In 1841, Charles Mackay wrote Extraordinary Popular Delusion and the Madness of Crowds. Ever since then, the world has kept proving that Mackay was right when he wrote, “ In reading the history of nations … we find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit…” Over 10,000 people have descended into the city of Marrakesh to attend COP 22, celebrate the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on climate change and to plan its implementation. This annual ritual is a manifestation of the madness of crowds.
Ever since the Rio Treaty in 199X, annual Conferences of the Parties have been held to plan actions to avoid a climate apocalypse, which is just over the horizon. But, like the horizon, it recedes as it is approached. Prophets of doom have been predicting dramatic climate events for about three decades and for almost that length of time have been explaining why they haven’t yet occurred but soon will.
Under the Paris Agreement, nations are to submit plans for achieving their pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and then regular reports on progress made. COP-22 has the responsibility for hammering out the details of reporting, transparency, compliance, capacity building in developing nations, and financing actions. On the surface, this does not appear to be an overwhelming task but in reality it will prove difficult to achieve. Every past COP has ended with delegates floundering to achieve its goals and then scrambling to make failure appear as success.
Many developed nations, if not most, will look for ways to create loopholes so that their reports can show significant progress and to make any shortcomings something that is outside their control. Developing countries will tie their commitments to significant funding from the developed world. There is already a pledge of $100 billion annually by 2020. A review of the last report stated that an “estimated … $62bn was provided in 2014. However, there is some tension about the methodology chosen to produce this report, which might flare up in Marrakech”. At a time when developed nations are struggling with weak economies, excessive debt, and unfulfilled citizen expectations, financing will continue to be the Achilles Heel for this agreement as it was in the past.
The delegates, who are enjoying the good life in Marrakesh, are harboring a vision of how the world works that no longer exists. Our presidential election is not the only sign that the paradigm of the past has changed. It is evident around the globe. Populist unrest is changing the political dynamics and that cannot but influence how nations address the illusion of dangerous climate change. In addition to the problems that the COP-22 delegates had at its beginning, they now have to face the reality that the Obama climate agenda will be brought to an end on January 20, 2017. The climate change table has been reset.