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Marokko UN-Klimasekretärin Patricia Espinosa
Image: Getty Images/AFP/F. Senna

Climate deal 'lays foundation for different world'

November 3, 2016

Parties to the historic Paris climate agreement will soon meet for the first time, at COP22 in Marrakesh. The UN's Executive Secretary for Climate Change Patricia Espinosa tells DW what we can expect.


Deutsche Welle: Ms. Espinosa, the Paris Agreement has been widely praised.  What makes this agreement so important?

Patricia Espinosa: The Paris Agreement is in fact a historic one, because it marks the culmination of a phase of very long, drawn-out negotiations involving more than 190 countries. Why is it historic? Because it shows the way for our societies to change from the ground up, to create an economy that only depends on fossil fuels to a very slight degree.

That calls not only for individual economic and political steps - it requires the participation of all people.  It lays the foundation for a transformation that will lead to a world very different from the one we know now.

Implementation of the Paris deal will be in focus at the next Conference of Parties to the climate convention (COP22) in Marrakesh [which begins Monday, November 7]. What do you expect from COP22?

From COP22 we hope that we can have, first of all, the first meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Paris Agreement, that we can set an agenda for preparations there, and that we can then also mark out a good roadmap.

So we need to develop rules [under the treaty framework] in terms of financing, technology, capacity building - also for adaption planning. We need to really develop a lot more technical instruments that are necessary for the Paris Agreement to be fully operational.

How can we insure countries meet their pledges when there are no "climate police"?

Well you know, it's a framework where countries can decide themselves what they put on the table. But it is an agreement that has a binding effect on the different countries. What is not defined in the treaty is exactly what will every country will do.

So every country has to build up its own goals according to their national reality. How can we insure that they will comply with that? We are working on the development of all the rules on transparency for reporting, for follow-up, and I really believe that this is an agenda that has attracted so much attention and has actually mobilized people in societies all over the world, so that countries are being watched.

You speak of profound changes that would greatly affect everyone individually, but what does that mean specifically?  What difference will this agreement make in people's lives?

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Copyright: Reuters/J. Ernst
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has threatened to reject the Paris Agreement if he is electedImage: Reuters/J. Ernst

This agreement will transform people's lives, because they'll have to make decisions affecting their behavior as consumers and the way they live. For example, they might do less driving; they might consume products made by environmentally friendly manufacturers. So whenever there's a choice of items for their daily needs, they could choose one that's more environmentally friendly. 

What would a Trump presidency mean for the Paris deal? And if Trump isn't elected, how will his views influence the climate debate going forward?

The Paris agreement is an agreement that has really such a huge, huge level of credibility and strength. Not only was it signed by more than 190 countries in record time, it has also been ratified in record time, and it has also really also a lot of support form the people, the public in general.

That is something that cannot be said about many multilateral treaties - and in this case, this is very important. If we think for instance that in the United States, more than half of the population is clearly in favor of plans to fight climate change, that already gives an idea that it's not only about government, it's really about the people.

Why are UN climate conferences still taking place? After all, so many diplomats flying in from around the world puts out more carbon dioxide. Isn't that paradoxical? Do we really still need these annual conferences?

While the climate change convention was being negotiated, the mood was very different. The priorities were not yet as clear. So we decided to hold the conferences annually to keep people focused on the issue. 

Patricia Espinosa being interviewed by DW's Carolina Chimoy. Copyright: DW/J. Alonso
UN's Executive Secretary for Climate Change Patricia Espinosa (right) in interview with DW's Carolina ChimoyImage: DW/J. Alonso

But it is true that, among themselves, the delegations have been trying to determine whether it really is still necessary to be meeting every year in the framework of these major conferences. But then again, the conferences are a component of the convention. So to change that, the convention would have to be amended.

On the other hand, there are many who think it's important for these conferences to continue, because they want to keep the issues in the public eye. And the conferences present an opportunity to pass on to the public at large information about various aspects of climate change. So there are pros and cons. But the question is certainly under discussion.

Mexican politician and diplomat Patricia Espinosa was selected to be the UN's Executive Secretary for Climate Change in May this year, following Christiana Figueres. Espinosa previously served as Mexico's ambassador to Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Slovenia, and was the country's foreign affairs minister.

The interviews were conducted by Carolina Chimoy und Charlotta Lomas.

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