Compared to the several breakthrough developments around climate change in the last one year, including the landmark Paris Agreement, outcomes of the Marrakesh climate conference that ended earlier this month seem underwhelming. There was no hobnobbing of political leaders of major powers, and no big decisions to generate global excitement.
And yet, the outcomes from Marrakesh quicken the momentum to build a new global climate change architecture. Marrakesh did not have any major issue to resolve — its main agenda was to begin work on framing the rules and procedures that would guide the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Considering the Paris Agreement had entered into force much sooner than expected — in less than a year of being finalised — not much discussion on the rulebook had taken place prior to the conference. As such, nobody expected that the rules would be finalised in Marrakesh itself.
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Negotiators began work on the rulebook in Marrakesh, and gave themselves up to 2018 to finish, thereby all but ensuring that the provisions of the Paris Agreement would start getting implemented soon afterward — again, much earlier than anticipated.
Besides the negotiations on the procedural details of the rulebook, several important partnerships were stitched up on the sidelines of the conference. These partnerships, like the India-led International Solar Alliance, are essentially outside of the UN process under which Paris was negotiated, but represent the growing desire on the part of countries and non-government agencies such as businesses and city administrations to do their bit in the fight against climate change.
Some of these partnerships could prove to be the gamechangers needed to keep global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times.
International Solar Alliance
ISA, an initiative launched by India in Paris, seeks to bring together all countries in the sun-rich tropics to boost the global demand of solar energy deployment, and ensure standardisation in the use of equipment and processes. It also aims to promote research and development in solar technologies, all of which are likely to bring down costs of both technology and finance, and lead to further increases in deployment.
India went to Marrakesh with a draft Framework Agreement on International Solar Alliance, which 26 countries signed. The Agreement will take the shape of an international treaty once 15 countries that have signed up, ratify it. About 120 countries lie, either fully or in part, between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, and are potential members of the treaty. Some 80 countries had supported the declaration of the alliance last year.
Adaptation of African Agriculture (AAA)
The entire continent contributes just about 4% to global greenhouse gases, but is likely to be one of the worst affected by climate change. African countries are heavily dependent on rain-fed agriculture, and the cycle of droughts and floods induced by climate change could devastate economies and lead to further poverty and hunger.
The triple-A initiative seeks to climate-proof agriculture in Africa by promoting sustainable soil management, better water management, and risk mitigation strategies. 27 African countries are already on the platform. International agencies like the Food and Agriculture Organisation are supporting the alliance, which will also act as a platform for seeking and channeling financial flows meant for climate change adaptation purposes.
This too was announced in Paris, the brainchild of the US. It aims to promote research and development in clean energy technologies. In Marrakesh, Finland and the Netherlands formally joined the mission, taking the number of countries on the platform to 23. These countries together have pledged an investment of $ 30 billion over the next 5 years in clean energy research. There will be greater research collaborations between these countries, which together account for almost 80% of all investments into clean energy research.
The mission has identified 7 innovation challenges, including smart grids, carbon capture and sequestration, building of storage cells for solar energy, clean energy materials and sustainable biofuels.
Climate Vulnerable Forum
This is a group of countries that are most vulnerable to climate impacts. It has been in existence since 2009, when 11 countries voiced their common concerns. It has operated mostly on the sidelines. But in Marrakesh, the number of countries on the platform reached 48, and the group got a lot of attention.
Member countries stressed that the target should be to keep global temperature rise to within 1.5 (not 2) degrees Celsius from pre-industrial times. They vowed to update their climate action plans before 2020 to bring in greater ambition, and prepare a long-term low-carbon development strategy for 2050 with a 1.5-degree target in mind. They also said they would strive to reach 100% renewable energy production between 2030 and 2050.
2050 Pathway Platform
This is an effort to get countries, cities and businesses to accept long-term targets for climate action. Countries have submitted 5-year or 10-year action plans as part of their commitments under the Paris deal. Fixing long-term targets, for say 2050, forecloses the possibility of countries doing too little in the beginning and then failing to scale up their ambition to required levels in later years.
At least 20 countries, 17 states, 15 cities and 196 businesses joined the platform in Marrakesh. Each promised to come up with climate objectives for 2050 and strive to work towards achieving those targets. The US, Germany, Canada and Mexico unveiled decarbonisation plans for 2050. The US said it would cut emissions by 80% of 2005 levels by 2050; Germany said it would reduce emissions by up to 95% on 1990 levels.