COP22: Did Marrakech deliver on climate change?

Posted By on Nov 21, 2016

author: Rachael Treharne


Rachael Treharne is currently completing a placement in climate change policy at BirdLife International. BirdLife International is the world’s biggest conservation partnership and supports 120 national NGOs worldwide. Rachael has just returned from the COP22 climate talks in Marrakech, Morocco.

marrakech-cop22_banner_smallFriday, November 18th brought to a close the latest round of UN climate talks at COP22 in the ‘red city’ of Marrakech. This was the first climate conference since COP21 last year saw the adoption of the Paris Agreement – a historic deal to address climate change that has since been ratified and entered into force with unprecedented speed.

Building on this momentum, COP22 promised to be a ‘COP of action’, unpacking the rules, guidance, and technicalities required to implement the framework laid out in the Paris Agreement. This is a complex process working to a hard deadline: already we are edging uncomfortably close to the 1.5˚C limit on temperature increase that is central to the Paris Agreement, and already we are seeing pervasive impacts on biodiversity, ecosystem services and communities worldwide.

Expectations and hopes as COP22 opened on November 7th were, therefore, high. Two weeks later, responses to the progress made in Marrakech are mixed, and the shockwaves of the US election have left an undercurrent of anxiety about the future of the Paris Agreement. On the prospect of a Trump Presidency, however, COP22 was unequivocal. Key players including China and the influential High Ambition Coalition (albeit, with the loss of one member – the US) were quick to issue strong statements of their continued commitment to climate action: a determination reflected by civil society, who point to signs that a groundswell of grassroots support will put increasing pressure on Trump to soften his stance on climate change. The mood was summed up by words of one delegate; “if the US steps back on climate change under a Trump Presidency, it is up to the rest of us to step forward.”

What did COP22 achieve?

Despite this sense of resolve, progress in Marrakech was slow, with countries unwilling to compromise so early after the adoption of the Paris Agreement. Counties struggled to reach an agreement over how to move forward with the central mitigation mechanisms (such as Nationally Determined Contributions, or country pledges) of the Agreement and disappointment and frustration were expressed by developing countries as discussions on agricultural adaptation and aspects of adaptation finance reached a deadlock.marrakech-cop22_small

But it was not all bad news: among other steps forward, a committee and initiative for capacity building established with pledged funding of more than US$50 million will help developing countries with carbon accounting, and a new framework will encourage further resource transfer in the form of clean technology. And, outside of the negotiating rooms, COP22 was used as a springboard for initiatives, partnerships and financial commitments that reflect real innovation and enthusiasm in delivering climate change solutions.

Long term plans: Countries including Canada, Germany, Mexico and (optimistically) the US set out long-term strategies to tackle climate change up to 2050, while a newly launched ‘2050 pathways platform’ will encourage other countries (as well as cities and businesses) to follow suit. Even more, ambition was shown by 47 developing countries particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, who committed to 100% renewable energy production as soon as possible.

Adaptation and sustainable development: The renewable revolution is being harnessed to provide sustainable development in parallel with climate change mitigation, for example through the African Renewable Energy Initiative, aiming to deliver a transformational renewable energy programme to Africa. Other initiatives have been launched to facilitate adaptation, such as the Adaptation of African Agriculture, aiming to mobilize funding to improve the management of soils, water, and climate-related risk. Several developing countries also signed up to a partnership to support the implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions, which will act as a platform for sharing knowledge and best practice.

Ecosystems: The potential of ecosystems to provide substantial, cost-effective mitigation and adaptation benefits received ground-breaking recognition in the Paris Agreement. This trend continued in Marrakech, where countries reflected on the potential to sequester carbon by enhancing natural sinks such as forests and wetlands. Developed countries including Germany and Australia have committed to fund and work with developing countries to deliver mitigation and climate resilient social benefits through the land sector (for example through agriculture, forestry or ecosystem restoration). The critical role of peatlands in locking away carbon was recognized in the launch of the Global Peatlands Initiative, which will bring together governments, academics, and organizations to protect the world’s largest soil carbon stock.

There is no question that much work remains to be done. Filling the void between the climate finance pledged and the funding likely to be needed, particularly for adaptation, is of critical importance, and the questions and areas of contention highlighted by negotiations at COP22 will need to be resolved rapidly to meet the 1.5˚C goal. Importantly, 2018 was agreed for completion of the Paris rulebook: a year increasingly emerging as the next big moment for climate action. While meeting this deadline will require some of the urgency of the Paris negotiations to be regained, the practical initiatives and partnerships developed at COP22, as well as the reaffirmation contained in the Marrakech Proclamation, are a promising sign that the international community will maintain momentum and ambition moving forwards from Marrakech.marrakech-cop22_1_small