The momentum against deniers

Lebanon at the Marrakech United Nations Climate Change Conference

Photo credit: Xinhua/Zhao Dingzhe
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The historic Paris Agreement

The international agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions that came into place a year ago in Paris was a fruitful outcome of more than two decades of hard work and negotiations by the international community and aims at limiting the increase in the temperature of the planet to 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. Now that there is no dispute scientifically on the impact of human activities on our planet, the very existence of humans and the ecosystem that supports their lives is threatened in the case of inaction, resulting in floods, poverty, diseases, lack of food, lack of water and disappearance of nation states.

The Paris Agreement is supposed to be the beginning of the end of the hydrocarbon age, and the move toward clean energy, in addition to finance and technological support by developed countries to developing countries and, more importantly, to vulnerable countries. A consensus was reached over the years that developed countries are the reason behind the abnormal increase in the temperature of the earth due to industrial activities, and as a result developed countries will collectively commit to financing $100bn per year as of 2020, which would be spent in two areas: 1- adaptation: helping developing and vulnerable countries adapt to the change in climate affecting their livelihood such as water and food security 2- mitigation: helping developing countries reduce their emissions in the future in order to meet their national emission targets, which they need to commit to as part of the agreement.

Marrakech Conference of the Parties (COP) 22

This year’s climate conference, the largest United Nations event on climate change, hosted generously by the king of Morocco in Marrakech, witnessed the first year in preparing for the implementation terms of the Paris agreement, which will take effect in 2020. Shortly before the conference, the threshold required for the agreement to come into force was surpassed, and currently 113 countries out of 197 have ratified it, most importantly the largest emitters, the USA and China.

This year’s conference was trumped (pun intended) by the result of the US presidential election. The entire mood of delegates and negotiators was tilted by rather a trivial question but an important one, what will be Trump‘s influence on climate change? With the election of Donald Trump in the USA, the international community, and at least half of the American population, is afraid that Trump will take action on his campaign rhetoric and back down from the Paris agreement. French President Francois Hollande made his concerns clear in the opening speech at the Marrakech conference reminding the incoming US administration that the agreement is irreversible and that “U.S. citizens are aware that if the level of the Oceans rises, if natural disasters continue, if migrations persist, if crises erupt, then America will necessarily be concerned”. Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to the Paris agreement and attacked Trump by saying “no-one has the right to make decisions that affect billions of people based solely on ideology or without proper input”. Moreover, the secretariat of the conference reiterated the irreversibility of the momentum to implement the measures to fight climate change in a statement at the end of the conference. If Trump were to withdraw from the Paris agreement to the pleasure of oil and coal companies, it would indeed pose a drawback on a crucial momentum, but the good news is that this would take it 4 years to do so, by which time the world would hope Trump will not win a second term. 4 years is a rather long period, and several things might happen; already President-elect Donald Trump conceded on Tuesday (November 22, 2016) that there is “some connectivity” between human activity and climate change and wavered on whether he would pull the United States out of international accords aimed at combating the phenomenon, which scientists overwhelmingly agree is caused by human activity. The statements could mark a softening in Trump’s position on US involvement in efforts to fight climate change, although he did not commit to specific action in any direction.

Additionally, there are many states in the US with emission cuts that surpass the requirements of the agreement and can act independently from Washington given the federal system. For example, California, the largest state economy in the US, which is the size of the French economy and double the Russian economy, is aiming to reach 1990 emissions levels by 2020, hence reversing the emissions trend through a bigger share of clean energy use.

Overall, a key outcome of this year’s conference is the agreement of countries to finalize the rules of the Paris Agreement by 2018. Indeed, that agreement was made, ensuring that countries are kept on track to raise the ambition of their national climate plans in 2020 – a crucial part of meeting the goals set out in the Paris Agreement.  Countries also set in motion a process to define the “stocktaking” methodologies in 2018, which is a process that evaluates progress in cutting emissions and ensure the climate action taken is enough to meet the target reduced emissions. The conference also provided an opportunity for cities and businesses to advance climate action plans of their own, covering many sectors including transport, buildings and energy. For example, more than 200 businesses, representing $4.8 trillion in market value, have committed to set Science Based Targets that are scientifically consistent with efforts to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

Lebanon’s strategic commitments

Lebanon has committed to a national strategy for cutting emissions by 15 percent in 2030 and by 30 percent if financial support from the available financing schemes within the agreement materialize; Prime Minister Tammam Salam signed the Paris agreement on behalf of the Lebanese Republic, while the Lebanese government has forwarded the draft law to the parliament; and the parliament will need to eventually ratify it. The decrease in number of rain days and the average precipitation per year that Lebanon has been witnessing will create severe water and agricultural challenges that will weaken our food and water security. To commit to its responsibilities, Lebanon will need to commit to mitigation measures in terms of reducing emissions through reforming its energy sector and increasing renewable energy sources, in addition to managing its waste, protecting its environment and enhancing its public transport. Those responsibilities are directly aligned with the country’s interest to improve its infrastructure, improve its environmental standards, and improve its public services, and ultimately support its economic growth. Financing will be available for those mitigation-related projects as well as for adaptation projects mainly related to the water and agriculture sectors. Cognizant of its vulnerability, Lebanon joined the Climate Vulnerable Forum in Marrakesh; this forum is an international partnership of countries which are highly vulnerable to a warming planet. The Forum serves as a South-South cooperation platform for participating governments to act together to deal with global climate change. The forum discusses a vision to reach 100% renewable energy in respective countries, with no commitment on timeline and only according to national circumstances; that doesn’t mean by any measure that Lebanon will be tied in exploring its potential oil and gas industry, like some misinformed analysts stated, but it will only provide support for Lebanon to benefit efficiently from financing and knowledge transfer over the years as it diversifies its energy sources.

Climate change is real and the years to come will present an unprecedented opportunity for small countries to benefit from financing mechanisms to improve their development aspirations, improve their adaptive capacity and reduce their vulnerability, and Lebanon should take advantage through continuous follow-up and strong intra-sectoral coordination by both the public and private sectors.

This article first appeared in the print edition of As Safir, November 29, 2016

Talal F. Salman is UNDP project director for fiscal reform in Lebanon

Vahakn Kabakian is head of the climate change unit at UNDP Lebanon