Karl is one of our Climate Campaigners. Last week he travelled to Marrakech to find out what progress is being made at the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22)

The coach trundled up to its mark on a very dark and wet high street in Oxford. Onto it climbed five very weary students of Environmental Governance, leaving their theoretical stronghold in the classroom to go and see the big dogs put theory into practice. Just a few hours later, we were in a decidedly bright and dry Marrakech with its dusty, plastered walls and warren-like network of alleys – no less tired, but a hell of a lot more motivated.

Our first day was spent in the green zone at COP. A camp of huge marquees were erected on the outskirts of the city in the middle of a vast field of scrub and rubble. The only indication that this wasn’t, say, an absurdly extravagant wedding party was the multitude of deep red signs lining the broad highway, proclaiming the UN’s nearby presence.

While the key negotiations we hear about in the news (or more often don’t) happen in the blue zone. In the green zone, a host of side events take place including talks, panels, and exhibitions dedicated to innovative technologies and special interest groups.

Direct action was also a regular occurrence. Arriving at the site for example, we were met by a vociferous group of Moroccan musicians stationed in the entrance, and only 10ft away were a group of Native Americans with their own protest. This is an important space where senior figures in the negotiation process can interact with the masses of stakeholders involved in climate change politics. Indeed moments after entering the first tent, a chaotic scene erupted when none other than Salaheddine Mezouar – president of COP22 – emerged from a stall, hotly pursued by a flurry of journalists.

After the eventual success of the Paris agreement last year, there was a strong sense of optimism that instigating real and effective action could be on the agenda. However, the outcome of the US election on day one of the negotiations had a braking effect on the conference. As a senior figure at the Climate Action Network described, President-elect Trump’s intention to withdraw from the Paris agreement not only reversed the initially optimistic mood but shifted the focus of negotiations towards shoring up the Agreement with renewed resilience. Delegates now speculated on the ability of the international community, as well as a considerable number of U.S. corporations, many of which have already come out in defence of the Paris agreement, to neutralise Trump’s motivation to withdraw.   

The following day brought our small cohort renewed positivity as we made our way to a fringe event that focused on alternative strategies to the more institutional UN framework in operation nearby. The Development and Climate Days informally brought together an impressive list of personnel from across the world, representing NGOs, research bodies and think tanks. The emphasis was on sustainable development and prioritisation of adaptation measures to protect those countries most vulnerable to the effects of the climate change. This contrasted with the usual emphasis on preventative mitigation action and brought about a productive and inclusive debate.

The prevailing message was that the climate change debate must be made more representative, taking into consideration some of the groups who will experience the greatest weight of the changing climate and specifically women and indigenous people. As the global communities who live and operate the most in the domestic sphere, women and indigenous people have knowledge bases underrepresented and insufficiently considered by adaptation strategists.

This balancing of the global and the local is a really important emerging idea in environmental governance, and the Development and Climate Days sat at the frontline of that dialogue. It tackled these big themes by using not only discussion but group debate, presentations, games, poetry, lunches and conversations in the gardens of the beautiful Club Kenzie. A huge mural illustrated all the conclusions of the weekend, and an informative virtual reality experience shed light on the way aid is delivered to the communities that need it. It was remarkable to see these world leaders engaging with everyone and anyone at this free event, illustrating how fundamental the divergence in climate change politics is between adaptation and mitigation.

Back in the blue zone, delegates remained fixed on the central objective of keeping the world from warming to catastrophic levels. To reach this target requires big action from big players, economic incentivisation, diplomatic virtuosity, political sparring.. Of course individual consumption and cultures of sustainability come into this too, but with the figures we’re looking at, international political and corporate mobilisation is absolutely paramount.

When looking at how to help communities at risk from already ‘locked-in’ change however, we go back from the global to the local – and context is key. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to adaptation, so integrating local perspectives within decision making becomes necessary for appropriate action. What I learnt from my time in Morocco, albeit a very short time, was the importance of balancing different types of environmental objectives and actions. Climate change is something that will and has already started to hit us at every level of human (and non-human) existence, in every part of the world. Therefore our climate action needs to reflect not just suited delegates, but every part of humanity the world over.

What do you think?

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