It is nice to be reminded that, sometimes, things can happen
more quickly than anticipated. The 'best estimate' for the
crossing of the threshold for the entry into force of the Paris
Agreement was the end of 2016. Instead, the threshold of 55% of
Parties accounting for at least 55% of total global emissions was
reached on 5th October. The Paris Agreement will therefore
officially enter into force on 4th November 2016, just three days
before the start of the 22nd Conference of the Parties to the
UNFCCC (COP22) in Marrakech.
The earlier-than-expected entry into force of the Paris
Agreement is an encouraging sign that the momentum accumulated
during the fourteen December days of COP21 has not dissipated.
High-level commitment to the Agreement, at least in much of the
world, remains strong, and this is without doubt a cause for
celebration. Without wishing to dampen the party, however, lest we
overlook the scale of the challenge ahead. Just as the signing of
the Paris Agreement was but an important first step, entry into
force is the second major advance on a very long and challenging
road to limiting the worst of the damage that climate change
threatens to cause.
One of those challenges became apparent to me yesterday as I
drafted a piece of legal advice for one of the bodies under the
UNFCCC. COP22 will see simultaneous meetings of a multitude of
different decision-making bodies, of which the following are the
1. The COP – the organising and decision-making body of
the Convention itself, consisting of representatives of all Parties
to the Convention (197 countries);
2. The CMP – the organising and decision-making body of
the Kyoto Protocol, consisting of representatives of all Parties to
the Protocol (192 countries);
3. The CMA – the organising and decision-making body of
the Paris Agreement, which will meet for the first time in
Marrakech, comprised of representatives of all Parties to the
Agreement (currently 81 countries);
4. The Ad hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA) –
tasked with devising all sorts of modalities to make the Agreement
functional and fit for purpose in practice, for adoption by the
In addition, there are two "implementing" bodies which
will also meet in Marrakech – the Subsidiary Body on
Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and
Technical Advice (SBSTA). And the list does not end there.
It would be unfair to categorise the UNFCCC as a bloated talking
shop; yet the scale and urgency of the climate change problem means
that rapid action is required. As poignantly stated in italics in
the UNFCCC's press release about the Paris Agreement's
entry into force:
"The fact that somewhere around one degree of this [1.5
degree temperature] rise has already happened and global greenhouse
gas emissions have not yet peaked underlines the urgency of
implementing the Paris Agreement in full."
Urgent implementation is, however, something that the current
institutional arrangements are ill-equipped to deliver. The Advice
I was drafting yesterday concerned two bodies set up under the
UNFCCC that now have an overlapping role. The question was I was
asked to advise upon was whether these two bodies could seek to
collaborate formally so as to improve the delivery of their dual
purpose without obtaining formal approval from the UNFCCC
decision-making body that created it. As much as there would be
much to be gained by streamlining the delivery of these bodies'
overlapping functions, the answer, unfortunately, was 'no'
due to the wording in the legal texts that created them. Rather,
such a decision could only be taken by the UNFCCC decision-making
body. Given that all the main UNFCCC decision-making bodies meet
only once a year, the opportunities for obtaining such approval are
very limited. The urgency of meeting either the 1.5 or the 2 degree
temperature goals cannot wait for politicians to get together at an
annual meeting to take what should be a no-brainer of a decision.
The UNFCCC regime urgently needs some institutional simplification
in order to increase the speed with which decisions can be taken
and actions implemented. Whether this even makes it onto the very
crowded agenda at COP22 in Marrakech looks doubtful.
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