The 2016 UN climate conference in Marrakesh ended last Friday with reaffirmation by nearly 200 countries of their "highest political commitment" to combatting global warming. With the landmark Paris Agreement now ratified, the conference delivered what former U.S. vice-president Al Gore called a "bold vision that sets the pace for the world's efforts to implement the deal."
This reflects the fact that a conference highlight was the presentation by individual countries of their plans to achieve agreed-upon targets for greenhouse-gas cuts. This is a key step and reflects the fact that Paris is a flexible, bottom-up approach whereby states develop bespoke plans to realize emissions targets, with governments working in partnership with business. As such, the treaty will survive, if not thrive, despite the election of global warming-skeptic Donald Trump in the United States.
This represents a breakthrough from the more rigid, top-down Kyoto Protocol framework. While Kyoto worked for the 37 developed countries and the EU states who agreed to it, a different way of working is needed for the more complex Paris deal which involves more than 170 diverse developing and industrialized states.
That this approach makes sense is reflected in the diversity of climate measures that countries, pre-Paris, had started to make in response to global warming. This was illustrated in a report by the London School of Economics, which focused on 98 countries plus the 28 nations of the EU, together accounting for 93 per cent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, and revealed there are more than 800 climate-change laws and policies in place across the world, up from 54 in 1997.
Approximately half of these (398) were legislative measures, and half (408) executive actions (e.g. decrees). And 46 new laws and policies were passed in the 12 months prior alone.
Some 45 countries, including the 28 EU members as a bloc, have economywide targets to reduce their emissions. Together, they account for more than 75 per cent of global emissions.
This underlines that the best way to tackle climate change is a decentralized approach with nations meeting target commitments in innovative ways that build on this momentum. Take the example of Morocco, the host of the summit, which has become a leader in renewables.
The country gets nearly 30 per cent of its energy from renewables and is aiming for 50 per cent by 2030. It is an agenda setter for other emerging economies and one of the summit highlights was a pledge by almost 50 such states to try to become zero-carbon societies by 2050, driven by renewables.
As Morocco illustrates, this can be done effectively through a national master plan that relies on foreign direct investment and public-sector monies to fund not just big infrastructure projects such as solar and wind plants, but also local, small-scale initiatives to encourage key eco-friendly projects.
Thus as well as major power projects, there is emphasis on encouraging the agricultural sector (which employs more than 40 per cent of the work force) to become more climate-conscious. There are big plans under way, for instance, with irrigation systems to reduce use of water and energy.
Morocco's moves here are underpinned, in part, through international collaboration which highlights that another strength of the Paris Agreement's emphasis on decentralized solutions is the partnerships spawning between regions, cities and institutions across the world.
Taken over all, Marrakesh highlighted key reasons for optimism in the fight against global warming. Paris provides a resilient, flexible framework for climate action that could potentially become a key foundation stone of future sustainable development for billions across the world.