Paris Climate Agreement Enters into Force, But is it the Beginning of the End?

Just days before the 22nd edition of the Conference of the Parties (COP22) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) opened in Marrakesh, Morocco, the latest legal effort to combat climate change entered into force. The Paris Agreement that was adopted by States last year in the French capital now has more than 110 State Parties who account for well over half the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. This was reason to celebrate.

At least that is what it looked like as Morocco, for the second time, hosted a COP in Marrakesh, with all the color and chaos of a Moroccan festival. And like most Moroccan festivals running over time into it closing Friday night on 18 November, as negotiators from developed and developing countries clashed over how to move forward with the Paris Agreement.

The The 2016 global Climate Summit held in Marrakesh, Morocco—formally known as the 22nd edition of the Conference of the Parties (COP22) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)—was dubbed the ‘COP of Action’ by its hosts. It was the latest effort to combat climate change and came right on the heels of the entry into force of the Paris Agreement that now has more than 110 State Parties, accounting for well over half the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. But in the two weeks in Morocco little seemed to have change with the Paris Agreement and even the hosts seemed exasperated with the ‘business as usual’ attitude.

The euphoria that France had created by shoveling the Paris Agreement through a political maze—although largely behind closed doors and after depriving the Agreement of any teeth—had fostered a celebratory mood. Indeed, from a superficial vantage point the COP22 had all the color—and chaos—of the celebrated Moroccan festivals. The vast tents, colorful exhibits, the best of Moroccan art, and even laser light shows to entertain the almost five thousand guests who made the trek to the Maghreb. Even negotiators seemed up beat as they arrived in Marrakesh at the start of November for preparatory meetings.

Nevertheless, the setting of the arid desert climate North African desert was a daily reminder of the adverse effects of climate change that are already daily being felt by Africans, often with painful and sometimes deadly results for Africans. The WHO announced duringAnd dark clouds seemed to move over COP22 after Americans went to the conference thatpolls on 8 November and elected climate skeptic, Mr. Donald Trump, as the 45th President of the United States, with his promise to cancel any climate agreement. Apparently numbed by these circumstances, or merely ignoring them, the negotiators seemed hardly moved to passion.

Even the ecological events around them seemed to dent their stoic resolve. For example, the approximately five thousand delegates at COP22—significantly fewer than at COP21 in Paris—were told by the World Health Organization how at least 250,000 people are dying each year due to climate change. On Africa Day, 16 November, African ministers repeatedly reminded their audiences on Africa Day at COP22, Wednesday, 16 November, that most of those that most of these people are Africans.

Even before COP 22 got underway, scientists from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and it National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had reported that 2015 was the warmest year on record since they started recording temperatures. In And as to complement this pessimistic message, in the second week of COP22, the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization confirmed that 2016 is on-track to be even hotter. And

In addition, just days before COP22 opened, the United Nations Environmental Programme in(UNEP) released its Emission Gap 2016 report. UNEP declared in a press release on 3 November that at the current rate “2030 emissions will be 12 to 14 gigatonnes above levels needed to limit global warming to 2ᵒC,” a level which itself only gives us a 66% chance of avoid catastrophe.

These scenarios of gloom were not new. Before the ink was dry on the Paris Agreement last December, Dr. James Hansen of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, called the Agreement “just worthless words” and a “fraud.” He then penned an academic article with more than a dozen colleagues that lamented the lack of adequate climate action. The paper challenges the adequateness of what was agreed in Paris. Published in March 2016 in the respected Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, its title declares that “[i]ce melt, sea level rise and superstorms: evidence from paleoclimate data, climate modeling, and modern observations [indicate] that 2C global warming [agreed in Paris] is highly dangerous.”

Even scientists, led by former chairperson of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Mr. Robert Watson, who are generally happy with the Paris Agreement, expressed the belief that the main aspiration in the Paris Agreement—to keep global warming below the 1.5C threshold—“has almost certainly already been missed,” according to Chris Mooney writing for the Washington Post on 29 September of this year. Many States are already suffering the inhumane consequences of climate change and even keeping global warming from increasing less than 1.5C degrees won’t protect them.

In other words, according to the best available science COP22 had to be the ‘Action COP’ because Paris had not been. In fact, the Paris Agreement merely contains reporting requirements that make it one of the weakest environmental treaties on the books. Despite not requiring adequate action, the Agreement, however, does little to prevent States from taking adequate action if they have the will to do so. COP21 President French Minister of Environment Ms Ségolène Royal and the Moroccan COP22 host and President Mr. Sallah Eddine Mezouar honed in on this opportunity.

To inspire action, the past and present Presidents created two High Level Champions, Morocco’s Minister Delegate to the Minister of Energy, Mines, Water and Environment, Ms Hakima El Haité, and France’s Ambassador for climate change negotiations and the special representative for COP21, Ms Laurence Tubiana. They were to follow-up the Lima–Paris Action Agenda by soliciting commitments of States and non-State actors to take climate action. At the end of the two weeks in Marrakesh the two Champions announced a series of concrete actions that had been pledged. At the end of COP22 as both Champions stepped down from their posts, they announced the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action, aimed at ensuring climate efforts are “more coherent, more continuous, and stronger,” according to Tubiana. However, behind the encouraging words only a smattering of actual climate actions were announced by either State or non-State actors.

