Last December in Paris, countries across the globe came together for the 21st session of the Conference of Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 195 countries unanimously approved the Paris accord which seeks to limit the rise in global temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels – a level of warming deemed to be the point when dangerous climate change could threaten life on Earth. The agreement was ratified in October by 96 countries and the European Union, and entered into force on November 4, just in time for COP 22 in Marrakech, Morocco. With less than 24 hours until the world finds out whether the U.S. elects Hillary Clinton – who is in favor of the Paris accord – or Donald Trump – it is safe to say the future of the Paris accord is on shaky ground.
COP22 will be the time for nations to finally break ground on their climate solutions. While COP21 was hailed as a major success and massive step in the right direction in the fight against climate change, it only laid the groundwork for countries to begin to take substantive action. For the next two weeks delegations should be bringing to the table action plans to curb their own emissions, strong financial commitments to aid developing countries in their transition towards clean development and protection measures for Earth’s most vulnerable communities. They will also be focusing on gender equality and human rights in climate action. All of this will be in preparation for the reporting of their Nationally Determined Contribution (NDCs). One of the only legally binding components of the agreement, within the UN framework, is the regular review and submission of emission reduction targets by each participating country.
But, just as political momentum may be at an all time high, a sense of uncertainty hangs over Marrakech this week. With the U.S Presidential election coming to a close today the two candidates could not have more polarized stances on climate change and specifically the Paris Agreement. Trump, who has called climate change “a concept created by and for the Chinese,” could be elected Tuesday in a move that would cause alarm amongst climate activists, scientists, and the 195 countries who came together in Paris just a year ago. Trump has pledged to dismantle the Paris Agreement in his first 100 days in office, and stop giving money to the United Nations for climate change activities. Hillary Clinton on the other hand has promised to continue the momentum of the agreement and invest heavily in fighting climate change.
But while a Trump presidency may seem like a death sentence for the Paris Agreement, with the U.S currently playing the leading role in its creation, a few safeguards may be able to salvage the deal. First off, the agreement has already been ratified and the terms kicked in on November 4th of this year. That means all parties involved are bound by the agreement for at least the next four years. The way a President Trump could harm the agreement would be to undo the many domestic policies and executive actions that were put in place to limit carbon emissions by President Obama. Approximately 55% of U.S. greenhouse gases are covered by anti-emissions regulations issued by Obama’s administration. If Trump wins the White House he says he would roll back many of these regulations, including the Clean Power Plan. Trump and his running mate Mike Pence have been very adamant about ending the “war on coal”. Some changes to Obama’s coal regulations would depend on federal courts and Congress. The moratorium on new coal leases, for example, could easily be nixed via executive order, while stopping the Clean Power Plan would be more challenging because of its stage in the regulatory process.
Trump also says he would undoubtedly approve the Keystone XL Pipeline. Even if the U.S. courts were to rule against Obama’s decision to reject the pipeline, the decision will be put in the next president’s hands. On clean energy, Trump hasn’t proposed any specific policies (like for many issues) but given Republican leaders’ stance, he would likely try to drive tax reform, which means the extended production and investment tax credits could be at risk. Republicans in the House have even tried to repeal the tax credits – an unprecedented move.
Overall, COP 22 will be our first look into what substantive action countries are willing to take to limit climate change and follow through their targets. But, depending on the results of the U.S election, the conference may be derailed quickly without the assurances of support by the U.S.