A Milestone for Climate Protection: Paris Agreement Enters into Force

By Patrick Toussaint and Konrad Gürtler

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The Paris Agreement, the new international climate treaty, enters into force today on 4 November 2016. This rapid entry into force, occurring within a year of its adoption, is unusual for an international climate treaty: to date, 97 Parties have ratified the Paris Agreement. Together they are responsible for around 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement, negotiated just ten months ago, enters into force ahead of the UN Marrakech Climate Change Conference, which begins on 7 November. But what does this development mean for the upcoming climate conference?

The Paris Agreement was to enter into force once 55 countries, representing at least 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions, had deposited their instruments of ratification at UN Headquarters in New York. This goal was already met on 5 October 2016, following the submission by the EU of its instrument of ratification alongside those of seven EU Member States. By this time, several other important greenhouse gas emitters, including the US, China and India, had declared their ratification.

The countries sought to achieve a rapid entry into force ahead of Marrakech, as the ratifying states would otherwise have been unable to hold a meeting of the State Parties to the Paris Agreement until late 2017. Tactical considerations also played a role, as the treaty now comes into force before the new US President takes office in January 2017. Indeed, its rapid entry into force is essential, given the many tasks the negotiators now face to prepare the modalities for its implementation. Through their early ratification, states are also sending a clear signal that the implementation of the new climate treaty should no longer be delayed, particularly since there is already an urgent need for action before 2020 in order to comply with the 1.5°C and 2°C goals of the Paris Agreement.

What does the early entry into force mean for the further process?

The first meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (“CMA” in climate jargon) will be held at the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), taking place in Marrakech on 7–18 November 2016. The purpose of this meeting is to determine how the agreement is to be implemented; to develop a “blueprint”, so to speak. However, the clarification of many details has not yet even begun.

Preparations for the CMA are carried out by the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA) with participation from all UNFCCC State Parties. The first meeting of the APA took place in Bonn in May 2016 and will be continued in Marrakech. The APA is also tasked with drafting the decisions that are finally adopted by the CMA. Countries that have yet to ratify the Paris Agreement are not Parties to the treaty and can only participate as observers in the CMA. It is unlikely that the CMA will adopt important decisions on substantive questions related to the operationalisation and implementation of the treaty without these countries however. This would also contradict the wish of the UNFCCC not to disadvantage states that have yet to ratify the Paris Agreement through an early entry into force. Rather, in Marrakech the CMA will adopt a work programme for the period through to 2018 that will pave the way for the concrete implementation of the new climate treaty.

What issues will be negotiated in Marrakech?

A number of key issues will be further negotiated to ensure that the climate summit in Marrakech truly becomes the “COP de l’Action”:

  • Developments are already under way in the area of climate finance: At a “Pre-COP” in October 2016, developed countries presented a Roadmap for mobilising climate finance that would see at least US $ 100 billion mobilised annually by 2020. There is, however, still a need for additional dialogue; in particular, the finance available for adaptation must be increased. The roadmap also disregards the decision of the Paris COP21 that the collective quantified climate finance goal will need to be ratcheted up again by 2025. This is important as around 78% of the intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) submitted by the UNFCCC Parties by the end of the Paris climate summit in December 2015 are conditional upon climate finance.
  • In relation to capacity-building, the focus now lies on strengthening the institutional framework in order to facilitate further thematic dialogues, technical consultations, and improved institutions. COP22 will consider among other things a draft decision on the terms of reference for the new Paris Committee on Capacity-building.
  • In the area of mitigation, there is still a gap between the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and the goal to limit global warming to well below 2°C or even 1.5°C. The question also remains as to whether measures to adapt to climate change should be included under countries’ NDCs, or whether their scope should be limited to mitigation measures. Common criteria could be developed in Marrakech to strengthen the NDCs and make them comparable.
  • A key issue with respect to matters of transparency and review will be the concrete design of the five-yearly global stocktake and the new transparency framework for action and support. An initial facilitative dialogue is scheduled to take place in 2018 to measure progress on the long-term mitigation goals detailed in Article 4.1 of the Agreement.
  • Further negotiations will be held on the topics technology transfer, adaptation and loss and damage

What else is happening?

The US presidential elections on 8 November 2016 will also influence COP22. Whether the US is led by Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the future will hugely influence the country’s climate policy ambitions. It is also possible that some countries will already present their climate plans in Marrakech, laying out their climate protection goals through to 2050. Germany will probably not be among them. As always, the COP will be flanked by a range of civil society side events. The Global Climate Action Agenda will strengthen efforts to continue the involvement of non-state actors, support voluntary initiatives, and promote flagship projects.

All in all this is certainly a comprehensive agenda. But time is short: according to the latest figures, 2016 is set to replace 2015 as the hottest year on record. Moreover, September 2016 was the first September on record during which the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere surpassed 400 parts per million. There is not much time left to stop climate change. Only significant progress in Marrakech towards the implementation of the Paris Agreement will take us a step closer to achieving this goal.

Header image: istock/Borut Trdina

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