Marrakech — a false promise
The reality is that Marrakech was never going to be the COP of action in the way that campaigning groups around the world advocated for. It was the COP for cleaning up the forced, last-minute consensus of the Paris Agreement forged at COP21 last December. Paris was the photo-op, and Marrakech was the first of the nitty-gritty, argumentative, tense meetings that would follow. COP22 was always going to be the one where the Parties decided what the Paris Agreement actually meant. This is not a recipe for ambition, or grand bargains. It is a recipe for pragmatism — and that’s exactly what we saw.
High-level diplomatic action, is a very different beast than putting-to-work action or implementation at the level of national governments, local governments, the private sector, civil society — down to individual households. Marrakech did feature action, but predominantly diplomatic and rhetorical action, which does not amount to much in the real world, and certainly does little for the legitimacy of the UNFCCC process.
This doesn’t imply there was a wave of diplomatic action in Marrakech, either. In fact, there are many reasons to be disappointed by the lack of progress made. The technicalities of implementing each country’s National Determined Contributions (NDCs) remain vague. The open questions that been punted down the road at every COP for so many years — like financing, adaptation and compensation to states suffering from loss and damage from climate change — saw the usual spirited debate and confusion, but very little progress.
On new topics raised by the Paris Agreement that needed to be filled out in detail and implemented into the Paris framework — like the ‘Rulebook’ for state action and the ‘Facilitative Dialogue’ for non-state action — the advance was limited, and disappointed observers and Parties alike.
Perhaps the best that can be said about this year’s COP is that it managed to send a firm, appropriate signal in the aftermath of the US election, thanks in no small part to the Chinese delegation. In the ‘Marrakech Action Declaration’, Parties to the COP “[…] call on all non-state actors to join […] for immediate and ambitious action and mobilization, building on […] important achievements […]”. This, at least, is where we agree — if we want the fast and decisive action on climate change needed to have any hope of achieving the Paris goals, the best place it can happen now is outside the COP process.