Nearly 200 countries will convene in Marrakech, Morocco, on Monday to advance progress made on the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The agreement will enter into force on Friday, signalling a true global effort to tackle the climate challenge.
The 22nd Conference of the Parties meeting (COP22) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change represents a crucial opportunity for member countries to demonstrate their commitments on climate change.
From November 7-18, COP22 must develop rules and processes for implementing the agreement to clarify and define operational elements for key issues covered in it. This is crucial to ensure that the global temperature rise is limited to well below 2°C, the minimum that climate scientists believe is required to prevent serious climate-related consequences.
By the end of October, 86 countries, including China, India and the United States, had ratified the agreement. Together, these countries represent 61% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
When a country ratifies the agreement, it commits itself to the decisive actions and policies outlined in its own national climate strategy. This nationally determined contribution (NDC) lays the foundation for actions and investment pathways towards clean energy, green infrastructure and climate resilience.
Countries that have joined are legally bound by the agreement. Its provisions include the requirement for all countries to report their climate actions transparently, collectively take stock of progress (starting in 2018) and enhance their climate actions every five years, while also scaling up finance for it.
Countries that have ratified the agreement become part of its governing body, called the CMA, with authority over all procedural and operational matters.
The first meeting of this body (CMA1) will be held in conjunction with COP22, marking the start of decision-making on how to implement the agreement and adopt its rules.
CMA1 must ensure that the parties have adequate time to embed their NDCs in national legislation and policy, especially many developing countries that have complicated internal processes for ratification, such as South Africa, Nigeria, Angola and Sudan. One option is to extend CMA1 beyond the meeting in Marrakech, and to set a clear deadline to conclude it.
The likely points of contention at COP22 include how exactly national commitments will be monitored and verified, and the global requirements for reporting on climate action.
Clarity is also needed on the plan to raise $100-billion in climate finance for developing countries by 2020. Current pledges from developed countries are insufficient. Questions also remain about the future of the Adaptation Fund, set to end in 2020.
Last year South Africa submitted its national plan, which included an emissions reduction target of between 398 and 614 tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent over the period 2025–2030, largely conditional on significant amounts of external assistance. South Africa is yet to ratify the agreement.
Despite praise for South Africa’s renewable energy independent power producer programme, questions remain over how South Africa will achieve its climate targets given its continued reliance on coal.
Marrakech presents an opportunity for South Africa to reiterate its intention to ratify the agreement and do its part to curb climate change. But the domestic approval of the agreement still requires a process to ensure public participation and transparency, and a demonstrated commitment to poverty alleviation and green growth.
Even though South Africa has a responsibility to act, based on its historical emissions, it is currently experiencing low economic growth and budgetary restraints. South Africans are also awaiting the treasury’s decision on the draft carbon tax Bill.
Despite the momentum built up over the Paris Agreement, international efforts must be coupled with continued progress by countries at home to deliver on their national climate plans.
The Moroccan COP president, Salaheddine Mezouar, must accommodate parties that are genuinely committed to the process but are still awaiting the necessary domestic approval.
There is much work still ahead to turn the transformational promise of the agreement into reality.
Romy Chevallier and Elizabeth Aardenburg are senior researcher and visiting research assistant respectively at the South African Institute of International Affairs.