By Yanzhu Zhang [1] and Alexander Pfeiffer [2]

In December 2015, the 21st conference of the parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) had made a decisive turning point in the world’s endeavour to avert dangerous changes in our climate. 195 nations pledged to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. The COP21 in Paris was a historic moment for reaching an international agreement of limiting climate change. It sets a 1.5 degree target, which requires the widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response.

What are the achievements of COP21?

The Paris climate conference adopted the “ratchet mechanism” and called for countries’ continual ambitions in its pledges. The concept of “intended nationally determined contributions”, or INDCs, was used for the first time in the history of UNFCCC COPs. The Paris agreement was different in many ways. It included a human right approach in its preamble, a strong ambition mechanism, and a collective stocktake of emissions reduction actions coupled with a ratchet-up mechanisms to ensure the INDCs of each country will be scaled up. Moreover, the agreement emphasized capacity building in developing countries, which in many ways will also benefit the most vulnerable population groups. As Barbara Hendricks, German Minister for the Environment, put it:

For the first time all the countries in the world came together on the path to save the planet (…) we fought for a long time and today we’ve reached a solid agreement. It is a historic turning point.

The year 2015 also evidenced the adoption of United Nations General Assembly resolution A/RES/70/1, “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have clearly set the outlook for a paradigm shift towards a more sustainable future. The Paris agreement is not the end of story but the beginning of rigorous enforcing and implementation efforts. The COP22 happening now in Marrakech is a new battlefield of climate negotiation and yet a new policy window to take actions seriously.

What is unfinished in the Paris Agreement?

While the Paris Agreement has been declared a success by many policy makers, criticism of the outcome of COP21 has been put forward by many as well. Taking the INDCs as an example, the current level of commitments will not bring us anywhere near the desired 2°C warming goal (not to mention the even more ambitious 1.5°C goal). At their current ambition level the INDCs will leave us with approx. 2.7 to 3.0 degree Celsius global warming by the end of the century, well beyond what experts, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), consider ‘safe’ levels of climate change. Bernie Sanders, a US Senator, summarized this critic saying “While this is a step forward it goes nowhere near far enough. The planet is in crisis. We need bold action in the very near future and this does not provide that.” Critics have also argued that only some parts of the agreement are legally binding while others, e.g. the national pledges by the countries to reduce emissions, are not and hence not enforceable.

While developed countries agree on a legal obligation to provide climate finance to developing countries, the $100 bn. a year financing goal is most likely not ambitious enough and also not sufficient to provide poor countries with enough support to manage the transition towards a low-carbon economy. In addition, while the $100 bn. already existed as promises for several years prior to Paris, recent reviews of the activity of the fund shows, that in the past only a small percentage of the pledged money has actually been employed. This is partially due to the fact that damages caused by climate change related events are not eligible to benefit from the fund. Moreover, the agreement explicitly excludes liability and compensation payments for Loss and Damage. L&D is the UNFCCC’s nomenclature for damage from existing and future climate change such as rising sea levels and extreme weather events and was one of the most controversial debate topics during the conference.


Can Marrakech COP22 solve these problems?

The COP22 in Marrakech is said to be the COP of action. “It is all about implementation, implementation and implementation”. President of COP22, Salaheddine Mezouar, described COP22 as “opportunity to make the voices of the most vulnerable countries to climate change heard, in particular African countries and island states. It is urgent to act on these issues linked to stability and security.” These opening remarks indicate that COP22 will take the L&D debate to a new level and give significant priority to the lives at highest risk or strongest suffering from climate change. Yet, in order to achieve the priorities of The Paris Agreement, this COP also needs to address a few important technical issues during the remainder of these two weeks.

  1. 5 degree target requires further ambition in the ratchet mechanism
    It’s not likely that, during this year’s conference, countries will modify their INDCs substantially from what has been announced at COP21. Yet, there is also no reason that a country cannot update their INDCs. The ratchet mechanism shall take into account sustained contribution from non-state actors and update the INDCs with inclusive counting of contributions from grassroots as well as niche mitigation innovations such as China’s futuristic “straddling bus.” Policy instruments are needed to realize further ambitions.


  1. Ratification of the Paris Agreement
    These two weeks around COP22 are the peak time for countries around the world to ratify the Paris Agreement. As of Nov 7, the beginning of the conference, 103 parties out of 193 signatories ratified the Paris agreement. We have seen major powers such as U.S. and China ratifying the Paris Agreement during the G20 Summit in Hangzhou and also Ministers from EU countries approving the agreement. Yet, countries like Russia, Australia, the Middle East, and many African states had not yet ratified the agreement by the time their delegations flew to Marrakech. It is hoped that the negotiations in Marrakech will augment the momentum of ratification and nudge some of these countries to take collective responsibilities.


