What do you do when you get 196 countries to sign a major agreement that will shape our future economies and societies? You celebrate, right? Well, not quite...
This big step is the first one of a very long journey. Goals have been set, but it is not clear how they will be reached. In fact, the pledges made by the countries are insufficient to stay below the 2°C level – not to mention 1.5°C. This COP was therefore expected to be the “COP of action”. In order to close the emission gap, to scale up financing for mitigation and adaptation and to define modalities on how to deal with loss and damage due to climate change, an explicit and detailed rulebook must be determined to help countries transparently honour their pledges. Whilst complex by nature, the conference has touched on a variety of themes which seem to encounter particular political attention on the road to implementing the Paris Agreement. Let us have a look at some of the main issues discussed during the conference.
Developed countries (which have historically emitted most of the greenhouse gases) are supposed to financially support developing countries for mitigation, but also and perhaps even more importantly for adaptation. This is a critical topic, as developed countries have agreed to provide USD 100 billion a year by 2020 to developing countries, whose determination had high priority on the COP22 agenda. Even though a roadmap has been presented, the methodology to account for the pledges is questionable and the split between funding for adaptation and mitigation is still highly unbalanced. Progress on this issue has been slow during this COP and more work is needed in the coming years to flesh out the details.
Loss and Damage
In the over-1°C world in which we currently live, some effects of climate change are already irreversible and go beyond adaptation. The countries that have contributed least to the problem are affected most, and a mechanism to address loss and damage due to climate change has hence been a demand of selected Parties and civil society organizations to support the most vulnerable. During these two weeks, the Parties have agreed on the existing mechanism (the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage) to become permanent, but financial support for loss and damage is still a highly contested topic. Indeed, how do you define which countries are responsible, and to what extent, for the climate impacts elsewhere?
Under the Paris Agreement, countries must submit their individual plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (the Nationally Determined Contributions), most covering the 2020-2030 period. However, there is a notion of a long-term goal in the Agreement, as the world should become carbon neutral by 2050. This long-term vision is crucial in maintaining the momentum after Paris and safeguarding trust amongst Parties, which is essential to the success of the Paris Agreement and its reliance on voluntary contributions. Despite inadequate short-term ambitions, 22 countries (Switzerland, Germany, Canada, USA, Mexico, UK, Sweden, to name a few) joined forces to launch a platform to target 2050 emission goals and to submit a roadmap to decarbonise their economies by 2050. Moreover, local government, cities and businesses are also encouraged to do so, some of the major actors (California, Québec, Scotland, Paris, London, New York, Rio, to name a few) being already on board. Furthermore, in a rather surprising and unprecedented move, an alliance of the 48 most vulnerable countries to climate change (known as the Climate Vulnerable Forum, and notably those who have contributed the least to climate change), announced on Friday, just hours before the end of the COP22, that they commit to go 100% renewable as soon as possible.
One key lesson from this conference is that planning must not be neglected by the presidency of COP. The delegation of the country hosting the conference has a crucial facilitator role to play, as could be seen with the French presidency last year. This year unfortunately, perhaps for some internal politics reasons, the negotiations were not as successful as expected in terms of progress towards the implementation of the Paris Agreement. One example is that all negotiating bodies were closed early the second week – a controversial move which, in a context of high emergency to act, did not help to improve the progress of the negotiations. As a matter of fact, however, the negotiations this year were touching on details which raise political discussions and were bound to be slow and seemingly ineffective. Very few concrete decisions have been made and most of the work is postponed to next year, before the intersessional meeting in Bonn, and the final decisions have to be taken at the COP24 in 2018. That is not a good sign for the conservation of the momentum initiated in Paris.
Unfortunately, we cannot talk about COP22 without mentioning the US election and the positions of Donald Trump on climate change. At the moment, only speculation is possible and several outcomes are considered. What is sure however is that a very strong signal has been sent to the markets coming out of COP21 last year, and even if the United States would decide to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the transition towards a clean and sustainable energy future is already underway. There is no going back.
If you have ever wondered what a “normal” day at a COP looks like, then you are probably the only one. But the answer is actually pretty simple: there is no “normal”, as it is basically a constant struggle to keep yourself up-to-date with the latest information about the negotiations, keep track of all meetings and the overwhelming amount of side-events (all kind of events organised by NGOs, businesses, academia, countries, regions, cities, you name it…). And in between of all this, you still need to find time to write policy papers, prepare news articles, interviews, lobbying activities, and of course eat (usually you are just glad if you are able to grab a snack on-the-go). It is however a great opportunity to meet smart and interesting people from other organisations from all around the world, start exciting projects with international and multicultural teams, get the chance to learn more about the nitty-gritty aspects of international policy negotiations and be part of a wider global movement to fight climate change.
This COP in Marrakech was supposed to be the COP of action and implementation of the Paris Agreement. It was rather the COP of the beginning of action. The COP24, that will take place in Poland in 2018, will be decisive as all the important implementation decisions will have to be concluded by then, as it has been decided in Marrakech. In the meantime, governments and civil society now and more than ever have a crucial role to play. The momentum has maybe not been fully sustained, and it is our duty to keep it alive. In his farewell meeting with the civil society before stepping down from his position, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon pointed out to us that we “are kings and queens without a crown.” It is both a great honor but also a stark reminder that we must protect the kingdom that is ours and fight for our right to a safe a sustainable future, be it in the anonymity of our vote, the spotlight of international processes, or the intimacy of a discussion with a friend. Share that message of peace a solace around you, and join us in this challenge. It was always clear that the Paris Agreement would not be enough to protect us from catastrophic climate change, but that it is up to us to close the gap between rhetoric and action – and now, after Marrakech, even more so!