Climate Change’s Most Vulnerable Nations Vow to Run Entirely on Renewable Energy

The climate summit in Morocco has produced few tangible results, but did feature an ambitious pledge by 47 countries fighting for their own survival.

Morocco's foreign minister Salaheddine Mozouar cheered at the end of COP22
Morocco's foreign minister Salaheddine Mozouar did not have much progress to cheer at COP22, but his country did join a coalition of vulnerable countries vowing to use all renewable energy as quickly as possible. Credit: Getty Images

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MARRAKECH, Morocco—As talks on implementing last year’s landmark climate treaty closed in Marrakech, a group of 47 developing countries that are highly vulnerable to the climate crisis announced their intention to run on 100 percent renewable energy “as rapidly as possible.”

They said this ambition is crucial to their survival in a warming world, as well as an example to other, more prosperous nations.

“We aim to survive and thrive,” wrote the member countries of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) in a two-page decision adopted Friday at the climate talks. They also reaffirmed their commitment to keeping warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, the most ambitious climate target of the Paris agreement.

This climate action pledge was welcomed by climate officials and experts as one of the more aggressive to come out of the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 22). The UNFCCC is the umbrella treaty that led to the Paris Agreement last year.

Another was a pledge by more than 300 companies and investors that they would work to realize the promises of the Paris agreement and urged American leaders to adopt policies and funding to support them.

Promises like these, though, were not much of a salve on the big worry festering at the Marrakech talks—the concern that the United States would abandon the treaty when President Donald Trump takes office. He promised to do so during his campaign.

Little concrete progress was made at the conference, despite a sense of urgency over increasing the ambition of signatories in the face of emissions that are still much too high.

“This level of ambition and this vision is needed now more than ever,” Patricia Espinosa, the new executive secretary of the UNFCCC, said at the CVF meeting. “Many are saying we will continue to move ahead” on climate action and “your declaration proves this is indeed the case.”

“The commitments made by the Climate Vulnerable Forum today are both impressive and inspirational,” said Miguel Arias Canete, European Union Climate Action and Energy Commissioner. “They have once again shown their moral leadership in this process with real-world commitments to action.”

Tasked with getting the Paris accord on track shortly after it entered into force this month, this round of negotiations has been touted as the “COP of Action.” But the conference has struggled to live up to the name. Complicating matters, dozens of countries have yet to ratify the agreement and weren’t fully engaged in negotiations.  

According to the CVF decision, member countries are specifically striving “to meet 100 percent domestic renewable energy production as rapidly as possible, while working to end energy poverty and protect water and food security, taking into consideration national circumstances.” Countries aim to make this transition by 2030 to 2050 at the latest.

The CVF includes some of the poorest and most at-risk nations to devastating climate impacts. It includes Haiti, where a direct hit by Hurricane Matthew caused hundreds of deaths and widespread damage to crops and buildings, and the Marshall Islands, an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean that could disappear with rising oceans. It also includes big carbon polluters such as Indonesia, the world’s fifth-largest greenhouse gas emitter due to high levels of deforestation, and Bangladesh, a country t planning to build two dozen coal plants. Morocco, the COP22 host, is also in the coalition.

It’s unclear how this new declaration will impact CVF member countries’ existing fossil fuel plans, but the countries are planning to submit by 2020 their long-term climate action plans (called mid-century strategies) and their updated country-level climate pledges (called nationally determined contributions). Both of these climate information efforts are mandated under the Paris agreement.

Germany on Monday became the first country to release its long-term action plan, vowing to effectively stop using fossil fuels by mid-century. Days later, the lame-duck Obama administration released an optimistic but somewhat wishful strategy for long-term climate action; Canada and Mexico also released their plans.