What happens in Marrakesh now that the Paris Agreement has entered into force?

Marrakesh

Photo credit: Luc Viatour

Friday, November 4, 2016 was a day for the record books: it marked the day that the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change entered into force, unlocking the Agreement’s legally binding rights and obligations for countries that have joined the agreement. This milestone came almost four years earlier than many expected even just last year. 

Rapid entry into force proves that the diverse political coalition of countries that constructed the Paris Agreement – both developed and developing, large and small – is alive and strong around climate change. It sends a powerful, immediate signal to global markets that governments take the agreement seriously, and that now is the time to ramp up investment in a prosperous, low-carbon future. 

Early entry into force also adds a sense of urgency to the work of the just-opened climate talks in Marrakesh under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), known as COP22, from November 7-18. The inaugural session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA1) will take place in conjunction with COP22. 

What to expect at Marrakesh

Countries in Marrakesh will be expected to provide concrete evidence that the world is on track to effectively implement the Paris Agreement.

The goal of the Marrakesh gathering is to maintain the strong momentum on climate action that comes from the trio of climate wins we’ve seen recently: entry into force of the Paris Agreement, the adoption of a market-based-measure to tackle significant climate pollution from airlines, and the phase down of HFC “superpollutant” greenhouse gases. 

To continue that momentum, countries in Marrakesh will be expected to provide concrete evidence that the world is on track to effectively implement the Paris Agreement, in the form of an ambitious workplan to complete the Agreement’s necessary infrastructure. The Agreement provides an inclusive, solid foundation for global climate action, but the “nuts and bolts” of how to implement the Agreement were left to future meetings.

Key implementation tasks that will occupy negotiators in Marrakesh include Finalizing the Paris Agreement’s “enhanced” transparency framework and building an effective ambition mechanism.

Finalizing the Paris Agreement’s “enhanced” transparency framework

Transparency is the backbone of the Paris Agreement: It drives climate action by holding countries accountable to their commitments on action and support. 

But often overlooked are the additional direct domestic benefits of transparency to countries and subnational actors, which helps them to:

  1. understand the scope of the climate challenge;
  2. develop strategies to address it;
  3. assess the extent to which policy interventions are succeeding; and
  4. more easily access resources needed for effective implementation, including via carbon markets.

The Paris Agreement lays out common and legally binding rules that require – for the first time – each country to regularly report on progress they are making in meeting their commitments.  And those reports must go to a panel of experts for technical review. As EDF President Fred Krupp wrote, “It's the environmental version of President Reagan's ‘trust but verify.’”  

The details of the Agreement’s enhanced transparency framework must now be elaborated to ensure that countries demonstrate credibly and publicly how they are making progress against their commitments. Support should be made available to assist countries that need help to meet these new requirements. A variety of climate funds and support programs currently exist that can help developing countries to build the necessary institutional and technical capacity. 

At the same time, nations must now prioritize efforts to develop a set of clear accounting rules that prevent “double counting” of emissions reductions and facilitate the high-integrity emissions trading needed to drive emissions down and investment up. Double counting – applying one ton of emissions reductions towards more than one commitment, a sleight of hand that cheats the atmosphere – is explicitly prohibited by the Paris Agreement no less than six times.

Building an effective ambition mechanism

We know that the commitments pledged by countries thus far are not enough to limit warming below new temperature limits set by the Paris Agreement – “well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels” – let alone enough to meet the Agreement’s aspirational limit of 1.5 degrees.

That’s why the heart of the accord is the process it establishes to periodically review countries’ progress toward meeting their commitments, and to ratchet up ambition over time, beginning with a global assessment (a “facilitative dialogue,” in UN-speak) in 2018 and updates of commitments in 2020.

The Paris Agreement recognizes that cooperation on emissions trading between countries can help drive the ambitious emissions reductions that science demands. Under Article 6, the Agreement encourages the growing use of bottom-up agreements between jurisdictions to link markets for greater efficiency, as California and Quebec have done. Countries that prefer the option of an international structure can wait to utilize the nascent new market mechanism outlined under Article 6.4 of the Agreement – the strong rules and accounting standards necessary for this new approach must also be fleshed out by negotiators in the coming months and years.

Prompt agreement on accounting for market mechanisms under Article 6, including how to practically implement the requirement to avoid double counting of emissions reductions, will help quickly build the infrastructure needed for carbon markets to drive ambition. In particular, the facilitative dialogue among Parties in 2018 to assess global progress appears to be a good time to provide additional clarity on the tools available under the Paris Agreement to increase ambition. 

What will happen during CMA1 

Although the Paris Agreement specifies that the significant amount of work necessary to build its essential infrastructure must be completed by CMA1, countries are likely to agree a “procedural fix” to give themselves the time necessary to develop the Paris Agreement’s rulebook. For example, Parties could agree to keep CMA1 formally in session rather than gaveling it closed at the end of the COP, extending CMA1 – and the associated deadlines – until perhaps 2018. Countries used a similar fix to minimize procedural wrangling in the successful negotiations that led to the Paris Agreement. Given the Paris Agreement’s surprisingly quick entry into force, it is not surprising that negotiators will need more time to complete the long list of tasks on their plate.

The upshot is that substantive discussions will occur instead in the COP, the APA (the “Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement”) and the UNFCCC’s subsidiary bodies, in which all Parties to the UNFCCC can participate. As long as these bodies move promptly to accomplish their “to do” list, keeping discussions under the COP provides an additional benefit to inclusiveness and political “buy-in.” That's because decisionmaking in the CMA is limited to only those Parties to the Paris Agreement, currently slightly more than half of those participating in the UNFCCC, but expected to be nearly equal by 2018. 

The continuing need for national and “minilateral” action

A decade ago, the presumptive approach to climate progress was a global governance structure driven by international institutions such as the U.N. Now, the challenges are more urgent and the landscape is more decentralized. 

"Minilateral" cooperation among groups of countries is emerging as a focal point for climate action. The prospect of “climate clubs” is gaining currency as a vehicle for securing greater investment, market access, and financial stability, and for driving greater ambition in climate action. For example, a coalition of carbon market jurisdictions, or “CCM”, could go faster and farther than the UNFCCC in promoting coordination among carbon markets, ensuring environmental integrity, and ultimately spurring greater ambition in climate action. Robust coalition standards could potentially inform global approaches, complementing and building additional momentum for climate efforts under the UNFCCC.

No major environmental problem is solved with one document. The Paris Agreement provides a solid foundation for cooperation among jurisdictions, but nations recognize that progress on climate depends on implementation at home. It’s time for countries to roll up their sleeves and get to work on the rules, guidance, and domestic policies that will put Paris into practice. 

The significant political will reflected in the entry into force of the Paris Agreement now needs to be translated to building the essential infrastructure for implementation. The world is watching.

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