It is November, and that means it is time for the yearly Climate Conference known as the COP. Short for Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (in itself abbreviated to UNFCCC). I guess the person who came up with this name hated journalists. Anyway, Monday the 22nd COP kicked-off in Marrakech, Morocco. We start this year’s edition with positive vibes since the Paris Agreement entered force only last Friday. Where it took eight years to for the Kyoto protocol to be activated, the legacy of COP21 kicks into action less than one year after its conceiving. One couldn’t wish for a better start. Which doesn’t mean this year’s climate summit is going to be a walk in the park.

Our work is far from done. This is a new phase for the international climate process. Early entry into force of the Paris Agreement is a clear cause for celebration, but it is also a timely reminder of the high expectations that are now placed upon us all. – Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Where the Paris Agreement was highly-anticipated and termed the last chance for humanity to come up with a global deal on climate change, COP22 in Marrakech gave rise to little excitement in the media. It might leave you wondering: why should I care about this year’s climate conference? I guess the US elections run away with a lot of the attention those days, yet the climate conference deserves a bit of your valuable time as well. I’ll tell you why. The Paris Agreement is nothing more than a piece of paper with the promise of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees above the pre-industrial level. It is by no means a plan on how to get there. The real work begins now. There are few topics observers expect to see being discussed over the coming two weeks, let’s have a look what we can expect.

Opening session at COP22 in Marrakech (photo: UNFCCC)

Opening session at COP22 in Marrakech (photo: UNFCCC)

NDCs and how to hold countries accountable

The success of the Paris Agreement will stand or fall by the Nationally Intended Contributions or NDCs. Each country has to come up with its own targets to reduce carbon emissions and move towards a low-carbon economy, according to its own abilities. Every five years the targets will be reviewed. This system is called ‘pledge-and-review’. Many people have criticized this mechanism since it is non-binding. Indeed, there are no guidelines yet on how countries will be held responsible for their (in-) action. Nor are there guidelines which types of emissions actually have to be included in a country’s NDC. Finding an answer to those questions is food for thought during COP22 and negotiators will need to strike the right balance.

You want to be transparent and you want to keep countries accountable for what they are suggesting,” Alexander Ochs, Senior Director of Climate and Energy at Worldwatch Institute, told Desmogblog. “On the other hand, it’s important to keep it voluntary.”

There are enormous opportunities inherent in this great transformation, but there are real challenges too, for all countries and some key sectors, especially at the beginning. We should not underestimate this. – Patricia Espinosa

To measure is to know

Now if you want to check whether countries are on track to meet their promises, you need to know their emissions, of course. And that is easier said than done. Countries currently report on the amounts of stuff they pump into our atmosphere using different standards and methods. We urgently need a unified system of assessing and reporting emissions. Next thing on the to-do list is a system to check if countries’ reports are trustworthy and a correct account of its emissions. We don’t like students who fake their homework task, isn’t it? The truth is that several, mainly developing, countries simply don’t have experienced people for this type of work. Finding experts to do the job is yet another challenge.

Money, money, money

Besides the 1.5-degrees target, the Paris Agreement also holds the engagement of developed countries to support developing countries in their struggle to mitigate climate change and to adapt to the impacts that it already incurs. By 2020, a yearly budget of 100 billion dollars should become available. But the burning question is of course who has to give how much. But also how it should be distributed again, and how it should be spent. Delicate problems that will create the necessary discussions and long nights in Marrakech.

Marrakech is our moment to take forward climate action at the international and national levels as a central pillar of the successful realization of the Sustainable Development Goals. This is our opportunity to take the next steps towards an inclusive, sustainable path for every man, woman and child. – Patricia Spinosa

The stakes are high

It will be difficult to say in two weeks if this summit in Marrakech was a success or not, since this time there is not a stringent deadline to be reached or missed. Yet, it is more important than ever to get things moving and speed up action as much as possible. Let us not forget the results of the recent study by Oil Change International which I discussed in an earlier blog post. Basically, to honour the Paris Agreement pledges we cannot explore for more fossil fuels resources. We simply have to leave it in the ground, since burning existing reserves already has the potential to warm us up by more than 2 degrees. And that’s what we want to avoid by all means. Climate change is happening right now, and the longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to cope with it.

You can follow the most important sessions via the UNFCCC livestream: Livestream