Q&A: Key decisions needed at COP22

The rapid entry into force of the Paris Agreement raises a challenge for climate negotiators at COP22 in Marrakech, Morroco. Senior climate researcher Subhi Barakat talks to IIED about what is happening at the COP and what decisions need to be made.

Climate negotiators are currently meeting in Marrakech, Morroco, to discuss the next steps in global efforts to address climate change, following on from the Paris Agreement, reached in Paris last year.

IIED senior researcher Subhi BarakatThe rapid entry into force of that agreement – just days before the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) opened on 7 November – is a positive step, given the urgency of the need for action. But it also poses a challenge, as much of the work needed to create the rules for the functioning of the Paris Agreement has not yet been done. 

Subhi Barakat, a senior researcher in IIED's Climate Change research group, explains:

What is COP22?

SB: The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the governing body for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international legal agreement on climate change. It is made up of all the parties to the convention (countries/regional bodies that have ratified the convention). It meets annually to take decisions on the implementation of the convention and COP22 is the 22nd session, taking place in Marrakech. 

Different bodies meet under the UNFCCC regime and when most people refer to the COP, they are talking about the entire climate change conference, including all the different processes taking place under the UNFCCC convention itself, its Kyoto Protocol, and now, the Paris Agreement.

So COP22 is generally used to refer to the Marrakech climate change conference. The 'Becoming a UNFCCC delegate: what you need to know' handbook contains a lot of useful information.

Who is involved?

SB: Government delegations, intergovernmental bodies, international bodies, civil society and members of the press can all take part in the COP provided they have been accredited by the UNFCCC Secretariat. However, some sessions are only open to party delegates. 

How many bodies will meet in Marrakech?

SB: A total of six bodies are meeting in Marrakech, including for the first time, the signatories to the Paris Agreement, who meet under the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement, or CMA.

There will also be: the 22nd session of the COP; the 12th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP); and sessions of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), and the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA). Each body has its own agenda, although there is a lot of crossover.

What is the Paris Agreement?

SB: The Paris Agreement is an international multilateral environmental treaty, adopted in Paris in December 2015. Although the Paris Agreement is inherently linked to the convention and is part of the UNFCCC regime, it is a treaty in its own right.

The Paris Agreement is intended to create a universal, flexible and dynamic system that will tackle climate change into the next century.

The Paris Agreement is intended to create a universal, flexible and dynamic system that will tackle climate change into the next century.

What is the status of the Paris Agreement?

SB: The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016, less than a year after it was adopted. As of 7 November 2016 (the first day of COP22), 100 of 197 parties to the convention had ratified the agreement. Many others are in the process of ratifying.

Will the Paris Agreement be implemented now?

SB: It was initially expected that the Paris Agreement would be implemented from 2020 and this was the predominant expectation even as it was being adopted. Now that it is in force, it can, techically speaking, be implemented. But many of the structures and rules needed to implement the agreement are still being designed or elaborated.

It is difficult to implement the agreement until those rules are developed. Developing this so-called Paris Agreement "rulebook" is the focus of much the work of the bodies meeting in Marrakesh. 

Which countries can participate in the proceedings of the CMA in Marrakech?

SB: Only parties to the Paris Agreement can take part in decision-making under the CMA. Non-parties can still participate as observers and attend plenary meetings.

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa opens COP22 (Photo: Takver, Creative Commons, via Flickr)

Countries become "parties" to the Paris Agreement 30 days after ratifying. So, to participate in the opening of CMA1, a country needed to have ratified the Paris Agreement by 16 October 2016. Countries that ratified by the 19 October can participate as a party in the concluding session scheduled for 18 November.

What is the status of the submission of intended nationally determined contributions? 

SB: As of the 7 November 2016, 162 Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) had been submitted to the UNFCCC, representing 190 parties out of 197 parties to the convention. These are the intended commitments that parties were invited to submit in the lead up to the Paris climate conference last year and give the range of actions each party intends to take to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change over the next five to 10 years.

Each party that ratifies the Paris Agreement has to replace their INDC with an official Nationally Determined Contribution.

So what needs to happen at COP22?

SB: The Paris Agreement has been adopted and brought into force, but work needs to be done to put flesh onto its basic structure. In Marrakech, parties now need to move beyond the conceptual stage and develop rules to operationalise the agreement.

The Paris Agreement has been adopted and brought into force, but work needs to be done to put flesh onto its basic structure.

This means linking key structures of the agreement so they work together. Parties will need to decide how to organise and prioritise the work on developing these procedures, modalities and guidelines. 

Why is the rapid entry into force a challenge?

SB: This is a great achievement, but much of the preparation for this session of the governing body of the Paris Agreement (the CMA) has not been completed. Parties need to decide how to organise the ongoing work. Many parties also think that the CMA should be suspended to allow some of this important work to be done. One of the main questions is to decide how long to suspend it for.

What other issues are on the table?

SB: The Warsaw International Mechanism on loss and damage (WIM) is under review and a new five-year workplan needs to be developed. Progress on the review of the WIM has been slow, so parties will need to ensure this does not delay adoption of the new workplan.

Developing countries are calling for the adoption of an indicative five-year work plan in Marrakech so they can begin to elaborate the work programme over the next year.

A two-year work programme for enhancing the participation of women and gender responsive climate actions is coming to an end and a decision on what follows must be made. One option is to develop an action plan to advance this work, monitor progress and ensure adequate resources are devoted to this important issue.

A number of key decisions on adaptation are being considered in Marrakech, including on the 3rd review of the Adaptation Fund (a fund established under the Kyoto Protocol regime and an important source of funding for developing countries).

Parties will also look to formally allow the Adaptation Fund to participate in the Paris Agreement regime by having it "serve" the agreement. Parties have already decided that many other funds and institutions under the UNFCCC will serve the Paris Agreement.

A two-year work programme for enhancing the participation of women and gender responsive climate actions is coming to an end and a decision on what follows must be made

The Paris Committee on Capacity Building was established last year in Paris. Parties will try to finalise the terms of reference for the committee and possibly even elect its members by the end of COP22.  

A decision is also expected to begin a process for identifying the information that parties will need to report to increase transparency of financial support provided under the Paris Agreement.

Parties might also take a decision that encourages parties to ratify the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, which establishes a second commitment period for emission reductions that runs until 2020. 

How are these decisions made?

Hierarchy of UNFCCC meetings, as detailed in the 'Becoming a UNFCCC delegate: what you need to know' handbook (Image: IIED) SB: During the two weeks of meetings, bodies under the COP (or CMP or CMA) engage in discussions based on their respective agendas with a view to recommending decision for consideration by the COP (or CMP or CMA). At the end of the session, the COP, CMP and CMA adopt any decisions by consensus.

Are meeting agendas available?

SB: The provisional agenda of the CMA and the adopted agendas of the other bodies are available on the UNFCCC website.

Subhi Barakat (subhi.barakat@iied.org) is a senior researcher in IIED's Climate Change research group. He is an expert in public international law and international human rights, and international environmental law on climate change.