A year on from the COP21 summit, the Paris Agreement has come into force. While that’s quite an achievement, there’s still much to be done – starting at the climate conference in Marrakesh.
You could practically hear the champagne corks popping around the world as policy-makers congratulated themselves on the Paris Agreement coming into force last week.
The agreement – the first to bring all nations together to combat climate change – obliges countries to reduce their carbon emissions to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels.
Less than a year after the agreement was made, it’s come into force in record time – and just before the start of the 22nd Conference of Parties, or COP22, that starts Monday (07.11.2016) in Marrakesh.
“It sends a strong signal to the world that all governments are taking climate change seriously, and they do want to act on it,” Niklas Höhne, founding partner of German think tank NewClimate Institute, told DW.
But it is only the first step on an ambitious road to limiting global temperatures. Next stop: the UN climate conference in Marrakesh.
Hammering out the details
At the Paris summit, governments agreed on an overarching framework to tackle climate change. In Marrakesh, negotiators are charged with hashing out details of the climate deal, including how it will be implemented.
“We need to develop the rules in terms of financing, in terms of technology, in terms of capacity building and also on the issue of adaptation planning,” UNFCCC executive secretary Patricia Espinosa told DW.
But it won’t be simple. Each government that is party to the Paris Agreement must develop its own targets and actions for tackling climate change as part of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
“Those plans – and their level of ambition – were left to the discretion of each government,” said Hoda Baraka, global communications manager at climate protection organization, 350.org. “The 1.5-degree target continues to be the strongest thing to come out of Paris – but it’s not legally binding,” she added.
Baraka hopes that the 1.5-degree limit will heighten governments’ ambition, stimulating higher levels of commitment to the climate deal.
Difficult but necessary decisions
But Germany – one of the leaders in pushing for climate protection – has failed to adopt even a watered-down version of its Climate Action Plan 2050 in time for the conference in Marrakesh. That is being considered to be a hefty blow to the agreement.
Höhne sees Germany’s failure to produce a plan as a sign that the NDCs involve decisions that are not easy or quick for governments to make, due the impact they will have – particularly on national economies.
Germany will have to have phased its coal-fired power plants in the next 10 to 15 years to be really compatible with the Paris Agreement, Höhne said. “You’d have to sell the last fossil-fuel-powered cars by 2030, or even earlier,” he added.
But such difficult decisions are necessary if the Paris Agreement is to be taken seriously.
UNEP has warned in its 2016 Emissions Gap Report that if nations don’t reduce predicted 2030 emissions by 25 percent, there will be no chance of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. So far, plans are not ambitious enough.
“If all countries do what they propose, it won’t be sufficient,” said Höhne. “All countries have to do more, and there will be a process to check whether countries can and should do more.”
Espinosa said the Paris Agreement “requires the participation of all people.”
“It lays the foundation for a transformation that will lead to a world very different from the one we know now.”
Financing climate change adaptation and mitigation
Negotiators at the Marrakesh conference also have further challenges.
Climate change has already had a large impact in many regions – among other things, in the form of droughts, more intense hurricanes, wildfires and rising sea levels devastating communities. It will lead to further disasters, and is likely to force people from their homes.
It has particularly caused problems in developing countries, where people lack infrastructure or finances to handle impacts of climate change.
“That was an issue that was postponed for after Paris: How much money, and where should it flow to help developing countries adapt to climate change and reduce their emissions,” said Höhne.
Meanwhile, additional issues such as transparency and greening the business sector will also be on the agenda. Negotiators will have to come up with a timeframe for finalizing the Paris Agreement, and a way to track governmental efforts.
“Countries are being watched – so I really trust there will be a good amount of follow-up, and that we will be able to develop rules that can provide people the assurances about what is being done in their respective countries,” Espinosa said.
Still, the most important aspect of the Marrakesh conference will be showing people that something is happening following the Paris Agreement.
While the climate summit in November 2015 was one for historic decisions, what will be important in Marrakesh is the signal from governments that climate change is being taken seriously. This will need to be fulfilled, says Baraka of 350.org.
“The important expectation is to see whether the political momentum after Paris can be maintained, so that it doesn’t just become a signed piece of paper without actual meaning.”
Interviews with Patricia Espinosa were conducted by Charlotta Lomas and Carolina Chimoy