The actual negotiations seemed to follow this form. Despite the call to action, negotiators understood that the Paris Agreement does not even come into effect until 2020. With this in mind developing country negotiators lamented the lack of attention to the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol that had been adopted four years ago, but which had still not entered into force due to a lack of ratifications. The Doha Amendment was intended to provide the action needed between 2015 and 2020. Without this action the aspirations of the Paris Agreement might be meaningless. Nevertheless, little attention was given to enhancing climate action prior to 2020. The negotiators instead focused their attention on hammering our procedures—referred to as modalities or guidelines—of the processes that were created by the Paris Agreement.

Most substantive agenda items progressed only very incrementally or not at all. Usually informal notes were produced or decisions taken to merely keep discussion the items on the several agendas related to the proliferating number of bodies that are being created in the global climate regime. For example, long-term finance was dealt with by merely noting the odd methodology that the European Union Roadmap had tendered whereby export credit and loans that provide profits to the investor and usually incur significant costs for the beneficiaries were considered climate finance. Adaptation was merely included in further discussion on Nationally Determined Contributions—States duty to report what they will do to address climate change, although without any binding mechanism to ensure that what States report is adequate.

The most notable advances came in two areas that were not the focus of most onlookers, but which had gartered significant attention from Observers, mainly civil society organizations and special groups.

First, COP22 adopted a decision on Gender and climate change in which it agreed to hold annual in-session workshops and to mandate the Subsidiary Body for Implementation to develop a three-year gender action plan. Both activities, however, depend on States coming up with an extra 300,000, or so, Euros annually, according to the UNFCCC Secretariat.

Second, a platform was created for local communities and indigenous peoples, co-chaired by the chair of the COP’s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice, Belize’s Mr. Carlos Fuller, and an indigenous person to be named. The UNFCCC structure have not included a formal process for incorporating indigenous peoples’ views to date. This is the case even though it is frequently said that indigenous peoples are the least responsible for climate change, the most adversely effected by it, and the peoples who have best demonstrated sustainable ways of living that can best combat the adverse effects of climate change. The adoption of the proposal by Bolivia and Ecuador, which was also supported by the European Union, was welcomed by indigenous peoples’ representatives to stayed at COP22 into the early hours of the extended closing on Saturday morning to hear the final decision adopted.

In stark contrast to this decision enhancing indigenous peoples’ rights, the Moroccan government continue its abuses of the human rights of the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara. The Sahrawi have been denied the right to self-determination by Morocco’s occupation and de facto annexation of their territory despite an Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice decision dating back to the 1970’s that calls for the right to off the indigenous peoples to decide their own destiny by a referendum.

Ironically, the 48 countries that are among the least responsible for climate change, but most affected by it, coming to gather in the Climate Vulnerable Forum, made one of the most significant pledges committing to shift to 100% renewables 2050. This ambition seemed to inspire some of the countries who have pumped the most greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over the past two hundred years to make similar pledges.

Several developed countries pledged just over the 80 million USD goal that had been set for the Adaptation Fund replenishment. It was also decided, after much debate, that Adaptation Fund would be part of the Paris Agreement structures. In addition, France, Australia, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Japan, and Canada launched a project called the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems or CREWS. In launching the latter project the seven developed States expressed the intention to mobilize 100 million by 2020. In both cases the pledges did not result in money being but on the table at COP22.

For the most part, developed countries remained recalcitrant in fighting to protect the benefits they have acquired by the disproportionate use of the planet’s atmosphere. Pledges made years ago were not met by actual money on the table, but rather by creative accounting and by new pledges.

At the end of two weeks much had still not been agreed. This was not surprising as since 2009 COPs ordinary run overtime. In fact, no COP in recent years has ended on time or without a bang at the end. This was again the case in Marrakesh when the Moroccan President of COP 22 introduced a decision to take the work of the Paris Agreement forward that was biased toward mitigation.

During the two weeks developing countries had been arguing that the way forward under the Paris Agreement had to be balanced in considering mitigation and adaptation equally. Nevertheless, apparently fatigued as the hour was approaching midnight, neither the G77 nor the African countries spoke up when the COP22 President introduced his proposal for a decision on the way forward. Instead it was left to Bolivia to be the moral compass of climate change decision making. Larger and more powerful States seemed more interested in getting home rather than moving work under the Paris Agreement forward in a serious manner. Bolivia’s heroic might have been ignored as they have been in the past, except that this time India came to its aide. This forced further consultations.

After several hours when a decision was finally taken to merely keep discussing the matter, the COP22 President apparently exasperated, lamented that this agreement had not have been reached earlier, then apologized that he could not stay until the end of the COP22, and abruptly headed to the airport.

If COP22 had its tense moments, it also had its lighter moments.

Even American journalists smiled when the Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Mr. Liu Zhenman, who pointed out that China did not create global warming, as US President-elect Mr. Donald Trump had claimed. In fact, Liu Zhenman, pointed out that it was two Republican US Presidents that who had wanted to start talking about the global climate talks back in the 1980s. (US Presidents Mr. Ronald Reagan and the elder Bush, Mr. George H.W. Bush).

And at a BRICS press conference, China’s Special Representative for Climate Change Zhenhua Xie drew chuckles when he responded to a journalist’s question about whether the European Union (EU) should fill the financing gap if the US pulls out of the climate regime, saying, “ïf you say it is the EU, then I agree with you.”

Both moments of amusement where taken, at least in part, at the expense of the United States, perhaps fitting for a government that seems destined to become the jester for the tragedy of climate change that the President-elected refuses to admit exists.

Curtis FJ Doebbler is a visiting professor of international law at the University of Makeni, Webster University (Geneva) and the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations. He is attending the climate talks in Paris on behalf of International-Lawyers.Org, an UN ECOSOC accredited NGO.