By Brooke Cary
Today, world leaders and climate negotiators are reconvening in Marrakech, Morocco, less than a year after they hammered out the Paris Agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions through the United Nations process. Over the next two weeks, they will work out the logistics of their climate goals at the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22).
While celebrating what was accomplished in Paris, this year has also sobered negotiators under the realization that the real work of the Paris Agreement begins now — and delegates hope to keep up the momentum at COP22.
“We’re calling this a COP of action,” said Jonathan Pershing, the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, in a press call on November 3.
A Global Climate Agreement in Effect
In Paris last year, negotiators embraced a vision to hold the increase in the global average temperature to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and to work towards limiting the temperature increase to “1.5°C.”
The Paris Agreement aims to peak greenhouse gas emissions, in order to bring emissions to a net zero this century, as well as build out the collective fund of $100 billion per year by 2020 to assist the needs of developing countries.
The agreement’s entry into force came more quickly than many expected. Over 190 countries agreed to take steps to reduce emissions and over 90 countries ratified the agreement in the past year. In comparison, the Kyoto Protocol took eight years to take effect.
For the Paris Agreement, the real work now means the start of technical negotiations and logistics for implementing the agreement. But world leaders have several issues to sort out before the world sees any real traction on cutting emissions, and Marrakech is just the beginning.
Post-Paris, there are three main issues which leaders are hoping to address at COP22 and beyond: Carbon accounting, nationally determined contributions, and finance.
Carbon accounting refers to the reporting of countries’ total carbon emissions. Before Paris, emissions reports have often been irregular. In fact, some developing and least developed countries did not report emissions at all, according to Yamide Dagnet, Senior Associate for the World Resources Institute.
One of the benefits of the Paris Agreement is that nations will now track emissions through regular reports from those who have ratified the agreement.
However, the Paris Agreement offers little guidance in the way of standardized reporting methods for participating countries—a nonetheless essential detail for comparing emissions numbers and accurately tracking progress. At COP22, Dagnet hopes to see negotiators establish clear terms for exactly what countries must include in their emissions reports.
Standardizing emissions tracking would also relieve some pressure from an already strained system of review.
“The current system has struggled to cope with just 40 countries,” where mandatory emissions reporting programs are in place, Dagnet said. “There are capacity issues, and we need to find a way to really enable developing countries to step up their game and report regularly.”
Another issue is that some countries do not have easy access to the qualified experts needed to perform the appropriate emissions reports.
“We have been—struggling—to find enough experts to do the job,” Dagnet said.
Opening a discussion on how participating nations and NGOs can cooperatively fill this gap will be an important conversation at COP22, according to Dagnet.
Yet another key priority is verifying that submitted reports truly reflect the number of emissions in the atmosphere. What form a system will take for monitoring, review, and verification (MRV) of emissions remains unclear and will likely make its way into the discussions in Marrakech.
While there is no guarantee these issues will be addressed — much less solved — during COP22, accounting and tracking experts agree the discussion needs to be opened there.
Nationally Determined Contributions
Aside from simply establishing how many greenhouse gas emissions have been released into the atmosphere, carbon accounting helps keep track of countries’ Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) goals. One result of the Paris Agreement is that countries each have determined their own voluntary contributions to the ultimate global emissions reduction goal.
NDCs are a projection of what countries expect to contribute, but negotiators have yet to see any guidelines describing how countries will be kept accountable under the agreement. Furthermore, countries will likely seek to clarify what types of emissions should be included and how they will be expected to maintain transparency in those reports.
Negotiators at COP22 will need to strike a delicate balance.
“You want to be transparent and you want to keep countries accountable for what they are suggesting,” Alexander Ochs, Senior Director of Climate and Energy at Worldwatch Institute, said. “On the other hand, it’s important to keep it voluntary.”
Negotiators will have to remain open to keeping each other accountable, exhibiting dedication to the agreement without giving the sense that the commitments are overly imposing.
Technology Transfer and Finance
Finance is one matter concerning all countries attending the discussions at COP22.
In Paris, COP 21 determined that existing funds under the Financial Mechanism of the Convention will serve the agreement and its proposals. These funds include the Green Climate Fund, Green Energy Fund, the Least Developed Countries Fund, and the Special Climate Change Fund, according to the UNFCCC website.
In addition to having these funds “serve the agreement,” the Paris Agreement reinforced the additional goal, originally agreed upon in Copenhagen in 2009, to have $100 billion per year by 2020 in collective contributions, which will assist developing countries in reaching their emissions reduction targets.
The burning questions are: Who will pay how much — and where will the funding go first?
“It will have to be seen how the funds are acquired, who pays what, what obligations are there for countries to receive it. That’s the overarching issue,” Ochs said.
The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) is one of the U.N. climate convention’s primary bodies determining how funds are spent. One of its key responsibilities is ensuring that the funds are spent appropriately. The Subsidiary Body for Implementation will work alongside it to monitor the purpose and use of funds.
Countries must also agree on how much of the $100 billion will go toward climate change mitigation, adaptation to already-locked in impacts, and allocation to least developed countries versus developing countries.
The Green Climate Fund will work to provide technology and renewable energy resources to developing countries, to help them make the leap from carbon-intensive energy sources straight to clean energy technologies. This opens up other questions about the involvement of private sector investment and expanding the renewable energy market in developing and least developed countries.
Maintaining Climate Momentum
“COP21 in Paris was one, if not the most important and definitely the most successful climate conference that we've had historically,” Ochs said. But, “we can't just rest with past successes which exist on paper, but have not yet been implemented.”
For COP22, the ultimate goal is to think critically about the logistics of the Paris Agreement and determine a comprehensive and cohesive framework for success. But making that happen is easier said than done.
“Thankfully, we’re not starting from a blank slate,” said Michael Gillenwater, Executive Director of the Greenhouse Gas Management Institute. But “you don’t accomplish it all by getting negotiators in a room for a week or two weeks.”
Stay tuned for more coverage from DeSmog reporters at COP22.