First meeting of Paris Agreement signatories ends in controversy

At Marrakech, the Parties to the Paris Agreement held their first meeting to determine the actions to be taken to implement the agreement. Unfortunately, while some significant decisions were taken, differences over some issues could not be resolved and will have to be taken up at the 2017 climate conference in Bonn.

Meena Raman

THE closing plenary of the first session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA 1) adopted a decision on matters related to the implementation of the Paris Agreement (PA) in a rather unprecedented manner that generated confusion over the future work of the body.

The decision, which was adopted just past midnight in the early morning of 19 November, a day later than the scheduled closure of the meeting in Marrakech, was mired in controversy on the process going forward as regards items under the PA that were not assigned in Paris in 2015 to any of the subsidiary or constituted bodies for further work (referred to as the 'homeless items').

(The PA was adopted by the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was held in Paris in 2015.)

The controversy had already been brewing during the first week of the Marrakech talks (that started on 7 November), when these 'homeless items' were the subject of intense debate in informal consultations under the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA). The 'homeless items' include the following matters:

 common time frames for nationally determined contributions (NDCs) for consideration at CMA 1;

modalities for the recognition of adaptation efforts of developing-country Parties, for consideration and adoption at CMA 1;

process for setting a new collective quantified goal on finance; and

 modalities for biennially communicating information relating to the projected levels of public finance by developed countries.

Parties were divided since the very beginning on how to handle these items, with Brazil wanting items such as the common time frames for NDCs and education, training and public awareness to be forwarded to the subsidiary bodies of the Convention on the grounds that these matters were mandated to be dealt with by CMA 1, while other countries in the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) group wanted all the 'homeless items' to be dealt with comprehensively as a package.

(Common time frames for NDCs relate to the length of the period of a contribution, as currently, Parties have communicated either a 5- or 10-year time frame that expires in 2025 or 2030 from 2020. Brazil has been pushing for a common time frame for all Parties.)

As there was no agreement on the issue, the APA Co-chairs Sarah Baashan (Saudi Arabia) and Jo Tyndall (New Zealand) emphasised that the APA should only identify and bring these possible additional matters to the attention of the Convention's Conference of the Parties (COP) for its consideration and any further action, without prejudice to any action to be taken by the COP.

Consequently, when the APA concluded its work on 14 November, the Moroccan COP presidency continued with informal consultations on the decision to be adopted by the CMA as well as the COP on matters related to the PA, including the 'homeless items'.

Again, no agreement was possible given the divergences between Parties. The decision proposed by the presidency, which was circulated to the CMA plenary for consideration and adoption, was to have the APA continue its consideration of the issues in 2017.

However, when the Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar, who was also the CMA 1 President, convened the meeting on late 18 November evening, he singled out two of the 'homeless items' for the consideration of Parties:  common time frames for NDCs, and guidance on education, training and public awareness.

Bolivia asked the CMA President for clarification about the proposal he was making, given that it was 'something very new' (and not contained in the draft decision proposed by the President for adoption by the Parties).

To this, Mezouar responded that after considering this matter, Parties could move forward on the adoption of the proposed decision. 

Bolivia then asked the CMA President to invite Parties to first consider the draft decision proposed and circulated to Parties before reviewing the items he raised. 

The President then invited Parties to adopt the decision proposed, which was then approved by Parties with no objections.

(Paragraph 9 of the decision, which addresses the 'homeless items', requests the APA 'to continue its consideration of possible additional matters relating to the implementation of the PA and the convening of the first session of the CMA'.)

Following the adoption of the decision, the President then invited Parties to consider the issue of the common time frames for NDCs and that of education, training and public awareness, and proposed to send these items to the Convention's Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) for further work and to forward a decision to the CMA. 

Bolivia said that it could not support the proposal by the President as it meant that there would be follow-up on a specific issue (common time frames for NDCs) which appeared to be mitigation-centric (as the other 'homeless items' dealt mainly with finance-related matters, adaptation and response measures). It also said that there was a need for a comprehensive and holistic approach on all the 'homeless items' in a single package, and that just singling out a particular issue was 'breaking the delicate balance' as regards all the issues. Bolivia said it wanted to see a balanced approach on all the remaining issues and wanted this matter discussed at the next meeting of the APA.

