By Malik Hossain
[Marrakech, Morocco] In the run up to COP21 hosted by the French government in its capital, Paris in 2015, there was frenetic diplomatic activity all over the world inspired by climate change. Three capitals dictated the pace, format, structure and tone of re-imagining a new world that would take a bold step to stem down the ever rising carbon emissions and tone down extreme life threatening weather conditions.
These were Washington DC, Vatican City and Paris. The three leaders at the nexus of these three cities used their leverage to reach out to much of the world with the sole intention of unlocking a gridlock that had taken two decades and was first giving environmental diplomacy a bad name. French president Francois Hollande was overt in what France wanted regarding the climate change talks right from January 2015. The highly efficient French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Quai d’Orsay) went into overdrive reaching out to all Organisation internationale de la Francophonie members, UN member states, civil societies, think tanks and even observer groups. Their purpose was clear, to thrash out all bottlenecks that had made the two decades old climate talks to become a mockery.
Outgoing US President Barack Obama on the other hand came out openly with special messages and described his all too clear intention of committing the US (previously known for its hard positions) to a globally acceptable climate deal. Signs that the animosity that had pitted emerging nations, small island states, least developed nations against the developed ones (Annex 2 countries versus Annex 1 nations) was beginning to thaw became evident when the quiet but resourceful and well-organised Holy See reached out to the entire planet with the Pope Francis historic encyclical, Laudato Si. As the countdown to COP21 approached Pope Francis’ influence worked wonders in Latin and Central America.
Obama, Hollande and Pope Francis did more than talk, they leaned over influential blocs within the climate change negotiating teams drawn from LDCs, BRICs, AOSIS and the largest emitters persuading them to seek consensus.
US President-Elect Donald Trump. His earlier position on climate change may completely redefine future climate change negotiations [Image: CC-IOO]
And when COP21 opened the excitement and sheer thrill of making history was evident at La Bourget, the venue of the climate talks with negotiations going on to the wee hours of the morning. Red bleary eyes and countless cups of coffee were an ever present reality within the negotiation plenary.
In the end the Paris Agreement was passed.
It is with this background that many anticipated a similar atmosphere of excitement and progress to help give impetus to the Paris Agreement when the talks went to Marrakesh (COP22) in 2016.
Instead Donald Trump was elected as US President. The election of President-Elect Trump to succeed President Obama chipped off the sheen in Marrakesh. The reason being for the longest time Trump has been branded by environmentalists as a “climate change denier”.
Panic gripped many experienced climate change negotiators who had believed opinion polls and media reports that Trump would lose.
A sense of complete loss reverberated across Marrakesh and though outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry tried hard to reassure delegates of the US’ unwavering commitment on the Paris Agreement, it was clear he was unconvincing.
Outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry trying to reassure COP22 delegates [Image: CC-IOO]
Key negotiators from the leading nations actually left Marrakesh leaving the negotiations to continue under junior delegations. A ‘wait and see’ attitude laced by fear that the gains made in the last 22 years are bound to take a complete U-turn describes best the current climate change negotiations scenario.
In as much as a number of countries have set the pace in seeking to make the Paris Agreement feasible, by adopting cleaner energy pathways the leverage enjoyed by the US in leading and persuading others to follow suit is very much needed.