Why We’re Experiencing The Calm Before The Climate Action Storm

Diplomats including the French foreign and climate ministers and the UNFCCC executive secretary at  a tree planting event in Bonn last month. Photo: UNFCCC
Diplomats including the French foreign and climate ministers and the UNFCCC executive secretary at a tree planting event in Bonn last month. Photo: UNFCCC

Following all the glitz and glamour of the 2015 climate summit and the signing of the Paris Agreement in New York, it may seem a little quiet on the climate action front.

In preparation of the UN summit in Marrakesh – scheduled for November – diplomats met for negotiations in Bonn from 16 to 26 May. But compared to Paris last December, events like these are so calm you would hardly believe they are about the same thing.

There’s a storm of positive action brewing however.

If we don’t implement the Paris Agreement in the right way, the world will experience a catastrophic 4 degree Celsius rise in average temperatures. Even with the intended national plans announced by countries in 2015, we are still looking at a 2.8 scenario – well above the 2 and 1.5 degree targets in the agreement.

This is exactly what the world’s climate diplomats have been looking at since December: how do we actually implement the Paris Agreement, and get it right?

National Action Plans

Most countries have not yet figured out how to pay for their national action plans (known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs)  which are often also not detailed enough to determine whether they will actually be effective.

This is exactly where negotiations like the ones in Bonn last month come in. These meetings work through some very relevant issues that will soon start having an effect on national plans. To deal with climate change, global coordination is paramount.

Areas of coordination include topics such as monitoring and verification of the amount of carbon that is being emitted in individual countries. This is important because we can only estimate whether we are on target, if we can properly compare national situations.

The role of technological innovation in implementing the agreement is also crucial. UN coordinated programmes like the Technology Needs Assessment (TNA) and National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA) are instrumental to making sure new innovation are available to all countries, whether rich or poor and developed or still developing.

But how exactly these programmes will function is not yet clear, even though they will have to be part of the national action plans – the Paris Agreement’s most important building blocks.


One of the items up for discussion, for example, is whether countries must follow a common template or can structure the plans and their implementation structure to emerge from their national traditions of governance. With almost 200 countries taking part, there is a lot of diversity in terms of approach.

Creating effective national action plans and turning them into effective investment plans takes more than simply dropping the I (of “intended”) from INDC plans as per the Paris Agreement.

National commitments to specific actions are the legally binding bits of the agreement. So it is crucial that countries come up with realistic and impactful plans that enable them to hit the ground running.

Creating a Rulebook

Businesses and governments need a level playing field around the world, so the Paris Agreement can’t be implemented without rules.

Following the deal in Paris, an ad-hoc working group was set up to work on the details of its implementation. The group met for the first time in Bonn, and is run by Saudi Arabian climate diplomat Sarah Baashan and Jo Tyndal, New Zealand’s former climate change ambassador.

Baashan and Tyndal lead the work of the group, and coordinate with the other bodies of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to prepare a Paris Agreement rulebook.

Keeping Politicians Engaged

At the same time, two newly appointed high-level “Climate Champions” – Morocco’s environment minister Hakima El Haite and French diplomat Laurence Tubiana – are making sure that governments around the world don’t forget about the Paris Agreement.

These political roles – ‘Les chevaliers de Paris’ as they jokingly call themselves in Bonn – will be around for decades to come, just like the climate change agreement itself.

The climate champions roles will be taken on by members of the current and the incoming presidency of the Conference of the Parties (COP) that collaborate on climate change. The champions will work in teams to ensure the continued engagement of governments around the world.

In Bonn, El Haite also proved to be an innovation champion, calling on delegates to bring technologies and ‘not just speeches’ to the Marrakesh summit later this year.

Maintaining The UN’s Focus

Without coordinated action in the decades ahead, our efforts to tackle climate change will not be successful. The UN will play a critical role in that respect.

Mexico’s Patricia Espinosa made her first appearance as the next UNFCCC executive secretary in Bonn. Her appointment is significant because she is a former government minister. With Espinosa at the helm, the UN’s climate change office may take on an even more prominent role in global diplomacy.

Climate change is high on the overall UN agenda, it is one of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the word’s environment and climate change ministers.

The UN Secretary General has also appointed several special envoys, including Mary Robinson and Macharia Kamau on El Niño and Climate, Michael Bloomberg on Cities and Climate Change and Rachel Kyte as his Special Representative for Sustainable Energy for All.

COP22 in Marrakesh

Right now, it’s all about setting up the infrastructure for global coordination, continued engagement and cementing the Paris Agreement firmly into place. November’s COP22 summit in Marrakesh will be a major milestone towards achieving this.

All this may not be as glamorous as Paris, but it’s at least as important.

Whether I talk to start-ups or corporations in the climate innovation community, they all want to see a clear and stable framework for implementing the Paris Agreement. Why? So they can focus on taking the zero carbon market by storm, and have a positive impact on climate change and our economy.

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