Outcome of COP22 caps a year of progress

Governments have made important progress towards implementation of the Paris Agreement at the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, otherwise known as COP22, which ended late on Friday 18 November in Marrakech, Morocco.

There were concerns ahead of the meeting that negotiators may lack ambition after the historic United Nations climate change summit in Paris last year, or that some countries may even try to undermine the Paris Agreement.

While the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States on 8 November, the second day of the two-week summit, shocked many delegates, dismay was gradually replaced with a determination to carry on undaunted by the unexpected development.

The Marrakech summit began ON a wave of cautious optimism, generated by the momentum of the Paris summit and a number of key advances during 2016.

On 5 October, the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change confirmed that enough countries had ratified the Paris Agreement to satisfy the criteria required to trigger it coming into force on 4 November, far earlier than expected.

A day later, the International Civil Aviation Organisation announced new measures to limit carbon dioxide emissions from international flights, which are not covered by the Paris Agreement.

Later in October, the Parties to Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer agreed to an amendment to phase out from 2019 the use of hydrofluorocarbons, powerful greenhouse gases that are commonly used in refrigeration and air conditioning as alternatives to ozone-destroying compounds.

Despite these breakthroughs, the United Nations Environment Programme provided a stark reminder on 3 November, with the publication of the latest edition of its annual ‘Emissions Gap Report’, that action by countries currently pledged for 2030 would likely result in annual emissions of 54 to 56 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases, far above pathways that are consistent with the goal of Paris Agreement to limit the rise in global mean temperature to well below 2˚C above its pre-industrial level.

This helped to focus the minds of governments, even as the Paris Agreement formally entered into force on Friday 4 November, ahead of the start of the Marrakech summit on 7 November.

There was good news at the start of the second week of the summit when the Global Carbon Project released its latest findings, showing that there was almost no increase in annual emissions of carbon dioxide between 2014 and 2016.

However, on the same day, the World Meteorological Organisation indicated that it expects 2016 to be the warmest year globally since records began in the 19th century.

Despite the uncertainties about future climate policy in the United States following the election of Donald Trump, the White House published on 16 November the ‘United States Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Decarbonization’.

By the end of the summit, Germany, Mexico and Canada had also provided long-term strategies, which go beyond the post-2020 pledges contained in their ‘nationally determined contributions’ to the Paris Agreement.

In addition, a new initiative, the ‘2050 pathways platform’, was launched with the aim of “supporting those seeking to devise long-term, net zero-greenhouse gas, climate-resilient and sustainable development pathways”.

Discussions about climate finance also featured prominently at the summit, includinghigh-level ministerial dialogues. Much attention was devoted to the scaling up of the mobilisation of climate finance from public and private sources towards the target of US$100 billion annually by 2020, which was agreed in Cancún, Mexico, in 2010 at the 16th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The UK and Australia provided a boost to these discussions with the publication in October of a ‘roadmap’.

As Nicholas Stern, Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy,pointed out, the discussions in Marrakech were particularly significant because they included finance ministers and financial institutions, and considered the broader issue of finance for sustainable development.

The day before the end of the summit, all of the participating countries released a strong joint statement, the Marrakech Action Proclamation, which reiterated their determination to implement the Paris Agreement.

The summit ended late on Friday 18 November, the date on which it was due to finish. There were difficulties over some issues, such as how the Adaptation Fund, which was set up in 2001 under the Kyoto Protocol, might support the Paris Agreement. The final decisions of the Marrakech summit include a commitment by countries to submit their views by the end of March 2017.

Other key decisions included agreements to finalise the ‘rulebook’ for the Paris Agreement ahead of the ‘facilitative dialogue’ between countries, which is scheduled to take place in 2018.

And participants also expressed their support for the ‘Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action’, which seeks to increase the scale of emissions reductions that will be achieved by 2020.

While the Marrakech summit did not match its predecessor for drama and excitement, the solid progress made by countries on implementation of the Paris Agreement, in the immediate aftermath of the shock election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, may yet prove to be as significant.

 

Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and was a participant at the United Nations climate change summit in Marrakech, Morocco.