  1. Translating international agreement into domestic legislations
    There have been questions of the “legally binding” aspect of the Paris Agreement. While it is not legally binding on international level, it will be legally binding at domestic level once countries implement domestic regulations to enforce their INDCs. The Paris Agreement had to be carefully worded considering the diversity of national interests and different political situations in the participating parties. It didn’t come as a surprise that some of the language in the final agreement had to be somewhat softened and that only parts of the agreement could be legally binding. The language and ambition level in the agreement reflects the upper limits of what was possible to achieve in Paris under existing individual national political conditions. The task of translating the Paris Agreement into national legislations will not be an easy one for the parties and needs to balance efficiency and equality in government regulations.


  1. Public sectors cannot do it alone
    How to finance the actions needed to achieve the 1.5 or 2 degree goal was not clear by the end of COP21 and policy makers are aware that public money is not sufficient to support all transition activities. The private sector is the key partner in international development, particularly when activities need scaling up or replication. The World Bank’s IFC has provided about $15.3 bn. in long-term financing for renewable power, energy efficiency, sustainable agriculture, green buildings, and private sector adaptation to climate change. The COP22 shall feature a platform to further leverage private sector money and promote bottom-up innovations driven by private sector business motivations.


  1. Different interests in the Loss & Damage debate
    When it comes to L&D, it is important to explain the different points of view of developing and developed countries. The major difference is whether L&D should be addressed within the framework of climate change adaptation. This will ultimately influence the responsibility and magnitude of financing. Developing countries in general request to separate the L&D from the adaptation debate and call for new mechanisms and financing resources to address L&D as a matter of compensation. In their view, the developed countries have a liability to compensate developing countries for the unavoidable impacts that already materialized as a consequence of historical and ongoing greenhouse gas emissions largely from developed countries. Nevertheless, the developed countries are reluctant to accept this appeal and argue the L&D should be addressed within the scope of adaptation. In previous COPs, we have seen money flowing mainly into mitigation technologies and activities while adaptation remains severely under-financed. This might remain a problematic issue unless the countries agree upon how to collectively address L&D.


How well is the COP22 negotiation going so far?

After the first week of the negotiations and well into the second week there are some good and some less encouraging news about the mentioned issues. However, while it is probably too early to call it already a success, things are looking promising.

During the first week another 7 countries signed ratified the Paris agreement raising the total number to 110 countries that ratified the agreement out of 193 signatories. Amongst the latest countries that ratified the agreement where e.g. Australia (Nov. 9) and Finland (Nov. 14).

On further ambitions in the ratchet mechanism China stated that it would continue with its ambitious climate policy and try to accelerate decarbonization despite a potentially unwilling US Presidency. The High Ambition Coalition, a group of 35 states including Pacific islands, African and Caribbean governments, EU member states, the US, Mexico, Canada, and Brazil, that has formed during the Paris COP, gave a similar statement, alas without the US. In the second week, however, pace will have to pick up as current technical discussions around NDCs, baselines, and methodologies progress slowly and many countries criticised the COP Presidency for this slow progress.

The progress on the facilitative dialogue (FD) 2016 has been quite slow so far. The FD describes a process in which parties will reconvene regularly to take stock of their collective efforts. The FD will review progress made towards the long-term Paris Agreement goal to peak emissions and achieve net-zero emissions and based on the respective outcomes parties will either submit new NDCs or update their existing ones. During the first week of the COP22 in Marrakech many parties seemed to be quite unprepared for this debate (FD 2016), especially in technical discussions. For the Paris agreement the most important FD will be the one in 2018 as it depicts the key moment to raise ambition levels. However, the rules and guidelines on how this FD 2018 will be conducted will be a direct result of COP22 and COP23 next year and hence preparations will have to improve.

On the adaptation and L&D debate unfortunately not much has happened. Since Paris adaptation is a central part of the UNFCCC regime and it is part of the FD 2018 draft. However, there are concerns who will step up to finance adaptation should the USA under Trump decide to cut their funding. On L&D the discussions are expected to get far more political in the second week. As good news can be seen that a new roadmap has been introduced shortly before the COP and agreed on during the first days of the COP22 to utilise the $100 bn. per year promise of the developed nations.

As Ministers and heads of states arrive for week 2 of the negotiations some major pain points remain to be solved over the coming days. Some remaining countries still have to ratify the Doha Amendment, NDC partnerships will be announced and CMA1, the first conference of the Paris Agreement signatories, will take place. While the COP officially ends on Friday some other side-conferences, e.g. SBSTA (Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice), SBI (Subsidiary Body for Implementation), and APA (Ad-hoc working group on the Paris Agreement), close later so prolonged negotiations are expected well into the nights on Saturday and Sunday.

Last but not least it is unclear how the parties will react to the “Marrakech Call”. This call is a declaration that has been prepared by the Moroccan COP Presidency without consultation with the parties. It doesn’t contain any references to gender equity, Just Transition, or human rights. It is currently unclear how the other parties will react to this declaration and whether they will accept this lack of inclusiveness.

Week two remains exciting!

[1] Yanzhu is a recent MPP graduate from Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford and alumnus from EU Climate-KIC program and EU Erasmus Mundus program

[2] Alex is the head of Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and a doctorate student at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School