The last 12 months have seen unprecedented momentum in global climate diplomacy. A year ago, there were still concerns that the Paris climate summit in December 2015 may not result in the long-term deal the world desperately needed to start tackling climate change in a more co-ordinated and ambitious manner.
What is on the table
Today, we have a global deal, the ‘Paris Agreement’, which contains initial emission reduction or limitation pledges from all key countries. It also contains an ‘ambition mechanism’ that aims to increase countries’ pledges every five years to gradually put the world on track to limit the increase in average global temperatures to well below 2C.
Defying most predictions, the Agreement has already been ratified by over 55% of the signatories. This represents over 55% of the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases and it came into force on November 4th. What’s more, a global agreement to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (which have a much greater global warming potential than carbon dioxide) and the first global agreement to start tackling greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation industry were also agreed in October this year.
The nuts and bolts
Against this backdrop, it could be tempting to expect another major milestone to come out of the COP22 climate change summit beginning in Morocco on November 7th. However, this is not how the progress made in Marrakech should be judged. Whilst the diplomatic developments of the last 12 months are indeed encouraging, the initial commitments made under the Paris Agreement still fall short of where the world needs to be if we are to keep levels of warming well below 2C. In addition, many of the rules underpinning the Paris Agreement have yet to be developed.
A successful COP22 would therefore be one that gets on with the job of developing the less glamourous technical detail that will make the Paris Agreement deliver concrete emission reductions on the ground and increase collective ambition over time. Some of the key rules that need to be thrashed out are to do with how progress towards emissions reduction pledges will be monitored and how the ambition mechanism will work in practice.
Other important issues include climate finance, where more clarity is needed as to how the US$100bn per year pledged to developing countries by 2020 will be provided, and the development of ‘2050 plans’, which are expected to show how countries intend to shape their economies to be low carbon in the long term. COP22 will also be an important opportunity to prepare countries for developing more ambitious emission reduction pledges in 2018, as required by the ambition mechanism.
COP 22 isn’t just coming after a year of significant momentum on climate diplomacy, it also faces another challenge in the US elections taking place on November 8th. Donald Trump has expressed hostility towards the Paris Agreement and would clearly be a challenge for the climate agenda. But it is important that negotiators do not get overly distracted by the outcome of the US elections and remember that market forces and developments outside the US will also have an impact on what the next US president’s climate and energy agenda turns out to be in practice.
Despite slow progress in international climate diplomacy for a number of years, 2015 saw a record US$285bn invested in renewable energy according to Bloomberg. 2015 was the first year where renewable energy represented more than 50% of the power capacity installed globally. And critically, it was also the first year where developing countries, led by the likes of China, India, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil, overtook developed countries in terms of clean energy investment.
China, which invested over US$100bn in clean energy in 2015 - some three times more than the US - intends to double its wind power capacity, treble its solar power capacity and multiply the sale of electric vehicles by a factor of ten by 2020.
COP22 comes at both an exciting and challenging time. To make it a success, negotiators should focus on fleshing out the rules that will underpin the Paris Agreement, clarify how climate finance pledges will be met and prepare the ground for discussions to increase emission reduction pledges in 2018. If COP22 is remembered as a technical summit, that would be no bad thing.