Brazil did not agree with Bolivia and said that the two issues raised by the President were supposed to be dealt with by CMA 1 as mentioned in the PA. It asked Bolivia to reconsider its decision. (The PA does refer to the two issues for the consideration of the first CMA while all of the other issues except the item on adaptation efforts have no time frame specified from the decision in Paris.)

Seeking clarification, Bolivia said that Parties had already taken a decision on the matter and asked why, after they had done so, specific issues were being raised by Parties. It said this was setting a bad precedent. It added that the particular interest of Parties could be considered later (in 2017) in one single decision in a comprehensive manner. 

Costa Rica, the United States, Mali, the European Union, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Maldives supported Brazil and the proposal by the President.

India supported Bolivia, saying that a common understanding was needed, and called for a balanced and inclusive approach. It said paragraph 9 of the CMA decision (that had just been adopted) captured the views of all Parties and was accepted in the spirit of compromise. It said that it was best to stick to the decision without singling out any specific topic for further work.

At this juncture, the CMA President called for a short break for Parties to consult, which took longer than expected. When the President reconvened the meeting, he said that after consultations, there was no possibility to reach an agreement at this point, proposing that Parties move forward. 

Brazil continued to persist in its demand and asked Parties to consider forwarding the two issues to the SBI's next session.

On the sidelines, as the plenary meeting continued, countries from the BASIC group (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) were seen engaged in a huddle in intense talks.

South Africa then raised its flag and spoke on behalf of BASIC, saying that it wanted first to register its concern regarding the way the pre-2020 issues (climate actions in the pre-2020 time frame) were dealt with, as pre-2020 actions form a good basis for the implementation of the PA (climate actions in the post-2020 period). It added further that it was concerned that the pre-2020 matters had not received good attention, and went on to say that it could go along with the President's proposal (of forwarding the two issues for the consideration of the SBI). It stressed that it was the understanding of BASIC that at the next session, Parties would give equal attention to both pre-2020 and post-2020 issues.

The CMA 1 President then proposed to send the two items to the SBI for its consideration at its 47th session, and this was gavelled with the approval of Parties.

(Several Parties and observers alike were confused as to how the proposal by the President was going to be reflected when the decision that had been adopted reflected a different approach.)

The CMA meeting was then suspended to allow for the resumption of the 22nd session of the COP (COP 22) for the adoption of a decision related to 'preparations for the entry into force of the PA and the first session of the CMA'.

The COP President then invited Parties to consider and adopt the decision contained in FCCC/CP/2016/L.12, and this was accordingly adopted. 

Following the adoption of the decision, several Parties took the floor.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, speaking for the least developed countries (LDCs), said that its understanding was that when the CMA resumes in 2017 to review the progress of work, it could take decisions (and not just take stock of the progress of work, as understood by a large number of Parties).

China supported the statement by South Africa on behalf of BASIC, and emphasised that the pre-2020 enhanced actions did not attract sufficient attention and this needed to be addressed at the intersessional meeting in Bonn in May 2017. 

Bolivia, speaking for the LMDC, said that it was puzzled by the decisions adopted and that the Marrakech Action Proclamation for Our Climate and Sustainable Development did not find reflection in the decisions adopted. (See the article 'Marrakech proclamation affirms continuing fight against climate change and for sustainable development' in this issue.)

Bolivia said that developing countries took the lead in ratifying the PA and expected more action from the developed countries in the pre-2020 period to reflect the urgency needed for the post-2020 mandate.

It referred to section IV of the Paris decision in 1/CP.21 and the 2013 Warsaw COP decisions (under 1/CP.19, paragraphs 3 and 4 that relate to the implementation of commitments under the Bali Action Plan and the Kyoto Protocol) that it said 'defined precisely the actions sought by all Parties'. Bolivia further said that 'it was incumbent upon Parties in Marrakech to give momentum to our collective desire, to take these decisions forward and take them to their logical conclusion'.

Bolivia also stressed that the outcome of the 2016 facilitative dialogue on enhancing ambition and support (that was conducted in Marrakech) should be followed up and linked to the 2018 facilitative dialogue.

In relation to the decision regarding the ICAO, Venezuela expressed its reservations and said that the rules of the Convention needed to be respected, stressing that the ICAO needed to support developing countries in providing the means of implementation for undertaking actions.

India supported Venezuela in this regard and also expressed its reservation, stressing the need for coherence between the ICAO, the Convention and the PA.           

*Third World Resurgence No. 316, Dec 2016, pp 20-22