Five Crucial Things to Watch for at the Marrakech Climate Summit

The Paris Agreement to stave off disastrous climate change takes effect Friday. Now comes the hard part: making it work.
A Moroccan worker drives a scooter at the site of the international climate conference in Marrakech. (Photo: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)
Nov 3, 2016· 4 MIN READ
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

Hundreds of international negotiators will convene in Marrakech, Morocco, next week to kick off a two-week marathon of meetings on how nations will implement the Paris Agreement, which goes into force on Nov. 4, to avert catastrophic climate change.

They will be hammering out the details of the landmark climate treaty achieved last year in Paris, which set several important goals for global climate action.

In Paris, the world agreed to keep the average global temperature increase to “well below” 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial norms and as close as possible to 2.7 degrees (1.5 degrees Celsius). To get there, 192 nations—rich and poor, developed and developing (and somewhere on the continuum in between)—agreed to restrict heat-trapping carbon pollution over the next several decades to “net zero,” keeping emissions at or below the capacity of ecosystems such as forests and oceans to absorb them and technological advances to store them.

Given that the average global temperature has risen by around 1.8 degrees F, many observers felt the Paris Agreement was more than a little late in coming. But to the surprise and delight of the agreement’s supporters, a surge of national ratifications in the past 10 months means that the agreement goes into effect just ahead of the Nov. 7 start of the Marrakech meeting.

It’s a remarkably speedy adoption for a complex international treaty, said economist Rachel Cleetus, the climate policy manager with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “There’s a general sense that we are in a geopolitical moment where working in cooperation is the way we can solve problems,” she said.

That’s a good thing because the meeting will be all about getting down to “the hard work: How do you get it done? How do you implement it?” Cleetus said. “At Paris we set very ambitious goals. Now we need to dig in and deliver on them.”

Here are five key questions that will be in play during the summit, which ends Nov. 18.

1. What role will the United States play in global cooperation on climate change after 2016?

Donald Trump has called climate change a Chinese hoax and vowed to exit the Paris Agreement if he’s elected, while Hillary Clinton strongly supports the pact. So participants in Marrakech will be keeping an anxious eye on the U.S. presidential election during the first week of the summit. Will the world’s second-largest carbon polluter, and historically the single greatest emitter, retain its Obama-era role as a climate action leader or return to its Bush-era obstructionism on the international climate stage?

“On the question of the election, obviously there is a great deal of interest, not just domestically but internationally, on what the outcome will be,” John Morton, the climate and energy adviser on the president’s National Security Council, told reporters on Thursday. Morton downplayed the potential impact of a Trump victory on international climate action, suggesting that the momentum generated at and since the Paris talks will continue with or without American leadership. “What we have seen in recent months and years is a recognized inevitability of the transition to a low-carbon economy,” he said. “We will see countries continuing to move forward at a fast clip, irrespective of what happens next Tuesday. I think the question may be what role and how fast the U.S. moves.”

2. How will nations monitor one another’s progress toward cutting carbon emissions?

As part of the Paris Agreement, nations agreed to create and share formal goals for greenhouse gas cuts and to figure out how to hold one another accountable.

At Marrakech, negotiators will begin sorting out how emissions will be measured, reported, and verified. Will poorer nations, which need economic development to reduce high rates of poverty, be held to the same standards as wealthier industrializing and industrialized nations, which are the bigger emitters? Will they get financial and technical assistance from richer countries to help with reporting?

3. How and when will nations get more ambitious about cutting carbon emissions?

The current national commitments for cutting carbon emissions would not hold warming down to 3.6 degrees, never mind staying close to 1.8 degrees. So negotiators will be discussing how to get countries to increase their domestic targets and whether the clock for reviewing those commitments every five years will start in 2018 or later.

Some nations are also expected to begin sketching out details about projected greenhouse gas emissions in 2050, although that’s not mandated under the Paris Agreement. “We’re expecting to hear from the U.S. on long-term low-carbon emissions strategy,” said Cleetus. “If it’s an ambitious and comprehensive plan, it’s a good platform for thinking about where we need to go in the next administration and over the long term.”

4. Will richer nations make good on promised funding for poorer nations to deal with climate change?

At 2007’s Copenhagen talks, industrialized nations vowed that by 2020, they would supply $100 billion a year in financial support to help poorer countries reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. That funding is on track to hit around $90 billion by 2020.

The monies are targeted to assisting developing nations, which have the least responsibility for climate change and the lowest capacity for coping with intensified storms and flooding, heat waves, changing agricultural conditions, and other effects of rising global temperatures. They are also intended to help underwrite development of renewable energy projects and economic development.

At Marrakech, developing nations will be looking for firm signs that the funding will flow, along with more detail on how those funds will be gathered and distributed, how their use will be monitored, and how the results of funded projects will be evaluated and reported.

5. What have cities, businesses, and other non-national government entities done to fight climate change, and how much more will they promise to accomplish?

Unlike its predecessor treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement recognizes that cities, businesses, and other entities can also take action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, conserve and restore forests, and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

This is important because the world is so far behind where it needs to be to avert extreme warming. An October report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate estimated that “$90 trillion of infrastructure investment is required globally over the next 15 years” to keep average global temperature rise at or below 3.6 degrees. “All actors—governments, international organizations, non-government organizations, sub-national actors including cities, and the private sector—need to play their part to ensure this low greenhouse gas emission and climate resilient shift,” the report stated.

Expect to see a wealth of studies and reports released during the Marrakech summit that evaluate how well companies, cities, cross-border alliances, and other efforts outside national governments have done on hitting their climate-related commitments and where they can intensify their efforts.