Trump and bureaucracy challenge when the Paris Agreement is discussed in Marrakesh

The Paris Agreement came into force on 4 November, much sooner than many people believed. But it’s not just the various parties to the agreement who are preparing for the first meeting after it was reached: five LiU researchers and a master’s student are getting ready to travel to Marrakesh for the negotiations, 7-18 November. 

“The Paris Agreement has been ratified at record speed, and the greatest surprise is that the US and, in particular, China, ratified it so rapidly,” says Mathias Fridahl, senior lecturer and researcher in the field of international climate policy.

China’s rapid action depends on the fact that many related questions are already on the agenda there, such as air quality and energy security. These are two major issues for China. The reason that the US has acted so quickly in this case to ratify an agreement is related to the imminent presidential election.

“Obama has pushed the question through and wants to reach a conclusion. If Trump wins the election, he can throw the decision in the waste bin, but it will take at least a year to get through all of the formal stages,” says Mathias Fridahl. Together with his colleagues, he is making the final changes to the questionnaires they are planning to take to Marrakesh.

1,000 paper-based questionnaires

It is not only the first meeting after the Paris Agreement was reached that will take place in Marrakesh, 7-18 November. The parties to the Kyoto Protocol will also meet, and the 22nd session of the parties to UN Conference on Climate Change will be held. A total of 197 parties will be represented by around 7,000 negotiators, and a further 6,000 observers and 1,500 media representatives are expected to participate. In this multitude of people, negotiations, special interests and decisions, five LiU researchers and a master’s student will make their presence felt, working on three research projects.

Mathias Fridahl is to study the prospects of using technology for bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, also known as “BECCS”, to reach the objective of limiting the rise in mean temperature to 2 °C. He and his colleagues will investigate attitudes of various actors to the development of BEECS, and distribute questionnaires to participants at the meetings. They are hoping to collect 1,000 replies.

“BECCS is still at the pilot-plant stage. Even so, many people believe that the technology will be important in reaching the objective of limiting the rise in mean temperature to considerably less than 2 °C,” says Mathias Fridahl.

BECCS involves using biomass in production, and the carbon dioxide that is created as a by-product is subsequently separated and stored in long-term storage. It is possible, for example, to capture carbon dioxide from paper mills, the production of biofuels or biofuel-driven power stations and store it underground. A corresponding amount of new biomass, such as forests with a large capacity to absorb carbon dioxide, is subsequently planted. The great majority of current climate scenarios are based on the large-scale use of BECCS.

“If BECCS is to be used, there must be a readiness to develop the technology. Previous research has studied the technical and financial parameters. We plan to examine also the social and political conditions. Is there are willingness to develop and implement this technology?”

Research into attitudes

In order to collect responses to their questionnaire, Mathias Fridahl and his colleagues plan to attend some of the lectures about BECCS.

“We will stand at the door and approach experts as they go in, and ensure that they are given a questionnaire. We will also distribute a more general questionnaire to participants who are not experts. We plan to compare the results from the two questionnaires to determine whether expert knowledge influences attitudes to this question.”

This is not the first time that the questionnaires have been taken to an international conference. LiU researchers have collected data at such conferences for nine years. They have built up a database with 9,000 replies describing how participants regard various subjects, such as what they believe are the most effective solutions to climate changes, leadership, and the role of non-governmental organisations in climate negotiations.

“We aim to understand the attitudes of participants concerning the decisions that are taken at international environmental negotiations. In the long term, we will be able to, for example, identify compromises, predict conflicts and understand more fully the conditions required for a particular decision to become reality.”

Stumbling blocks

The Marrakesh meetings will discuss many questions in which the participating countries need to make progress. One of these is the uncertainty relating to climate finance, where rich countries have promised poorer countries support when climate change occurs, together with compensation for the damage and loss that result from it. What are Mathias Fridahl’s ideas about the challenges facing the meetings?

“I know it sounds rather boring, but the greatest challenge facing the first meeting is reaching agreement about transparency. To put it simply, you can describe this as frameworks and formalities, or how to draw up a book of rules for the Paris Agreement. If we are going to make comparisons between countries or follow trends over time, we must ensure that everyone calculates in approximately the same way, or at least that they describe how they make the calculations. It is extremely important that this aspect works satisfactorily when so many are involved. Otherwise, we risk losing sight of the big picture.”

LiU researchers attending the Marrakesh meetings:

Björn-Ola Linnér, Eva Lövbrand, Mathias Fridahl, Maria Jernnäs, Lazare Nzeyimana and Marianne Kropf, master student at Science for sustainable development

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