Why the Marrakech climate talks matter

© Art Wolfe

Editor’s note: In Marrakech, Morocco, delegations of international leaders, organizations and advisers participating in COP22 — the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 22nd Conference of the Parties — are spending two weeks working out the “how” following three recent climate milestones: the Paris Agreement entered into force years ahead of schedule; a historic plan was agreed upon to offset emissions from international air travel; and a global deal was reached to limit the use of hydrofluorocarbons, a type of greenhouse gas.

Given the momentous outcomes of last year’s Paris climate talks, many are wondering what will be achieved in Marrakech. To understand its role, we sat down with Maggie Comstock, Conservation International’s (CI) director of climate policy.

Question: Given the Paris Agreement entering into force today and other recent climate action milestones, what’s at stake at the Marrakech climate talks?

Answer: The Paris Agreement was truly a historic moment, and it was remarkable how it garnered nearly global support. Now that we have established global targets for both mitigation — including limiting warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (striving for 1.5 degrees Celsius) — and adaptation — including increasing nature-based adaptation solutions — we need to discuss the details for how we’re going to accomplish these goals. Details include: establishing support systems and guidance to help countries implement their national commitments; developing a roadmap to increase financing; discussing the ways that countries can cooperate and help each other meet their emission reductions; and providing multiple forms of capacity-building to accelerate implementation.

That is precisely the goal for Marrakech and over the next couple of years, and it’s what needs to be worked out for the Paris Agreement to be implemented to its full potential. Taking into account other recent announcements — when you consider emissions not covered under the Paris Agreement, such as from the international aviation sector for example these are all critical components of the global community’s efforts to tackle climate change. It’s essential that this is happening now, because the effects of climate change are already visible in many places around the world.

Q: Can you explain briefly what the Paris Agreement going into force means, and how the agreement taking effect will impact the Marrakech climate talks?

A: When the world was working on the Paris Agreement at the climate talks last December, we thought we had a few years to figure out the details. In part, this is why we managed to agree on the high-level emissions goals. However, a lot still needs to be achieved before we can really implement the agreement. While it’s extremely positive that the Paris Agreement had enough signatories and ratifications to enter into force far earlier than anyone expected, it also means that we have less time than we anticipated to hammer out the details.

The Paris Agreement entering into force officially means that countries will need to begin implementing their national commitments and working toward their mitigation and adaptation targets. In Marrakech, there will likely be discussions over how to approach settling those details as well as timelines for when they will effectively have those done. Essentially, Marrakech is the opportunity for us to address a lot of the “how” questions.

Q: What specifically do you expect to come out of the Marrakech climate talks? Are there actions already happening?

A: We’re hoping to leave COP22 with a clearly defined process for addressing the implementation details of the agreement, particularly in light of the new accelerated timeline triggered by early entry into force. We also want to see that nature’s role in addressing climate change is well-reflected in these details. The Marrakech climate talks are the time for leaders to work together and countries to collaborate.

A key component of these climate talks, and something the Moroccan government is keen to highlight, are the actions and implementation that are already happening. For example, in line with CI’s institutional goals on climate change, we plan to highlight our work implementing sustainable landscape models, blue carbon activities and ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation, as well as essential partnerships with indigenous peoples and local communities. In part, the focus in Marrakech will be on how to scale up countries’ national action plans, and how to provide the support, financing, systems and pathways for collaboration and implementation to meet their goals.

Q: Last year in Paris, CI advised 20 countries on how to incorporate nature into their climate strategies. What will CI’s role at the Marrakech climate talks be?

A: Through our network of country programs, CI continues to advise and support countries in their work to achieve and exceed their commitments under the Paris Agreement — specifically on how they can incorporate the role of nature in related outcomes in Marrakech. Nature — or, more specifically, the land sector — has the potential to contribute 30 percent or more to the mitigation efforts we need to hit the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal.

At CI, we know we can’t hit global goals without protecting and investing in natural ecosystems. So CI’s role will be to work on how nature can be incorporated into the different elements of the discussions, including how nature can help each country deliver on its mitigation and adaptation goals; strategies to increase levels of climate finance overall and for nature-based solutions in particular; and the policy signals needed to drive greater levels of investment to REDD+ (short for “Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation”) or ecosystem-based adaptation, for example.

As countries determine how they’re going to reach, measure and surpass their goals, CI recognizes that this is an opportunity for natural capital accounting: Countries need to be able to measure their natural resources and the wealth that these ecosystems and their services deliver. It goes two ways — the natural capital accounting helps us to justify why investing in nature benefits climate action, and for those countries already investing in nature-based solutions, it helps us measure the impacts and could potentially help them report on their implementation in the future. For example, through the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa — an African-led initiative that values nature’s role in achieving sustainable development — participating countries can harness the potential of nature to achieve key mitigation and adaptation elements through implementation of natural capital accounting strategies.

Maggie Comstock is CI’s director of climate policy. Sophie Bertazzo is a staff writer for CI.

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Cover image: Icebergs in Iceland. Among other serious impacts, climate change is accelerating the melting of ice caps in polar regions, which is contributing to sea-level rise across the oceans. (© Art Wolfe/ www.artwolfe.com)

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