Only eleven months after the adoption of a new climate agreement for the post-2020 era in Paris, countries and their negotiators met again for the 22nd international conference on climate change in Marrakesh from 7 till 18 November 2016.
Used to the slow pace of international negotiations, many observers and negotiators were surprised by the quick ratification of the Paris Agreement (PA) which took less than a year. It was expected to take up to four years. The unusual speed can be mostly explained by the will of the American and Chinese governments to ratify the PA in order to prevent a sudden volte-face by a newly elected US president who could reconsider it. With the Paris momentum and the dynamic created by the ratification by two major greenhouse gas emitters, several countries accelerated their domestic process and showed legal creativity such as the EU which used a unique fast-track ratification procedure.
As in 2001 after the agreement of the Kyoto Protocol, Morocco hosted the annual climate conference, called Conference of Parties (COP) which aimed at implementing the Paris agreement (PA). For this occasion this COP was framed as “COP for Action”, or a “COP of Implementation”. Indeed while the PA was adopted, its rulebook defining the set of rules and procedures for the agreement to be fully operationalised still had to be developed, hence the need for action or implementation. Moreover with the King of Morocco willing to reintegrate his country in the African Union, this annual gathering was also presented as an “African COP”.
The international context was therefore favourable to allow progress in all areas of the PA implementation as well as in several parallel initiatives involving the private sector. Nevertheless the regular contentious issues and different views and interpretation of principles resurfaced quickly, resulting in mixed advancements. On one hand there was willingness from countries to operationalise the PA by finalising a first series of decisions by the end of this COP. On the other hand several countries came to Marrakesh relatively unprepared in spite of knowing that the PA would rapidly enter into force. This resulted in making outcomes in Marrakesh insufficiently ambitious.
Only three days after the COP22 started, the results of the USA elections with a climate-sceptic becoming President triggered fear among all negotiators about the future of the PA and everything achieved so far. Nevertheless, as many stressed, the revolutionary energy transition is irreversible; the international climate movement is bigger than one man and one country. It is everyone’s responsibility to challenge this retrograde populism and to show that climate action benefits us all.
Despite the usual discussions and tensions, the Moroccan COP presidency had strategically imposed strict deadlines to ensure Marrakesh would be a “COP of Actions”. That said, stopping the negotiations, except for finance issues, four days earlier to concentrate on extra renewable energy initiatives was perceived by many as a missed opportunity to advance the negotiations and resulted in increasing frustration among country delegates.
Process, mitigation and overarching principles
Negotiations ran until the very last hours of the last night of the COP and focused mostly on the types of information needed and the transparency of monitoring, reporting and verification procedures for all countries’ climate plan (so-called Nationally Determined Contributions, NDCs), for adaptation projects and on the financial support provided to countries in need. The lack of clear distinction among countries going beyond the UNFCCC principle of common but differentiated responsibility and respective capacity (CBDR-RC) under the PA for the post-2020 era remained at the core of all discussions. Countries’ delegations agreed on a methodology for future negotiating items. They agreed also to take no more than two years to finalise the PA rulebook which will allow the 2018 so-called facilitative dialogue, when countries will take stock of their efforts, to be a real moment for all to increase commitments and to be a test case for the PA five-year ambition mechanism. Unlike the dialogue on enhanced action held this year at the COP and looking at progress made by industrialised countries in limiting their greenhouse gas emissions over the past two years and which resulted in a pathetic public relation exercise.
During this annual gathering, a stream of negotiations is dedicated to mitigation actions for the period before 2020. Needless to reaffirm the urgent necessity to reduce as fast as possible current emission levels. But no decisions were made to ramp-up current targets for 2020 or even the NDCs for the period 2025-2030. This is maybe the most disappointing outcome of this COP, knowing that for instance the EU will overachieve its weak 2020 target and plan to include it in its next target, or that Argentina is so far the only country which revised its NDC after the adoption of the PA. Surprisingly at the last day of the COP, the Climate Vulnerable Forum, consisting of 48 most climate-vulnerable countries, declared committing to 100% domestic renewable energy consumption as soon as possible and no later than 2050 as well as to revise their NDCs by 2020.
Nevertheless in parallel to the negotiations, the Climate Action Agenda aiming at promoting initiatives by non-state actors was given significant space and time in Marrakesh and has been extended until 2019. Among these projects, the Solar Alliance which saw twenty new countries joining and which will take the shape of a separate international treaty once it is operationalised, aims at producing 175GW electricity from solar energy by 2022. Most of these initiatives are big scale renewable energy production projects necessary to accelerate the energy transition but do not address gender, environmental and human rights, nor the issue of energy inequality i.e. access and affordability.
Some progress was made on gender issues, with increasing recognition of the need for a gender-perspective approach to tackle climate change and increase gender equality. Delegates agreed to set up a gender action plan in 2017, to appoint a national gender focal point and to prepare biennial progress report. Other overarching principles like human rights, promotion of biodiversity, food security and equity are still missing from the COP decisions and are confined to non-binding recommendations.
