2016 climate talks: what can we expect?

8 Nov 2016 03:31 PM

This year’s global climate talks in Marrakesh will start to build a bridge between the vision of the Paris Agreement and on the ground delivery.

It took eight years to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s first treaty to limit emissions of greenhouse gases. It took just 12 months to ratify the Paris Agreement, its successor. It came into force on the 4 November.

The pace at which the Paris Agreement entered into force is unprecedented for an international treaty of such magnitude. It is an important reminder of the importance nations attach now to combating climate change.

The Agreement aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping the global temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Whilst Marrakesh holds neither the glamour nor urgency of Paris, the talks are still incredibly important. It is easy enough to sign a paper, quite another thing to put in place the policies and actions to deliver it. Marrakesh will start building the bridge between vision and on the ground delivery.

In practice, it will be comprised of dozens of meetings and high-level events, including the high-level segment attended by dozens of chiefs of states and governments next Thursday.

Key discussions to keep an eye on will be those focused on enhancing ambition and support and a high level ministerial dialogue on enhancing climate action, which start from Friday.

There remains a huge gap between what action has been pledged and the trajectory we need to be on in order to achieve Paris’ goals. Last week UNEP gave a stark warning: make more drastic cuts or see temperatures rise to dangerous levels. At least a quarter of predicted emissions must still be cut to stay below 2C degrees, according to the report. Raising ambition before 2020 “is likely to be the last chance to keep the option of limiting global warming to 1.5C,” UNEP warns.

Also key is a ministerial high-level dialogue on climate finance next Wednesday. Before the meeting wraps up on 18 November, parties hope to lay out a viable plan for providing at least $100 billion a year to developing countries to support climate action, a pledge that was made back in 2009 in Copenhagen. Firm plans need also to be developed on how to shore up the money to support adaptation and mitigation projects in developing countries.

Detailed discussions on how the Paris Agreement will actually work will occur under the auspices of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA). Key questions this group will be working on include:

  • How should we track progress given the mishmash of voluntary pledges offered up by world’s nations, all working to different baselines and timescales? Marrakesh will start the job on creating guidance to help align future commitments, and guidance to help account for countries’ diverse pledges.
  • How can we ensure that the action taken by signatories is transparent? Further guidance will be developed to support clarity, transparency and understanding of the commitments made by countries.
  • How will the new “global stocktakes”, the regular assessments of collective progress in meeting Paris’ long term goals, actually work?

You can read all the APA’s background papers, and initial views here.

Eyes will also be turned to the US election. Trump has threatened to withdraw the USA from the agreement, if elected. While, the US wouldn’t be able to leave the Paris Agreement now until 2020, it but could rid itself of membership of the UNFCCC within a year, although Senate approval may also have to be sought (read this legal note from the US Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions for a frank analysis on the legal options). A Republican win risks casting a shadow over the talks.