Baby steps through Marrakech

COP22 has come and gone and despite a surprise US election result in its early days which reverberated throughout the temporary site in Marrakech that was built for the meeting, progress was made in starting to turn the Paris Agreement into an operational treaty. This was of course helped by the early entry into force of the Agreement on November 4th. That event also meant that COP22 became the first meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement, or CMA.1.

The COP had a clear division into two parts. The first seven working days were spent agreeing on the steps to take to reach a conclusion on the many different aspects of the Paris Agreement that require further detail, rules, modalities and procedures. This effectively sets the work plan for the discussions over the next two years to COP24 which will see two important aspects of the Agreement come into play;

  1. The IPCC will present its findings on a 1.5°C goal in accordance with paragraph 21 of the accompanying decision text.
  2. As per paragraph 20 of the decision text, a facilitative dialogue among the Parties will take place to take stock of the collective efforts in relation to progress towards the long-term goal.

Of particular interest to me was the discussion on Article 6 of the Agreement, which contains the potential foundation elements for a globally traded carbon market. There were also a number of side events and background discussions held over the first few days to help observers, primarily from the private sector, input their thinking into that process. The Parties agreed a process to share further views over the coming months, including a new round of more focused submissions and a round-table discussion at the inter-sessional meeting in Bonn next May. But the Article 6 discussions that were held and which observers were permitted to attend seemed to be held in the abstract, without significant reference to carbon market development and the wider adoption of carbon pricing policies at national level. For many of the Parties carbon pricing remains contentious, leaving others to walk on egg-shells as the Article is discussed.

The remainder of the COP involved the arrival of various Ministers and Heads of State, in what was called by one delegate more of a celebration of the Paris Agreement than adoption of measures to implement it. CMA.1 opened, but instead of closing as would normally happen at the end of a COP, it was suspended. The Paris Agreement requires some thirty work items to be concluded at the first meeting (CMA.1) following entry into force, but the unexpected early entry into force has made such a task impossible. Hence the suspension. This won’t go down as a memorable COP in terms of real progress, but it has effectively served to launch the process to operationalise the Paris Agreement.

Any COP, and this was no exception, is host to numerous side events, side conferences and functions to allow all the attendees to share views. At the Paris COP last year, carbon pricing was a particularly high profile subject, led by the World Bank and various other institutions. The Paris COP served as the launch platform for the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition (CPLC). While carbon pricing was discussed on the sides of this COP and the World Bank CPLC event was standing room only, low carbon technology was the more pervasive theme.

A Low Emissions Solutions Conference was held within the COP itself, with an interesting speech by Jeff Sachs of Columbia University as part of the opening. Professor Sachs made the bold statement that no more internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles would be sold after 2030; this assertion was based on the pace of change he sees in the electric vehicle (EV) market.  He asked the audience to hold him to his statement. I looked at a highly accelerated EV transition in a post earlier this year and even in such an extreme calculation it wasn’t until 2030 that the crossover between ICE and EV production occurred (i.e. 50/50 sales in 2030 rather than 100/0 as forecast by Sachs). This then led to a possible crossover in vehicle stock (i.e. more EV than ICE on the road) around 2040. The EV will require a range of new supply chains to be developed, such as for the specialty metals used in battery formulation (e.g. Nickel, Cobalt). Production on such a scale could require global production of some metals doubling in a short space of time.

The Moroccans did a splendid job hosting the event and should certainly be congratulated. Transport around Marrakech was excellent, to the extent that a free Uber service was available for COP participants. Next year the process reconvenes in Bonn, but with Fiji holding the COP Presidency.