SPECIAL COP22 – UNFCCC newborn gears have to rack up the miles to settle the Paris framework

Such an earlier entry into force of the Paris Agreement sounded like a wishful thinking just one year ago. The unlikely has started appearing as a concrete prospect in September and became a reality on November 4. It is a sign of political will and determination (rarely seen in the history of global climate politics) that catches even the deputy institutions off guard.

At COP21 countries agreed to establish the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (codename: APA), in charge of clarifying the details on how the Paris mechanisms should work in practice and of preparing draft decisions for the entry into force, to be adopted at the first session of the agreement’s governing body: the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (in short, CMA). As the first CMA session takes place after the agreement’s entry into force, at that time this event was expected in 2020 or, in the most optimistic outlook, in 2018. To have the first CMA in 2016 was beyond imagination, but it will actually happen on November 15 at COP22, as confirmed by recent UNFCCC announcement. The President of CMA1 is H.E. Mr. Salaheddine Mezouar who has been designated by Morocco and the African Group to serve as the President of COP 22 and CMP 12.

The first APA meeting was held in Bonn last May and it gave a realistic overview of the huge amount of work that the APA should carry on before the Paris deal can be up and running (the tasks are also duly listed in a UNFCCC document of March 2016). In Bonn it was clarified that the APA is responsible of defining the procedure related to the nationally determined contributions (NDCs), the transparency framework, the global stocktake and the compliance/implementation issues, whereas the cooperative mechanisms, the accounting framework for finance and technological support, the IPCC role in informing the global stocktake and the procedures of the NDC registry will be discussed within the two UNFCCC Subsidiary Bodies (SBI and SBSTA). Most of these elements are in an early stage and will not be not be completed for CMA1.

Moreover, once the agreement enters into force only countries that have ratified it are bound by obligations and entitled to governance, oversight, leadership and decision-making. This could result in crucial decisions being taken by a limited number of countries, with those having not ratified merely participating as observers. A recent UNFCCC document states that “only Parties to the Agreement with valid credentials will be able to participate in the adoption of decisions at CMA 1” and that countries should have deposited their instruments of ratification at the latest on October 19 to participate in the proceedings (November 15-18) as Parties. This means that only about 80 countries (out of 197 Parties to the UNFCCC) will participate in the CMA1 with full powers. In order to guarantee inclusiveness of the Paris decision-making process, the CMA1 could be convened and then suspended, according to hypothesis circulated in the past months. The session would then be resumed at a later stage (presumably a COP23) to allow more countries to ratify and fully participate in the process. In this case, the preparatory work of the APA and the subsidiary bodies would continue under the guidance of CMA, that should monitor progress and adjust the deadlines according to the urgency of each workflow. The APA and the UNFCCC subsidiary bodies would have to speed up on a number of issues in order to make the Paris Agreement fully operational, ranging from the transparency standards to communicate, implement and review the national pledges (NDCs) to the rules of the foreseen “transfers of mitigation outcomes” ex Art. 6.

The urgency is due to do not frustrate the momentum built since COP21, but also to kick-start those mechanisms that should overseen the actual implementation and increase the ambition of national commitments. According to several scientists and experts, current pledges are inadequate to reduce emissions at a level in line with the 2°C target (even less regarding the 1.5°C aspirational target agreed at COP21).

It will be a long journey and the first results expected in Marrakech are the “rule book” and a comprehensive climate finance roadmap, as explained by UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa in a recent article on Science. “Paris was a milestone, yet the Marrakesh Summit is equally important given that governments must now deal with the details”, Espinosa said. “This includes negotiating the rule book to the Paris Agreement, which is, in effect, a global blueprint for reporting and accounting for climate action under the agreement. Another detail is the need for a roadmap on how to mobilize $100 billion in pledged annual support, through 2020. This is critical for financing climate adaptation, strengthening capacity building, and assisting developing countries in taking greater climate action […] Achieving the aims of the Paris Agreement is not a given. This is a multidecadal effort to turn around two centuries of world development that has been based on fossil fuels”.

Other priorities were identified during the COP22 preliminary meetings and include the Warsaw Mechanism on Loss and Damage, capacity-building initiatives such as the Paris Committee on Capacity Building, the Capacity Building Initiative for Transparency and the NDC Partnership to strengthen and help countries implement their Nationally Determined Contributions(NFCs).

In the meantime, a closer date can turn the tables and will probably set the tone of the US statement during the High-Level Segment on November 15 at COP22. The outcome of the presidential election will have a global influence on several issues. Barack Obama made no mystery that addressing climate change was among the key priorities of his administration and he is rushing to make his commitment to last. The victory of Hillary Clinton is expected to ensure continuity to Obama climate legacy, while Donald Trump has repeatedly promised to dismantle most of the climate-related legislation and initiatives put forth by the current US administration. Some climate diplomats recently said they are confident that the deal can survive the potential challenges and that the entry into force cannot be reversed, Reuters reports. A Trump administration may not retreat from the Paris deal (once it enters into force, a clause means all countries party to the deal are bound to it for four years), but it can downscale US climate efforts both domestically and internationally. This would turn down the global momentum that is essential to transform the Paris climate commitments into actions, and it would weaken those US-China bilateral initiatives that were by no doubts a key driving force behind the fast-paced ratification of the climate treaty.

While negotiators of the new Paris phase have just started rolling up their sleeves, the next days and months are poised to be the first test of the agreement’s strength.


(Image: Toy cars. Photo credit: Sergey Galyonkin/Flickr )