Between 7th -18th of November 2016, Marrakech plays host to the 22nd annual session of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), known as COP 22. COP 22 brings together leaders and state representatives of Parties to the Convention and Observer States to progress action on the ‘Paris Agreement’ and to further the coordination of concerted global action on climate change.
Party representatives will also take part in the 12th annual session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 12) and, with the Paris Agreement having come into force on 4 November 2016, the first meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA).
Despite efforts to tackle climate change to date, the predictions in latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warn that continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. The report states that the evidence of climatic change is unprecedented and unequivocal. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. COPs play an important role in continued strive for improved climate change action delivery on a world stage.
A brief history of UNFCCC and agreements to date
The First World Climate Conference was organized in Geneva in 1979 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in partnership with the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU). This marked the start of a coordinated global climate research program. The UNFCCC (the Convention) entered into force much later on 21 March 1994 as one of three Conventions adopted at the ‘Rio Earth Summit’ in 1992. The Convention formally acknowledged climate change as an issue, put the onus on developed countries to lead the way in addressing greenhouse gas emissions, set a goal of stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations ‘at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system’.
In 1997, COP 3 saw the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol which aimed for a reduction of at least 5% of greenhouse gas emissions between 2008 and 2012. The COP 18 session in Doha saw the first period of the Kyoto Protocol extended through an amendment which also committed Parties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 18% below 1999 levels. To date, there are 192 Parties (191 States and the European Union) to the Kyoto Protocol.
The ‘Paris Agreement’
The Paris Agreement made at COP 21 builds upon the underpinning Convention and brings all nations together with the common cause of undertaking ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects. The Agreement is considered historic in that it was unanimously adopted by all Parties and represents an ambitious new direction for global climate effort.
The Agreements aims are more ambitious than any previous commitments. They seek to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Through implementation of the Agreement, it is anticipated that global economies will be re-oriented towards low carbon models. The Agreement also requires all Parties to put forward their best efforts through nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and to report regularly on their emissions and implementation efforts.
On the 5th October 2016, the threshold for entry into force was achieved and the Paris Agreement came into force on the 4th November 2016. To date, 105 Parties of the 197 Parties to the Convention have ratified the agreement and the first meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA 1) will take place in Marrakech on Tuesday 15th November.
The UK Government is yet to ratify the Paris Agreement other than through its membership of the European Union. In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on the 20th September 2016, the Prime Minister Theresa May stated that the UK will ‘continue to play our part in the international effort against climate change … In a demonstration of our commitment to the agreement reached in Paris, the UK will start its domestic procedures to enable ratification of the Paris agreement and complete these before the end of the year’.
The Environment (Wales) Act 2016 introduced statutory climate change targets in Wales for the first time including a long-term goal to reduce emissions by at least 80% by 2050. This will require significant further action, as well as steps to mitigate climate change risks. In response to a question on whether the National Assembly should take steps towards formal ratification of the Paris Agreement in Plenary on 12th October 2016, the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths stated that she would be ‘representing Wales at the COP 22 and that it is ‘very important that we show that we’re very happy to play our full part’.
What’s happening at COP 22 and what are the conference aims?
COP 22 aims to build on the Paris Agreement by focusing on action items to deliver the Agreement’s priorities, especially in relation to essential elements such as adaptation, transparency, technology transfer and mitigation (see Summary of the Paris Agreement for further detail on essential elements).
The Global Climate Action programme of COP 22 will incorporate a series of thematic days designed to engage, mobilize and strengthen climate action between Party and non-Party stakeholders, culminating in a High-Level Event on Accelerating Climate Action on 17th November.
All Paris Agreement signatories will convene at CMA 1 with the task of strengthening the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change. Additionally, a Climate Summit for Local and Regional Leaders will be held on 14th of November which will include sessions on local and regional governments as champions of the successful implementation of the Paris Agreement and the wellbeing of local populations.
Article by Sean Evans National Assembly for Wales Research Service