COP - is it Game Over?

Frustrations are beginning to show in Marrakech as progress on negotiations is slow


Here at the UN Climate Change conference in sun-soaked Morocco, a nation’s standing is measured by its willingness to pay for the air conditioning of its pavilion. The US stand is like Antarctica. (The EU stand by contrast, is more like Marrakech). The temperature is a helpful bonus to the journalists hanging out at Camp US Climate Change as they wait for a sign, a hint, a facial tic that reveals exactly what is unfolding in the US delegation. The wailing sirens that heralded the arrival of the US Secretary of State this evening may be a portent of things to come.

While the world awaits Mr Trump’s first climate statement since it actually had to pay attention, US negotiators of the current administration are getting serious. For many it will be their last chance. Throughout this week and last, they have been engaging with the European Union - a fellow member of the High Ambition Coalition - mostly in the shape of the EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete, the Commission’s very own Saint Nicholas.

Señor Cañete has been making his very own list of who’s been naughty and nice, and the UN has been more of the former than the latter. Santa Cañete has been here since last week and last evening when he briefed MEPs he was not in a jolly mood. He was pessimistic about a deal by Friday. So much so that he was even querying whether the COP meetings were worth the effort and expense. He was clear that public money was being spent and unless a decent outcome emerged it would be wasted money.  ‘The EU is reassessing the value in having these [COP] meetings every year.  They are expensive and inefficient.’

The Spaniard, famed for his unrelenting positivity, was decidedly unchuffed.  As he explained, progress on the key issues had been minimal bordering on nil.  For the first time since he (and I) started attending these clanjamfries some three years ago, there is no draft text circulating, no words to correct, no red lines, indeed no lines whatever, a bad sign given we all up sticks in less than 50 hours.

The Marrakech conference was billed as the Paris ambition made real.  However, from day one questions over finance – $100bn is needed to tackle climate change each year - have dogged the gathering. All the more so since the US is currently the largest contributor to the UN’s green climate fund, and may not be for much longer. Equally problematic is the fact that even with the US on board the globe is still wayward of the Paris target of 2oC by at least a degree.

Cañete was a founder member of the Paris ‘high ambition coalition.’ His signature on the Paris Accord brought the agreement into law.  He is fully aware that without agreement in Marrakech the Paris accord may well become but a footnote in the emerging saga that is President-elect Trump. So the clock is ticking. If the world cannot come together this week, then there is little prospect, given recent events, that it ever will. As Señor Cañete said last night, ‘Friday can be a mess. Everything is left til Friday.’

Cañete is not yet ready to concede defeat. The next few days will be the measure of the man and test to see whether our world is about to get a whole lot warmer.