Marrakech: Will the international community recommit to inclusive participation?

By: Happy Khambule

It’s that time again for the annual climate change conference, better known as the COP. This time around COP is earlier than usual and to be frank, this is in keeping with recent developments of urgency and action. This COP will be an African COP, being held in Marrakech, Morocco.

As you read this, the world is preparing for a historic and unexpected instance. The Paris Agreement was adopted in December 2015, the agreement was then opened for signature on 22 April 2016, and following unprecedented accelerated ratification by 81 countries, it will enter into force on 04 November 2016.  As an international community, we approach an important crossroad at this COP – critical issues still need to be resolved for the global community to successfully implement the historic package agreed at COP21 in Paris last year.

A successful COP21 was critical – this was where a post-2020 international climate agreement was to be finalised, agreed and adopted by the Parties of the UNFCCC; it was to be the turning point in international multilateral negotiations.  The significance of the success of COP21 could not have been understated. And COP21 did not fail; it laid foundations for global collective action and delivered an implementation tool under the convention like no other.

But in order for a globally binding agreement to be reached, a few things were left to the wind, several of which were mandated to COP22 to resolve. It is with this in mind that the focus has shifted to what is called a capacity building COP in Marrakech, or if you prefer, an implementation COP.

Of great importance is the need for decisions regarding the work programme mandated to the Ad hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA).  The Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA) must be convened at the first meeting of the parties after the agreement enters into force, and in theory APA would close once CMA opens.  Parties initially expected that the agreement would enter into force closer to 2020, if not in 2020, but due to the unparalleled political will demonstrated, the agreement will enter into force within a year of its adoption. This means that the groundwork for implementation of the Paris Agreement needs to happen now,  and it requires thoughtful deliberation to be able to realise successful implementation in 2020.

It cannot be forgotten that pre-2020 ambition has to be addressed, and in fact the eventual success of the Paris Agreement hinges on this. COP22 should be the place where some level of finality is reached on the steps for resolving pre-2020 ambition.

With respect to post-2020 implementation, governments need time to negotiate and agree on, amongst other things, procedures and modalities for articles in the agreement such as climate finance flows for pre-2020 and post-2020, provision of guidance on harmonisation and submission of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC/NDCs), and the process to which adaptation efforts will be recognised. Secondly, clarity on how the global stocktake will work and what it will consider is key to generating the necessary ambition and communicating areas of disquiet in achieving the objectives and purpose of the agreement.

Beyond this, ambiguity remains over how the transparency framework will operate in light of increasing developing country party concerns that there is a plethora of administrative obligations born from the convention and agreement. As such any further obligations of an administrative kind, if not synchronised, will act as barriers to achieving agreed aims and NDCs.

Fourth, what are the rules and procedures that will govern the compliance mechanism? At what point will the said mechanism be triggered and what steps or considerations will be employed in determining the means of facilitating compliance?

Lastly, it is imperative to have clarity on the financial support that developing nations will receive in order to accomplish their mitigation and adaptation contributions, as well as lucidity on the information that is used to track climate finance required in order to determine mobilised and provided support.

Marrakech presents an opportunity for South Africa to reiterate its intention to ratify the Paris Agreement. South Africa has to remind the climate community that the agreement is part of the Durban legacy, and it will be a party to it. The caution that must be communicated is that, given the constitutional democracy that South Africa has, ratification requires a domestication process that is transparent and open to public participation. Domesticating a transformative agreement like the Paris Agreement requires due diligence and time.

The Paris Agreement offers each party to the UNFCCC an opportunity to signal the transition to a low carbon economy.  South Africa’s legislative process has to consider the impact of the agreement on domestic processes related to planning and infrastructure development. When South Africa made its last commitment to the international climate change community, there was a shift in domestic affairs.  For example the formulation of South Africa’s commitment, as stated in the COP15 pledge (Copenhagen), formed the basis of South Africa’s climate change policy. The policy underpins all development planning, with implications at many levels, from energy planning to spatial planning and economic competitiveness.

Thus it stand to reason that an agreement such as the Paris Agreement would necessitate that South Africa undergoes an evaluation of its domestic climate change governance with the view of enacting climate change specific legislation.

President Jacob Zuma reiterated the Copenhagen pledge at the 2014 Climate Summit in New York. In effect, he had communicated South Africa’s INDC under the Convention, but when the actual INDC was submitted, there were major differences from the Copenhagen pledge.

What is of particular importance is that the Copenhagen pledge was developed with targets that appear variable, and deviate from what was required based on the data presented by scientific communities. However, the subsequent INDC was more closely aligned with requirements of equity and science.  It increased South Africa’s overall ambition and also included much needed contributions on adaptation.

South Africa’s contribution to the global effort on climate change is no longer based solely on greenhouse gas emission reductions, but also has a component of actions required to build climate resilience as well as adaptive capacity. This is different from the approach that led to South Africa’s pre-COP21 policies.

COP22 is a second chance to make more inclusive and informed decisions, providing a platform for countries to engage around the rules that govern the Paris Agreement under the Convention.

It is also a second chance for the international community to abide by the principles of inclusive participation. One way of making sure of this is for the international community to recognise the purpose and significance of domestication, and that there is a need to accommodate parties that are still going through the domestication process. This would be achieved by convening and then immediately suspending the CMA until a future date, so as to provide the APA the necessary time to complete its mandate.

This is it. COP22 can continue the momentum of a truly new paradigm or it could result in the reoccurrence of the same old bottlenecks. Without tangible outcomes towards inclusive climate change action, post-2020 implementation will be riddled by the same flaws and inconsistences that permeated previous climate change instruments.