Bridges Special Update #3 | At Marrakech Climate Talks, Universal Pledge to Ramp Up "Irreversible" Momentum

20 November 2016

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) annual conference drew to a close in Marrakech, Morocco, on Friday 18 November, capping two weeks of talks aimed at implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change.

While the first week largely involved technical talks, the second week of the Twenty-Second Conference of the Parties (COP22) brought together ministers and government leaders for a series of “high-level” meetings targeting key decisions and further cementing the political momentum behind the global accord.

“This year, we have seen extraordinary momentum on climate change worldwide, and in many multilateral fora. This momentum is irreversible – it is being driven not only by governments, but by science, business, and global action of all types at all levels,” officials said in the Marrakech Action Proclamation adopted on Friday.

By the time negotiators wrapped up at the Bab Ighli conference site, 111 parties had ratified the Paris Agreement, covering 77 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions – up from the 97 parties that had ratified just before talks kicked off.

Spectre of US leadership change lingers

The news of Donald Trump’s election as the next US president had fuelled concerns over whether one of the world’s top emitters might stop being an active player in global climate efforts, given Trump’s repeated campaign trail promises to withdraw from the Paris accord.

A host of countries have openly called for continuing international collaboration, including with the US, arguing that doing so is both in the “national interest” as well as for the good of the planet. Outgoing Obama Administration officials similarly urged the incoming American leader to remain part of the global effort to prevent the “catastrophic damage” from global warming.

“No one has a right to make decisions that affect billions of people based on solely ideology or without proper input,” said US Secretary of State John Kerry in his final COP appearance as a public official, without referring to the president-elect by name.

“If we fall short, it will be the single greatest instance in modern history of a generation in a time of crisis abdicating responsibility for the future,” said Kerry.

Given this context, many climate watchers are looking to see what role China will take in the global climate action effort. During the COP, Chinese officials affirmed that they would not falter in their own commitment to the Paris accord’s goals, regardless of what may happen in Washington. A new Global Carbon Budget report suggests that emissions growth has been relatively stable over the past three years, crediting this partly to China’s recent emissions cuts.

Meanwhile, hundreds of business leaders came forward this week with a letter urging US leaders and lawmakers to make sure that Washington remains an active Paris participant, along with backing low-carbon investments and policy actions at home and abroad.

“Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk. But the right action now will create jobs and boost US competitiveness,” said the letter, signed by companies ranging from General Mills to Hewlett Packard and Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, Inc.

Separately, over 100 business leaders presented their plans for supporting climate mitigation and adaptation in their respective countries during a high-level meeting this week.

Long-term climate strategies

Along with submitting increasingly ambitious nationally-determined contributions (NDCs), the Paris Agreement asks countries to table long-term climate plans. Canada, Germany, Mexico, and the US were the first to publish their mid-century climate strategies this week.

The US and Canada each laid out their pathways for emissions cuts of 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050, while Germany’s plan mirrors the EU mid-century goal of an 80-95 percent cut from 1990 levels. Mexico foresees a 50 percent reduction from 2000 levels.

An alliance of almost 50 developing countries, known as the Climate Vulnerable Forum, also pledged on Friday to rapidly transition to 100 percent renewable energy, along with submitting updated NDCs and producing mid-century, long-term climate plans before 2020.

Another notable deliverable was the release of the 2050 pathways platform, issued by Laurence Tubiana of France and Hakima El Haite of Morocco, the “High-Level Climate Champions.” The platform aims to support collective action in developing “deep decarbonisation strategies” for the coming decades. Over 20 countries have signed on, together with various sub-national and private sector actors.

Crafting the Paris regime

Under the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA), tasked with preparing for the deal’s entry into force and the first convening of its governing body, the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the parties to the Agreement (CMA), parties were able to progress on all agenda items.

Items discussed included further guidance on countries’ NDCs; adaptation communication; the transparency framework; the global stocktakes on collective progress; and the committee to facilitate implementation and promote compliance. The APA’s conclusions stress that much work remains. Parties are invited to make submissions on how to advance work both generally and on specific agenda items. The APA Co-Chairs will also prepare an informal reflections note on the Marrakech session’s outcomes.

As the APA is meant to prepare draft decisions for CMA1, the Paris deal’s unexpected early entry into force had raised questions about how to proceed with the session. Given the time needed to develop the Paris rulebook, delegates consulted on the timing for resuming CMA1, which officially launched on Tuesday.

