Friday, 4 November, was a historic day in the annals of world history with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change officially entering into force and setting the global community determinedly on the path towards a sustainable future.
The Paris Agreement is undoubtedly a turning point in the history of common human endeavor, capturing the combined political, economic and social will of governments, cities, regions, citizens, business and investors to overcome the existential threat of unchecked climate change.
The landmark Agreement, adopted by consensus on 12 December at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris, has so far been signed by 192 out of the total 197 members who are signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). More importantly, of the 192 members who have signed up to the Paris Agreement, 97 have ratified it as of 4 November, 2016.
The critical threshold needed for the Agreement to enter into force was achieved on 5 October of this year, when 55 members representing 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (55/55) ratified the pact. Following the one-month stipulated waiting period, the Paris Agreement officially entered into force on Friday, 4 November. The ratification is timely in that it comes just ahead of 22nd Conference of Parties (COP22), and the 12th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 12), which are scheduled to be held in Marrakech, Morocco from 7 to 18 November.
The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA), which was established at COP21and tasked with preparing for the entry into force of the Paris Agreement, is now responsible for convening the first session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA1) during COP22. The APA is also mandated to prepare draft decisions to be recommended through the COP to the CMA1 for consideration and adoption by members at their various sessions in Marrakech.
The Marrakech meeting is expected to focus on several substantive issues and challenges facing governments as they chart their way forward towards meeting the objectives of the Convention and implementing the Paris Agreement. Of particular concern will be continued efforts by countries to achieve the Paris Agreement's goal of keeping global temperature rise this century below 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
With growing realization that limiting temperature rise to 2°C will not provide a sufficient guardrail against global warming, countries are being urged to increase their efforts to reduce emissions under the pre-2020 period of the Kyoto Protocol, as well as turn their post-2020 Paris pledges into concrete actions.
The Marrakech meeting’s focus on pre-2020 action is reflected in a new report ‘Setting the Path to 1.5°C’, to be launched by a diverse coalition of civil society groups gathering for COP22. These groups made a splash last year with their analysis of countries' post-2020 pledges, which highlighted how developing countries are as a whole much closer to taking on their fair share of the collective effort than the developed countries.
Participating countries at COP22 will also discuss the 2016 review of the ‘loss and damage’ mechanism that develops policy frameworks to help communities deal with a variety of climate change impacts. Developing countries are stressing that developed countries have a moral imperative to provide necessary finance for ‘loss and damage’ caused by their unbridled emissions in the past.
Civil groups point out that although more than135 million people are at risk of displacement due to land degradation and tens of millions risk being impoverished as their livelihoods are threatened, climate change policies which would help, such as the ‘loss and damage’ mechanism and its newly established displacement task force, remain under-resourced and funding for adaptation remains inadequate. Anticipating climate change to exacerbate displacement around the world, civil society groups meeting in Marrakech are also mounting calls for governments to address the gaps in legal protection for ‘climate migrants’.
A major conflict among countries is likely to arise in Morocco over finance after developed countries released a ‘roadmap’ to the $100 billion per year which they have committed to find by 2020. Developing countries and civil society groups have already severely criticized the roadmap for ‘double counting’ existing aid flows and exaggerating the rate at which public money can leverage private funds. Concerns over the new ‘roadmap’ also include the fact that it provides no scope for increased financing from developed countries and multilateral financial institutions over the pledges made in Paris. With the costs of developing countries' Paris pledges expected to exceed $4 trillion, these criticisms will have to be addressed if countries are to implement the Agreement successfully.
Also, many countries that are yet to ratify the Agreement say the 97 ratified members who form the CMA1 should not be making rules and taking decisions on how the Paris Agreement is to be implemented. If the concerns of these states are not allayed then difficulties could arise during the meetings. With more than 20,000 participants gathered in Marrakech, the question of who can and cannot take part in talks on how to implement the Paris Agreement has the potential to create further frictions with civil society groups calling on the UNFCCC to "kick out big polluters" due to their conflict of interest, resulting in a heated debate between countries. Of the 197 member states to the UNFCCC, 192 have signed up to the Paris Agreement; the five outliers are: Iraq, Nicaragua, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Uzbekistan.
Although it will not match the high-drama of Paris, the Marrakech meeting will nevertheless see some challenging questions raised over how to fairly increase pre-2020 ambition, as well as how to ensure that the $100 billion is really flowing to developing countries for projects that cut emissions and that help communities deal with climate change impacts.