Weekly wrap: hope and caution as Paris Agreement takes effect

This week’s top climate politics and policy stories. Sign up to get a daily update from COP22 in Marrakech sent to your inbox

Paris (Pic: Moyan Brenn/Flickr)

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The Paris Agreement enters into force today, 4 November 2016.

It commits all countries to developing climate action plans, with the collective aim of holding temperature rise “well below 2C”.

It’s worth remembering how unlikely that looked a year ago, when it was assumed the climate deal would take effect in 2020. Even after a late change to the text made early adoption possible, few predicted governments would race to ratify.

But they did it, three days ahead of the next round of climate negotiations in Marrakech, Morocco.

If that doesn’t show political will, what does?

Quote of the week

“Humanity will look back on 4 November 2016, as the day that countries of the world shut the door on inevitable climate disaster and set off with determination towards a sustainable future” – UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa and Morocco foreign minister Salaheddine Mezouar write

Of course, the UN environment body issued its annual reminder that the national contributions aren’t enough to meet the Paris temperature goals.

It says greenhouse gas emissions will need to fall 25% further by 2030 to stay within that 2C threshold, let alone the 1.5C vulnerable countries demand.

Some scientists warn even that analysis relies heavily on unproven negative emissions technology. Is it already too late?

To really bend that curve, we need to see action in the short term. On that front, here’s a bit more rain on the parade.

The orange cumulonimbus on the horizon is Donald Trump. While his rival Hillary Clinton by all accounts stands a better chance of winning next Tuesday’s US election, a climate denier in the White House is a distinct possibility.

For all the spin about the resilience of the Paris deal, a Trump presidency would mean “all bets are off”, writes Ed King.

Laggards’ corner

Success for the Paris Agreement hinges on countries ramping up their ambition. But South Korea has quietly weakened its target since last year, updated analysis from Climate Action Tracker shows.

Saudi Arabia, Australia and New Zealand are also on the naughty step, reports Karl Mathiesen, while Nepal is a bright spot of progress.

Turning Risk into Reward: Opportunities for Business at the Development Table will take place at 10-11.30am, 10 November, Africa Pavilion, COP22, Marrakech. All welcome

Buyers’ remorse

Some African leaders, too, are getting cold feet about the ambitious emissions targets they have signed up to.

As Ed King reveals, they may seek to revise their climate pledges before ratifying the Paris Agreement, citing a rushed and flawed process.

A case in point is Kenya, where the Chinese-backed Lamu coal plant is consistent with the government’s energy plan, but jeopardises the carbon budget. Lou Del Bello reports from Nairobi.

Climate frontlines

So, in case there was any doubt, there is plenty of work to do in Marrakech, not just on the technicalities of the deal but sustaining confidence in the process.

It won’t attract world leaders on the scale of the Paris talks, but Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to attend.

She will be pushing for progress on dealing with the loss and damage caused by global warming, top advisor Saleemul Huq told Climate Home.

From another frontline of sea level rise, Queen Quet of the Gullah/Geechee nation – the ancestors of slaves living on the Atlantic coast of the US – is heading to COP22 to demand a recognition she feels is lacking at home.

Oil slick

The oil majors are on the PR offensive ahead of COP22 in Marrakech, unveiling a US$1 billion fund to develop “innovative low emissions technologies”.

Backed by 10 companies including Shell, Saudi Aramco and Statoil, collectively responsible for a fifth of world production, it will support carbon capture and storage (CCS), methane emissions cuts and energy efficiency.

Don’t be fooled, say green groups. Spread out over ten years, this amounts to just 0.1% of spending. And there was no mention of renewables, contrary to reports earlier in the week.

Former Saudi oil chief Ali Al-Naimi summed up the sector’s attitude in a talk at Chatham House on Friday:

“Work on emissions but don’t talk about fossil fuels in ground, that would be a tragedy. We should eliminate emissions but if we [eliminate] fossil fuels we will go back to the stone age.”

German economic minister Sigmar Gabriel defended that status quo with an extraordinary attack on Chinese plans for an electric car target.

That would discriminate against German carmakers, he argued ahead of a trade visit to the country.

Squaring the circle

It would take a huge amount of carbon capture and storage to reconcile sustained fossil fuel use with the Paris climate goals.

While one Indian venture claims to be capturing carbon on a commercial basis, without subsidy, this technology is way behind where climate models suggest it needs to be.

In fact, the strongest sign of an oil company taking global warming seriously might just have been buried in a Shell conference call.

As Bloomberg’s Javier Blas tweeted, Shell expects oil demand to peak in 5-15 years. The lower end of that is consistent with a rapid shift to cleaner technology.

If the firm trims its investment in frontier projects in line with that expectation, we might be getting somewhere.

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