Photo: COP22

First notes from Marrakech


“Let’s make COP23 the COP of finance. May we suggest a couple of targets for the organisers of 2017? At least 2,017 delegates from the world of finance and at least $20.17 billion of deals actually signed at the COP.”
What, No Souk?

COP22 was a two week bonanza for Marrakech’s hospitality business, with its massive influx of expense account-fuelled visitors delighting not just the owners of the Red City’s riads and hotels, but also its omnipresent population of leftovers-eating feral cats.

It was a shame, then, that in a city with one of the world’s great souks, there was so little sense of deals being done at the COP – at least financial ones.

For those that haven’t attended one, we should explain that the COP is a forum for formal negotiation on various climate related agreements, with a trade fair attached. The formal bit (and the more sober part of the trade fair) is in the Blue Zone, which is run by the UNFCCC and where you have to get a pass to get in.

The Green Zone (organised by the host country) has public access and hosts the glitzy bit of the trade fair – a mass of stands and exhibits and events staged by everyone from countries to businesses to NGOs. The civil society section, in particular, with its mini-agoras for soapbox oratory, is a noisy Babel of discussion of pretty much any climate-related topic you could possibly imagine.

The ASLAN modular-built utility vehicle unveiled at the COP. Photo:
The ASLAN modular-built utility vehicle unveiled at the COP. Photo:

The Marrakech Green Zone was positively humming with business. Everyone from Siemens to Facebook was present, including makers of EVs you’ve probably not yet heard of, demonstrating everything renewables to virtual reality disaster planning systems.  So it’s clear that major corporations around the world are now seeing opportunities in the giant investment bonanza that Paris implies. But where were the banks, the pension funds, the insurance companies, the major asset managers? Nowhere to be seen, apparently, apart from a few longstanding supporters and their global and regional investor group representatives.

What about around the COP? The same story, it would appear. There were several finance-related events, but the people attending them were the DFIs, the think tanks, the global NGOs (who are actually doing some really innovative things, but are not in control of the cash).

A whole year on from Paris, this was disappointing, and it really needs to change by COP23. As the indefatigable Sean Kidney, CEO of the Climate Bonds Initiative (whose global peregrinations in the cause of green bonds would put even a hyperactive albatross to shame) puts it: “2017 must be the year of NDC Finance Plans and COP23 must be the COP of NDC Finance Plans”. We couldn’t agree more. With notable exceptions like the IDB, the development finance institutions who need to crowd in the mainstream, private money that’s needed in the $$ hundreds of billions have been slow off the mark in moving this agenda forward. One suspects that, as they are prone to do, they are letting others stick their necks out first and the perfect (in terms of their governance and MRV codes) become the enemy of the good.

Paris, An Accidental Triumph of Biodiversity?

No sooner had the COP got started than Donald Trump got elected, which naturally put a bit of a downer on spirits for a while, given his climate bashing comments during the campaign. American delegates, in particular, seemed to have been struck by a strange verbal tic, an inability to utter their new President’s name, leading them to have to resort instead to a range of circumlocutions. Most direct were substitutions such as “President Obama’s successor”or “the person who will take over in January” or “the new occupant of the White House”. For delegates with a more serious form of the affliction, even such one-degree-removed references were apparently too painful to use, so the man-with-no-name was replaced by more distant constructions such as “the result of the election” or “what happened on November 8th” or “the events of last week”.

Lifeform sculptures by Moroccan artist Nordin Znati lined the main alley in the Blue Zone. Photo: COP22
Lifeform sculptures by Moroccan artist Nordin Znati lined the main alley in the Blue Zone. Photo: COP22

But spirits soon improved. COPs are always heartening affairs anyway, in that more or less every nation on earth is gathered together for the explicit purpose of trying to solve a problem. The twin spirits of assembly and negotiation are somehow encapsulated in the “grand avenue” which runs down the middle of the Blue Zone and which at COP22 must have been at least a kilometre long. Here a vast crowd, “people and realms of every tongue” as the hymn has it, promenades in constant transit between events and meetings and social spaces, in a kind of graceful and entirely self-policed contraflow system.

More than this, though, it quickly began to sink in that, by happy chance, the very biodiversity that the newly embattled US Environmental Protection Agency may now struggle to protect has found new expression as an organising principle in the form of the Paris Agreement. Its bottom up approach to climate action, allowing every country to play to its strengths in shutting down carbon emissions and coping with impacts, creates diversity and a resulting resilience in the Agreement’s architecture, making it far less vulnerable to the whims any incumbent, whether in the White House or any other single place.

Add to this the shift to economics, not politics, being the driving force for climate action and there’s a strong case to be cheerful, which the COP quite quickly again became. Its final “action proclamation” summarises the spirit quite well: “This year, we have seen extraordinary momentum on climate change worldwide, and in many multilateral fora. This momentum is irreversible – it is being driven not only by governments, but by science, business and global action of all types at all levels.” With ratifications announced during the fortnight, there are now 111 signatories to the Paris Agreement, representing 77 percent of carbon emissions. Red may have trumped blue in the USA, but it can’t trump the rainbow.

Truly a transition
Source: MedinaBike

Doing my bit for l’environnement while in Marrakech, I used the MedinaBike bike share scheme (apparently the first in Africa) In so doing, I certainly didn’t do the environment in my lungs any favours. For while the bikes were fine (if clunky as all bike scheme bikes are) and the weather was glorious and the terrain almost completely flat and the traffic not nearly as crazy as I expected it to be, the air quality was truly, madly, deeply horrible. This was especially the case in the bike lanes, which, despite nice signage depicting people who were definitely pedalling a two-wheeler not just riding one, were mainly occupied by scooters. Perhaps in order to escape detection by the bike lane police, each of these scooters, moreover, trailed a vast smokescreen in its wake.

But here was the consolation: riding on a new bike scheme bike through a cloud of old noxious particulates is somehow a perfect formulation of the low-carbon transition. I’m sure that by my next Marrakech visit, things will have improved, because the commitment of our COP hosts to their green agenda is truly impressive. One of the first countries to have revised its NDC – and revised it upwards in terms of ambition – as we reported last week, Morocco is embarked on a massive renewables programme and leading the way in Africa on smart agriculture. We thank them for an atmospheric COP (some of the art exhibits in the Green Zone were really striking) as well as a COP of action, and wish them well for their Presidency in the coming year.

Roll on COP23, to be held in Bonn but under the Presidency of Fiji. May we suggest a couple of targets for the COP of 2017? At least 2,017 delegates from the world of finance and at least $20.17 billion of deals actually signed at the COP.

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