Climate change will once again become the focus of global diplomacy next week, as countries gather in Marrakech for the UN climate body’s (UNFCCC) 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22).
In many ways, COP22 will be the nerdy friend to its glamorous Parisian predecessor. Last December, the world’s attention swivelled to France as rival nations finally cooperated to sign the first global climate deal.
The Paris Agreement set the overarching framework for dealing with climate change in the decades to come. But alone it will not solve the problem, and nations now have the task of fleshing out the details. The following issues are likely to prove key to this round of negotiations:
- How can all countries be included in the talks?
- What form and content should climate pledges include?
- How should progress be tracked?
- What action should be taken on loss and damage?
- How can poor nations be supported?
- How will action be transparent and accountable?
- What information needs to be provided on adaptation?
- Where’s the money going to come from?
- Who’s US president?
This means that Marrakech, while expected to provide little in the way of drama (US election results aside), will be an opportunity to engage with the nuts and bolts of the deal. Liz Gallagher, a climate policy expert at environmental think-tank E3G, says:
‘Suspending’ the talks
The unity that countries demonstrated in 2015 has been branded “the spirit of Paris”, and this has stretched on throughout 2016, with nations signing and ratifying the deal much sooner than expected.
Carbon Brief has covered the ramifications of this in detail already. In summary, early ratification means that once-distant deadlines have been brought forward to this year, as the deal enters into force on 4 November. There is no official way to deal with this, and it means that some parties could be left out of the decision-making process, which now only applies to those who have ratified the agreement.
To get around this, countries will have to decide early in the conference to “suspend” the post-ratification format of the talks (Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement, or “CMA1”), and resume them for the time being in the pre-ratification format (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement, or “APA”). The CMA1 would, perhaps, then reconvene in 2018.
Cleaning up the NDCs
One of the most important tasks lying before countries in Marrakech is sorting out the mishmash of guidelines currently shaping the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
NDCs are, arguably, the foundation of the Paris Agreement. They are the pledges that countries laid out ahead of last year’s negotiations, setting out how they would tackle climate change over the coming years.
The documents that nations submitted — tracked by Carbon Brief — were testament to the seriousness with which the world was approaching the negotiations, offering a diverse and comprehensive range of actions and targets. However, pledges to date fall well short of achieving the “well below 2C” temperature goal agreed in Paris.
At the same time, this diversity has presented something of a headache, as countries are now working to various schedules and baselines. This makes their cumulative impact difficult to measure. In Marrakech, countries will make a start on creating a more uniform set of features for all future NDCs.
They will also work on ensuring all NDCs are as clear and transparent as they can possibly be, by providing guidance on what sort of information they should provide.
This could mean anything from an explanation of how the current NDCs offer a progression on the previous ones, to providing upfront information on how the NDCs fit within national planning processes, to determining consistent terminology and methods.
Finally, the Paris Agreement says that countries must account for their NDCs, to ensure that action taken is traceable. In Marrakech, countries will work towards “demystifying” this process. This includes setting out objectives, such as ensuring environmental integrity and avoiding double counting.
Countries, including Brazil, Canada and China, have already set out their views on these issues.
One of the most important elements of the Paris Agreement was the global stocktake, which will periodically assess collective progress towards meeting the long-term goals of the deal.
Stocktakes are part of the ratchet mechanism that is designed to raise nations’ ambitions on climate change over time, recognising that current pledges will not meet the temperature goals set out in the deal.
The first one will take place in 2023, although there will be a practice run — a “facilitative dialogue” — in 2018.
As a new feature of the UN climate talks, this now needs to be carefully defined. At COP22, countries will discuss the form and content of the stocktake.
Topics will include the sources of input that will allow an assessment of the overall effect of NDCs, the state of adaptation efforts and the provision of support. According to a summary of informal consultations, parties have agreed that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), UNFCCC and Paris Agreement institutions should be the primary sources. The UNFCCC has compiled all suggestions by various parties submitted so far.
Countries will also discuss how the stocktake should actually work. According to a note by the co-chairs of the negotiations, most countries envisage it as a process lasting at least a year.
Loss and damage
Marrakech will be a key moment for the loss and damage mechanism — a building block of the UN’s climate change apparatus that was only laid in 2013, during COP19 in Warsaw.
Until then, loss and damage was something of a side issue, whose corner was fought by the countries with the most to lose from climate change. These nations wanted something to help them deal with the most severe impacts of climate change, where adaptation was no longer an option.
