Ben Abraham: What next?

As inside jokes from COP21 begin to grow old and climate change negotiation enthusiasts return to normal sleep cycles the inevitable question of "what next?" has begun to take centre stage. The answer, of course, depends on what you're interested in. Here are a few things to watch out for in 2016 across the three broad areas of the intergovernmental process, climate action, and the civil society movement.

1. The intergovernmental process

A big milestone to be reached for governments in 2016 is the entry into force of the Paris Agreement. The long nights spent in Paris will be for naught if the agreement does not come into force. This requires that 55 parties to the UNFCCC covering at least 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions formally agree to be bound by the agreement. With an official signing event at UN headquarters on April 22, the time has come to see whether countries are ready to pay more than just lip service to a global climate agreement. The timetable for reviewing national contributions set out in the agreement is already considered by many to be starting too late; any additional delays caused by failures to ratify could jeopardize what progress the agreement did make.

The resumption of negotiations will also be worth keeping an eye on. The next major rounds are scheduled for May in Bonn and COP22 will be held in November in Marrakesh. With thorny issues such as loss and damage still to be fleshed out it remains to be seen whether the goodwill fostered in Paris will be carried forward. It is also unclear whether having signed an agreement at COP21 will be source of momentum or take the wind out of negotiators' sails.

2. Climate action

One of the distinctive features of COP21 was the general sentiment that, while the intergovernmental negotiations will still important, they were no longer the be-all and end-all. A groundswell of climate action is already occurring around the world, and many observers even saw COP21 as a chance for governments to play catch-up with what is already taking place around them.

Deriving from and building upon this sentiment at COP21 was the Lima-Paris Action Agenda (LPAA). While it received some criticism for its vague criteria for inclusion and the participation of fossil fuel companies in some initiatives, the fact that it was a central pillar of the COP signaled a major break from more strictly intergovernmental focus of the past. An independent report of the LPAA by Galvanizing the Groundswell of Climate Action found “significant transformative potential, wide geographic participation, and robust capacity to deliver, as well as specific areas for further development and strengthening”. The report, however, only evaluated against criteria set by the French Presidency, and did not consider issues such as the human rights implications of initiatives or the ethics of participation by certain actors.

Key question of 2016 is how the momentum built by the LPAA can be institutionalized into a broader action agenda that addresses the concerns expressed at COP21. Laurence Tubiana has recently been appointed as a "high-level champions" for doing just this. Her term will last until COP22 when the Moroccan Presidency will appoint a replacement until COP23. The action agenda will feature prominently on the climate agenda throughout 2016, most notably at the Secretary General's Summit in Washington D.C. in May.

3. Civil society movement

Despite terrorist attacks in Paris just a couple of weeks prior, COP21 saw the largest ever mobilization of the global climate movement. The demonstrations in Paris were the culmination of years of slow build up after the near collapse of the movement in 2009 post-Copenhagen. 2016, however, will be a crucial litmus test as to the durability of what has been built. Undoubtedly there will be some drop-off in attention and momentum following COP21, but it is vital that civil society manages to keep climate on agenda both internationally and domestically. Doing so will also require the creation of a new narrative for the post-Paris era. The need for a global agreement provided an effective rallying point in the years preceding COP21, but what will be the clarion call moving forward and where will it come from? With the stakes remaining high in 2016 despite the lack of furor compared to last year, crafting and popularizing a new narrative for the climate movement will be a key challenge for the months ahead.


All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and do not reflect those of the Institute

Posted on March 17, 2016 and filed under UN Climate Talks 2015.