countries vowing to move to 100% clean energy as soon as possible. And a new international collaborative initiative among developed and developing countries set out to accelerate the transformation of the global energy system by promoting initiatives on renewables and energy efficiency.

But time is short and the challenge is speed. “Climate impacts are continuing to accelerate—the Arctic is a frightening 20°C above normal—and we’ve got to accelerate our solutions.  You can’t solve a fast moving problem with slow moving solutions,” said Zaelke.

The goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep warming under 2°C, aiming for 1.5°C.  “We need to improve our aim if we’re going to have any realistic chance of hitting the1.5°C target in the next 15 years and avoiding the cluster of 18 tipping points between 1.5°C and 2°C,” said Zaelke.

Fast action to cut short-lived climate pollutants is essential to slow warming in the near-term and staying below 1.5°C.  Cutting these pollutants—black carbon, methane, and HFCs—can cut the rate of warming in half, and the Arctic warming by two-thirds.  This was the message of a paper launched at COP22 earlier in the week, “Under 2 Degrees Celsius: Fast Action Policies to Protect People & the Planet from Extreme Climate Changes.”  The High-Level Summary, now open for public comment, was organized by Professor V. Ramanathan at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Nobel Laureate Mario Molina, and Zaelke, and written by over thirty experts in climate science, economics, policy, and national security, from China, EU, India, UK and US, presenting a new approach to stay below 2ºC aiming for 1.5°C, and thus avoid extreme and unmanageable climate changes.

The US “Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Depcarbonization” released this week also highlights the immediate need to reduce non-CO2 SLCPs such as methane and HFC refrigerants, and emphasized that action on climate change is “a pro-growth economic strategy.”

The final COP22 decision documents are here.