Some countries advocated for the CMA1 to resume in 2017, while others called for suspending it until 2018. They ultimately agreed to finish work on the Paris rulebook by 2018 at latest, while reviewing progress in one year. A decision further invites the APA to continue consideration of other implementation issues not yet addressed.

The Adaptation Fund’s future also sparked debate. The fund provides finance for adaptation projects in developing countries under the Kyoto Protocol. Parties ultimately agreed that it should serve the Paris Agreement, with institutional decisions to be taken in 2018. The fund received over US$81 million in new pledges this week.

Climate finance

On Wednesday, officials met for a biennial “high-level ministerial dialogue on climate finance” to review developed countries’ efforts towards meeting an existing goal of mobilising US$100 billion annually by 2020 in climate aid for developing countries.

A report by a UNFCCC committee had confirmed last week that while progress has been made on the climate finance front, it is still far below necessary levels. Ministers from smaller island nations that are suffering the effects of climate change welcomed the advances made, while also noting that various challenges remain.

“It is crazy that a small island country like mine, less than two meters above sea level and on the frontline of this battle, still has difficulty attracting very modest amounts of funds from both public and private sources,” said the Marshall Islands representative.

Extreme weather events force 26 million people globally into poverty annually, according to a report by the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery.

Developed countries reaffirmed in Marrakech their US$100 billion goal. The Moroccan Presidency has pledged to devote 2017 to raising this momentum, including with private sector participation.

“Faced with the magnitude of what is required for dealing with the impacts of climate change, turning billions into trillions is indispensable,” said Salaheddine Mezouar, the Moroccan Foreign Minister who was president of this year’s COP.

Boosting climate technologies

Given climate technologies’ role in facilitating the large-scale transformational changes needed to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals, COP22 advanced talks on various technology-related items.

Parties agreed that the Paris deal’s technology framework should be “short, concise, balanced and comprehensive and allow flexibility to respond to changes over time,” and identified its initial key themes as innovation; implementation; enabling environments and capacity-building; collaboration and stakeholder engagement; and support. Parties, observers, and other stakeholders are invited to make submissions by next April before resuming discussions in May.

Monday also saw parties adopt the conclusions on the joint annual report of the Technology Executive Committee (TEC) and Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN), which respectively form the policy and implementation arms of the UNFCCC’s Technology Mechanism. Parties agreed to note the CTCN’s challenges of sustainable funding and the need for further support.

The CTCN subsequently received a funding boost of over US$23 million, with contributions coming from Canada, Denmark, the EU, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Switzerland, and the US.

Negotiators also debated how to better link the Technology Mechanism with the UNFCCC’s Financial Mechanism. The final COP decision encourages various forms of cooperation between them and will consider the issue further at the 2018 COP.

Future carbon markets?

Talks on “cooperative approaches” in implementing parties’ NDCs under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement saw only procedural progress last week, given disagreements on how to govern carbon markets.

Sources said that some countries argued for a centralised global market under UNFCCC oversight similar to the one under the Kyoto Protocol. Others advocated for a more flexible approach allowing countries to cooperate with only limited centralised governance. Some efforts of this nature are already underway. The New Zealand-led Ministerial Declaration on Carbon Markets is one example, with the UK among those signing on this week.

As the Kyoto Protocol’s primary carbon market tool, delegates considered the role of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) in the post-2020 context. One area of discussion was the use of CDM credits for meeting Paris commitments. The large supply of low-priced credits has raised concerns about whether permitting their continued use could undermine new mitigation efforts. Others, however, point to how the CDM has resulted in over 1.7 billion tonnes of emissions cuts in 95 developing countries and more than US$300 billion in investments.

Some also referred to a connection between Article 6.2 of the Paris Agreement, which established a new mechanism, and the Kyoto Protocol markets. This may imply some acceptance of centralised governance for future carbon markets.

Upcoming COP presidencies

Next year’s COP23 will be held under the Fijian presidency in Bonn, Germany, with the subsequent year’s COP24 to be held in Poland.

ICTSD reporting; “Germany widens work on CDM’s future as UN talks hold it in limbo,” CARBON PULSE, 16 November 2016; “Countries Pledge Millions for Technology Transfer to Implement Paris Agreement,” CTCN, 16 November 2016; “China warns Trump against abandoning climate deal,” FINANCIAL TIMES, 11 November 2016.

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