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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

What Marrakesh achieved

The proclamation on climate change has just about managed to make sure that the pre-2020 commitments made by the developed world remain on the discussion table.

Written by R. R. Rashmi |
Updated: November 24, 2016 12:01:35 am

A fortnight ago, when the delegates to the Marrakesh climate change conference were sitting down to discuss the scope and design elements of the rules for implementing the Paris agreement, news of developments across the Atlantic came in. Although too early to be taken seriously, it was difficult not to notice the gathering clouds on the post-Paris actions. They could have easily dampened the celebratory mood arising from the early ratification of the Paris agreement. However, it must be said to the credit of the governments and non-government players that they stayed the course in Marrakesh. The spirit of Paris was re-affirmed through the Marrakesh Proclamation on Climate and Sustainable Development. The proclamation is, in this sense, a small but determined step after Paris.

This small step was, however, taken after some struggle. There are still four years to go before the Paris agreement kicks in. But the pact is increasingly being seen as a licence to extinguish the pre-2020 commitments. The proclamation’s title reflects this tension. While the concern for climate is immediate, sustainable development is the context for differentiated and climate-just actions in the long term.

While it is easy to hang all the concerns on the peg of future developments in the US, it is useful to recall that there are commitments and pledges made under the Cancun agreements (2010) that are yet to be realised. Doha amendments to the Kyoto Protocol, although older than Paris agreement by three years, are yet to be ratified. The targets of Kyoto Protocol parties are not only low (the European Union’s 20 per cent from the 1990 level against the 40 per cent recommended by the IPCC) in the context of global ambition and historical responsibility, but they also depend on the reduction of emissions in the “land, land use change and forestry sectors” — such reductions are cheap and do not last long. (Interestingly, a school of thought makes similar arguments against the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris agreement because their total impact is not large enough). The US may not be a party to the Kyoto Protocol, but is party to the Cancun Agreements that were reached as early as 2010. The Cancun pledges are, in fact, the precursor of the NDCs under the Paris agreement. All developed countries that are signatories to Cancun had pledged to raise as much as $100 billion every year by 2020 to support climate change actions but, as of now, the Green Climate Fund, the officially constituted international body for climate has received less than $3 billion. Instead, the solutions recommended now emphasise the flow of private investments, to be attracted with fiscal and non-fiscal incentives, and use of risk mitigation financial instruments.

The catch is that the developing country governments are expected to bear the cost of incentives.

It seems improbable that the Paris agreement could be constructed despite such odds. The secret perhaps lies in the fact that the pivot of the Paris agreement is not the global ambition to stablise climate — as it appears to be — but “transparency of actions”, which is a tool for mutual/collective verification and review of actions from a competitive perspective. This has already been achieved and is likely to remain the focus of rule-making under the Paris agreement. Hence, the major threat to the Paris agreement may come not from the intractability of domestic environmental policies in major economies of the West, but from their unwillingness to address pre-2020 actions. The willingness to fulfill the pre-2020 commitments fully and effectively was the central assurance exchanged by all countries when the Durban platform for post-2020 arrangements was set up. The Marrakesh conclusions, hopefully, keep this assurance alive on the table.

The Moroccan presidency had a modest ambition in delivering the Marrakesh Conference of Parties (CoP) as an action-based meeting, and of safely launching the process of facilitative dialogue for 2018. In the past year, it had projected Marrakesh as a place where all players will re-commit or declare new actions. This was implicitly a call to all governments and non-government players to make contributions for climate stabilisation, in addition to those that had already been made by the governments under the Paris agreement. Notably, the Paris agreement has, for the first time, recognised that the basket of international actions could include actions taken by NGOs, civil society, sub-national or constituent units of states, business coalitions, and/or international bodies. In fact, two climate champions appointed at Paris had been working through the year to showcase such actions at Marrakesh. There were two significant developments just before Marrakesh that typified such additional actions that would be promoted outside the UNFCCC process. The Montreal Protocol amendments effected at Kigali (bringing HFCs into the regulatory regime of the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances) and the ICAO resolution on a market-based mechanism to regulate international civil aviation emissions, both agreed to in October this year, are cases in point. While these supplementary efforts may be welcome as long as they follow the agreed principles of cooperative actions for climate, they must not detract from the commitments made before or under the Paris Agreement.

The 2018 facilitative dialogue between parties and stakeholders was the other engaging issue at Marrakesh. This dialogue is often regarded as an euphemism for exploring the ways and possibility of updating and increasing the NDCs. Very often, one hears complaints about the inadequacy of the commitments, particularly of the mitigation variety, made under the Paris agreement. IPCC has already been requested to come up with a special report on the global climate scenarios for achieving a 1.5 degree climate stabilisation goal. This is designed to put additional pressure on countries and persuade them to take more ambitious and early actions for stabilisation of climate in view of the projected gravity of situation. There are many who genuinely believe that all should contribute to this exercise, little realising that the ambition expressed for a post-2020 period is rooted in how finance and technology is delivered now. Dialogue will be meaningful only if it is able to advance the two key concerns that have remained unaddressed so far: How shall the countries having the largest potential of reducing emissions get the necessary finance, and how will the needs of the countries, most vulnerable to adverse impacts of climate change, be met.

It was crucial for the parties gathered at Marrakesh to demonstrate that their commitment to the Paris agreement is real and there is no slippage. It is in no one’s interest to retract from the Paris agreement. While all international agreements work on the principle of cooperation and reciprocity, the Paris agreement needs special attention. For the first time, the private sector and businesses have started genuinely believing in climate change actions as a strategy for their future growth. These actions will be sustained not merely because of global expectations but imperatives of sustainable development. All assurances under the Cancun pledges need to be redeemed well in time. The Marrakesh Proclamation serves the purpose of underlining this assurance, if not redeeming it.

The writer is special secretary in the government of India. Views are personal.

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