On a more positive note, several industrialised countries launched a new global initiative, called the NDC Partnership, to help poorer countries achieve their national climate commitments and ensure financial and technical assistance is delivered as efficiently as possible. In addition throughout the two weeks of the COP22, we saw the release of the mid-century low emission plans of Germany, US, Mexico and Canada. These plans are expected to be presented by every country on a voluntary basis by 2020 in order to give the necessary long term perspective to achieve energy transition globally.
The second pillar of the climate regime, namely adaptation, continues to be at the heart of the tensions: most developed countries are not being very helpful in treating this issue on an equal basis with mitigation. The disagreements are also crystallised on the very concrete but complex question of parity of financial support for mitigation and adaptation. Although the share of support for adaptation has increased, it only represents today a third of the total financial support. At the end of the COP22, no clear guidance to scale-up climate finance for adaptation was found, but a call for pursuing efforts to reach parity with mitigation was reiterated and new pledges of a total of USD 81 million were announced by Germany, Italy, Sweden and Belgium.
After reviewing the structure and report of the Adaptation Committee, negotiators adopted the terms of reference of the Adaptation Fund (AF) review to be held end of 2017 at COP23 and decided to continue discussing the communication needs and requirements for more efficient planning and monitoring of adaptation action. Countries also agreed to anchor the AF in the PA, with several modalities to be further decided at the latest by COP24 in 2018. Meanwhile the AF board was mandated to explore possible linkages of AF with other funds, including the Green Climate Fund (GCF). In addition two extra initiatives involving the private sector were launched, one being the Marrakesh Investment Committee for Adaptation (MICA) and the other one the Adaptation of African Agriculture (AAA).
Three years ago, the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM), a body in charge of developing solutions for climate-related losses and damages, was born. Last year the PA recognised the uniqueness – ie as distinct from Mitigation and Adaptation – of Loss and Damage, thus creating the third pillar of the new climate regime. During this COP22, negotiators could not agree to strengthen the WIM’s capacity rapidly and missed an opportunity to make it Paris-compatible. However several positive advances were made with the adoption of a strong 5-year review process of the WIM starting in 2019, the creation of a focal point in each country to better understand these challenges, the integration of capacity-building to enable effective implementation and the adoption of the terms of reference of two new bodies: a task force on climate induced displacement and a clearing-house for risk transfer. Although no time was dedicated to discuss possible financing of L&D solutions, negotiators agreed not to lose more time due to the delayed start of the WIM’s first work plan and to develop the next work plan in 2017 for the next five years.
Means of implementation and support
During this COP, it was the first time in climate negotiation history that the issue of capacity-building was given proper attention. Too often this type of support among countries is neglected in favour of financial support. Because of the PA and COP21 decisions, this constructive and long term element of international cooperation was given its real importance with the adoption of the Paris Committee on Capacity Building (PCCB). It will start elaborating an action plan from 2017 onwards and will include various social and environmental aspects related to gender, human rights and indigenous people’s knowledge. The PCCB will be in charge of developing recommendations and programmes to improve the effectiveness, durability and coherence of capacity-building approaches for mitigation, adaptation and L&D. In addition, the Green Environmental Fund (GEF) will establish a Capacity Building Initiative on Transparency (CBIT) to support transparency in developing countries for NDCs.
Finally negotiations on finance were still very litigious and captured most of the attention of negotiators during the second week. Before COP22, rich countries presented a roadmap, not open for discussion, showing how they will fulfil their commitment to provide USD 100 billion by 2020 and annually until 2025. Despite an apparent good will of these countries to honour their pledges and to increase the share of adaptation finance, those are far from being achieved. Moreover the modalities of accounting used by these countries are more than dubious and the lack of transparency and of a clear definition of climate finance really don’t help easing negotiations. These elements will continue to be part of the negotiations next year and will remain a key element of either success or failure for future decisions.
To conclude: the COP22 can be considered as a small step in the right direction. Several new bodies, initiatives and decisions will increase actions tackling climate change and improve resilience. But this is not enough. Many of us will have their lives endangered by climate change and the current level of emissions is still driving global warming above the dangerous limit of 1.5 and 2C. Meanwhile the imminent start of Mr Trump as new US President in the oval office and his very climate-sceptic cabinet brings fear to the international community. This in spite of Mr Obama succeeding in bypassing the Congress for the ratification of the PA and securing a moratorium for fossil fuel exploitation in the Arctic and Antarctic American territories. The EU and its member states are not really bringing more positives and continue to refuse adapting their climate policies to the PA. A long road is still ahead of us to invent and embrace a new way of life which will be respectful towards the environment, the climate and all humans.
COP22 outcomes press release:
Conference of European Churches http://www.ceceurope.org/statement-from-cec-governing-board-climate-change-is-a-matter-for-all/
World Council of Churches https://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/executive-committee/statement-on-climate-justice
Lutheran World Federation https://www.lutheranworld.org/news/advocates-urge-transition-low-carbon-economy-clean-energy