Published 2017-11-22

Small African countries can lead the way in adaptation

The vitality of the Paris Agreement after the Trump administration’s announced withdrawal is an example of a diplomatic masterpiece. This does not apply to Morocco, which was the last country to preside over the climate negotiations.

‘It’s fascinating to see how a small, lower middle-income African country can be a front-runner and show the way in this crucial issue,’ says Björn-Ola Linnér, Programme Director for Mistra Geopolitics.


During a seminar at the end of October hosted by Mistra Geopolitics and the Swedish Ministry of the Environment and Energy, Ayman Cherkaoui (the senior adviser to the Moroccan Chief Negotiator at in COP22) shared his thoughts on the experience of representing the country presiding over the climate negotiations.


Morocco took over the presidency after COP22 and has since worked intensively for continued strengthening of the Paris Agreement, both internationally and within Morocco’s own borders.


Morocco is genuinely concerned about climate change and has itself made ambitious commitments to reduce its emissions by 42% compared with ‘business as usual’.


‘It’s one of the few countries that has exceeded its promises. Partly, that’s because of international investments, but they’re set to do a great deal through their own efforts,’ Linnér says.


Anxiety spread after Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw. Would the Agreement be eroded or, at worst, collapse? Early statements from countries such as China and France that there was no question of a watered-down agreement unsurprisingly had an effect.


Morocco has diligently used the diplomatic toolbox to get all other countries, and also companies and regions, on side. They have convened groups of non-state stakeholders to create a parallel process that has pushed for change. One strategy has been to support the work by involving non-state stakeholders.


For example, the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action has brought in cities, regions and businesses. In this way, they have managed to create momentum, Linnér thinks.


It may well be that the US will nonetheless fulfil its commitments, thanks to states, cities and companies being on board and actively supporting adaptation to climate change.


The US exit has had the effect that Nicaragua, which at first refused to accept the Paris Agreement because, in its opinion, it was insufficiently far-reaching, has now changed its mind and signed on. Today, 169 of the 195 countries that signed the Paris Agreement have also ratified it.


Björn-Ola Linnér thinks the symbolic power of an international agreement like the Paris Agreement is equal to, if not greater than, the agreement as such. It brings with it a series of stakeholders and disseminates knowledge. Among politicians and companies, mindsets change.


‘But then the Agreement must have legitimacy. Confidence is everything here, and Morocco has really contributed to that,’ Linnér says.

He believes that Morocco’s active leadership sets a good example for other small countries. Morocco is now arm-in-arm with Fiji, which takes over the Presidency after COP23 in Bonn in November.


But what does the big picture look like? Will the emissions be reduced? Yes, they are levelling out and the investments in coal power have decreased over the past three years, and last year they fell sharply.

Björn-Ola Linnaeus likens it to two snowballs, one brown and one green. The brown one is large, but rolls slowly. The green one is small, but moves considerably faster.


One of the questions posed at the seminar is whether this global trend alone is sufficient to fulfil the Paris Agreement.


‘No, the trend is undeniably going in the right direction, but although the Agreement’s commitments are far-reaching, it is not enough,’ says Björn-Ola Linnér.