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  November 18, 2016

COP22 Not Addressing Inadequacies of Paris Agreement

Reporting from Marrakech, Dimitri Lascaris says inertia afflicting prior conferences is still at play despite determination of the global community to move ahead with climate change efforts
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KIM BROWN, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.

The UN COP22 climate change summit in Marrakech, Morocco wraps up at the end of this week and it has brought together representatives from 195 countries. Now that President-elect and climate change denier in chief, Donald Trump will be occupying the White House next year. Part of his agenda already includes pulling the US out of the Paris Agreement and killing the Clean Power Plan. Now with that information hanging over the attendees, how are talks proceeding in Marrakech this week?

Well with us to give us an update, we’re joined with Dimitri Lascaris. Dimitri is a lawyer called to the bars of New York State and Ontario, Canada. He formerly practiced law at a major Wall Street law firm and is now focused on human rights and environmental law. He is the former justice critic in the Green Party of Canada and he’s also our board member right here at the Real News Network. Dimitri, welcome.


BROWN: So, Dimitri, we appreciate you being here and also you being there in Morocco, what’s been the mood at COP22 in light of the US election results?

LASCARIS: Surprisingly, no one I’ve spoken to – and I’ve spoken to climate scientists, I’ve spoken to people from NGOs, I’ve spoke to government representatives. No one is using at least or discouraged by the news of the Trump victory to the extent that their determination to see through the implementation of the Paris Accord has been diminished. In fact, people are saying quite the opposite. They’re saying that this is galvanizing action to address the climate crisis and that effectively the train has left the station. Whether or not the US administration, the incoming presidential administration is going to remain committed to the Paris Accord or not, the global community is going to move ahead with it’s implementation and we’re not going to see Kyoto style collapse of the accord if the US pulls out.

That’s encouraging and surprising I would say because of the important to the US historically to a global climate deal and the amount of it’s emissions. That being said, I really don’t get the sense that much is being accomplished here. I get the sense from speaking to people that the same sort of inertia that has afflicted prior COPs remains in place. That’s not because of Trump. This has been the case for years that the UN climate action process, really hasn’t galvanized the international community to the level of action that is needed according to the scientific community. The negotiations here and I attended a meeting yesterday of stakeholders that was held by the Canadian government and there was an interesting question from somebody, I think it was someone in the youth delegation to the chief negotiator or Canada about what’s really going on here and what she said was, it seems to us that you’re basically haggling over the process that is going to be employed in the future for the purposes of implementing the provisions of the Paris Accord. The negotiator chief representative of the Canadian government didn’t disagree with that characterization and in fact said, that’s largely what’s going on.

She did stress that that’s important. It’s important to have a process in place that people have confidence in and that it’s effective and efficient. But she didn’t pretend that much was going to happen here. At least not in that briefing in terms of implementing the accord.

BROWN: So, it’s being mentioned and murmured about in the press that Trump is looking at a climate change denier for both the energy secretary position and to head the EPA. Also to dismantle the Clean Power Plan as soon as possible without the US which of course is the world’s second biggest greenhouse gas emitter after China. So, can the Paris Agreement go forward still even without US participation?

LASCARIS: It certainly can. The Paris Accord as a matter of fact came into effect on November 4th of this year. A sufficient number of countries had ratified the agreement that it came effective according to its own terms. Unless other countries begin pulling out, the absence of the US would not trigger de-ratification of the agreement or render it invalid. It’s going to remain in effect as long as the US is the only country that pulls out.

Of course that means that the United States, presumably if it’s not part of the Paris Accord it isn’t going to be complying with provisions of the Paris Accord. That means that a very, very important emitter is not going to be on board for the plan globally to approve, reducing global emissions. But as a legal matter, it is perfectly possible for the rest of the countries who have signed onto this agreement to continue to comply with it’s provisions. The problem and even the bigger problem with the rise of a climate change denialist to the US presidency which is undoubtedly a very bad development.

I don’t think anybody denies that.

The bigger problem is that the provisions of the Paris Accord are so weak and the emission reduction commitment that the participating states have made, not just the United States but all of the states have made. They’re so weak and so inefficient or inadequate that even if there is full compliance with those provisions and with those emission reduction targets, we are in a path to experience global warming in excess of potentially 3 degrees Celsius. There’s general agreement that anything above 2 degrees Celsius is extremely dangerous.

So, that’s a much bigger problems than the participation of one major emitter in this accord. That problem sadly is not being addressed. People are not coming to this conference with proposed emission reduction targets that are substantially more ambitious than those that were put in place in the events of the Paris Agreement last year. And the implementation of those weak emission reduction targets has not really moved forward aggressively. You take for example the case of Canada, the country that I come from, the government adopted effectively the emission reduction targets, the incoming liberal government which won the election late last year adopted the very weak emission reduction targets of the prior conservative government of Steven Harper even though it had criticized the inadequacy of those targets. Not only has it done that, but it doesn’t even have plan in place one year later for achieving even those very weak targets.

This is the kind of thing that we’re seeing here in Morocco and it is as I say, a much bigger problem than the admittedly very significant question of whether the United States is going to remain committed to this accord.

BROWN: So, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has said that if US pulls out of the Paris Agreement, France could levy a carbon tax on all US imports. So, have you heard any other talk about sanctions against the US if Trump pulls out of the agreement? There should be possibly some repercussions here no?

LASCARIS: There is a process in the agreement for the withdraw of states. It’s a 4-year process so it is – there’s another way that the US could get out even more quickly than withdrawing from the Paris Accord. That is, it could pull out from the entire framework treaty under which the Paris Accord was negotiated. So it legally, it can do that without incurring any consequences. In fact this was a major criticism of the Paris Accord when it was negotiated, is that there was no meaningful enforcement mechanism at all. Even for those countries that remain committed to the accord.

Now that’s not to say that individual states, well France for example, the country of Nicolas Sarkozy could take either action unilaterally or collectively with other states that have exceeded to the Paris Accord to effectively deter the United States from pulling out and going down this path that Donald Trump seems committed to of perpetuating dependence on fossil fuels. They could take some steps.

But those would also be fraught with some difficulties. For example, and I don’t purport to have an answer to this. That is a very complicated question. If Sarkozy were to – he or anybody who happens to be riding the French government were to impose a carbon tax on products coming into France from the United States, you know that could potentially run a foul of trade agreements that the French government has negotiated with the United States and that could trigger action under these investor state distribute revolution mechanisms that trade agreements have by companies in the United States that are being prejudice by this step being taken by the French government. This is a problem. Again many people are talking about the problems of the obstacles posed by these trade agreements to this kind of action that Sarkozy is talking about.

So I don’t think it would be a simple as imposing a carbon tax in the United States. Frankly Scarkozy right now is positioning himself for another run at the French Presidency despite his having been disgraced by various scandals. This is something that - this kind of talk would appeal to a broad range of the French public because of their concern about climate change. Whether he actually is serious about doing it if he comes to power and whether he can do it legally under the trade agreements to which France has exceeded, that’s another question all together.

BROWN: That’s Dimitri Lascaris. He is an attorney. He’s also the former justice critic at the Green Party of Canada. A board member here at the Real News Network. Dimitri is in Marrakech, Morocco for the COP22 climate change summit.

Dimitri we appreciate your report today. Thanks a lot.

LASCARIS: It was a pleasure.

BROWN: Thank you for watching the Real News Network.


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