While the mechanism was established in 2013, it was decided that it would be subject to a review at COP22. That time has now arrived. In Marrakech, countries have the task of analysing the loss and damage mechanism, including its structure, mandate and effectiveness.
In the year following its establishment, the mechanism’s executive committee designed a two-year work plan, which was approved in Lima the following year. It dealt with issues such as non-economic losses, slow onset events and migration.
It also had the task of drawing up a five-year work plan, which would take over once the initial two years had expired, as they now have. In Marrakech, countries will consider a draft of this plan. If adopted, it will guide work on loss and damage for years to come.
Paris Committee on Capacity Building
After Paris, the focus has shifted to implementing action. To this end, it is essential to build capacity in poorer and vulnerable countries, so that they have the ability to adapt to climate impacts and tackle their emissions.
At last year’s COP, the Paris Committee on Capacity Building was established, and work has already started on making it a functioning body. According to a summary of informal consultations held in Morocco in September, many hope that the committee will be given “special prominence and visibility” at COP22.
At a meeting earlier this year, countries set out a draft list of rules for the committee, including how its members should be made up and which sources of expertise it may draw upon. At COP 22, countries will have the chance to adopt this document.
They will also be invited to decide the annual focus for the committee for 2017. One suggestion for the theme is NDC implementation.
Paris established an enhanced transparency framework, so that it’s clear what action is being undertaken to tackle climate change and provide support.
Countries are not starting from square one when it comes to establishing a transparency system, as some arrangements already exist. They also have until 2018 to flesh out all the guidelines and rules for the enhanced system.
Nonetheless, many have emphasised the urgency of this strand of work, considering the entry into force of the Paris Agreement, and stressed their expectations of “concrete” outcomes from COP22, according to a note by the co-chairs.
Some of the overarching tasks for the next few years including defining how the transparency framework will be differentiated between countries, so that poor nations do not face too much of a burden, and how previous experiences could inform the new framework.
For COP22, countries have suggested that achievable tasks could include calling for further submissions from parties expressing their views, requesting technical papers on as-yet-undecided specific matters, and convening technical expert workshops.
The Paris Agreement boosted the importance of climate change adaptation. The deal says that every country should submit an adaptation communication as appropriate. Now the rest of the details of these communications need to be fleshed out.
While Paris marked a turning point for adaptation, the subject was already well-trodden ground at the UN climate talks. For instance, countries already write their own adaptation planning processes, while there are a number of existing reports and documents on adaptation.
Part of the job at COP22 will be to establish the relationship and ensure consistency between these strands.
At some stage, parties will also have to figure out what goes into the adaptation communications. Among the numerous suggestions so far are vulnerability assessments, long-term objectives, plans and actions, and support needs.
Will there ever be a COP where money is not a major issue? Unlikely, as without financial aid from developed countries, poor nations will have neither the will nor the capacity to take action on climate change.
At COP21, many of the discussions hinged on whether rich countries would fulfil their promise to provide $100bn a year by 2020. COP22 will be no different.
How to scale up current financial aid to this level is still an issue. Discussions will be framed by a recent report by developed countries, which claimed that they were on track to fulfil the $100bn pledge. It estimated that $62bn was provided in 2014. However, there is some tension about the methodology chosen to produce this report, which might flare up in Marrakech.
On the first Monday of COP, the UN will launch its own report, which provides an overview of climate finance flows. This comes out biennially.
The other big moment on climate finance in Marrakech will be the High Level Ministerial Dialogue on Climate Finance on 16 November, where ministers have the opportunity to reflect on how to meet their pledges. The previous event of this kind, in Lima 2014, saw several countries announce new climate finance commitments.
US presidential elections
The vibe of the talks this year will be largely determined by the result of the US elections, which should be announced on the 9 November.
Republican nominee Donald Trump has made no secret of his scepticism on the science of climate change and of his hostility to the UN’s climate body. He has threatened to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement, stop US climate finance and revive the coal industry.
Short of pulling out of the UN’s overarching 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change itself (pdf), the US cannot now leave the Paris Agreement in practice for another four years. But that doesn’t mean that a Republican victory would not cast a shadow over the proceedings.
Preview: The UN's COP22 climate talks in Marrakech
Preview: What to expect at the UN's climate talks in Marrakech (COP22)