Climate Change | Other Publication

There Is No Climate “Off-Season”

Mark Conway | December 2019

Some on the inside called this year’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) an “off-season” COP. But, with the need to peak emissions in 2020 and begin a dramatic drop in emissions starting in 2021, there is arguably no moment in international climate policy that can be called “off-season.”

That disconnect between the urgent action needed to keep global warming at safe levels and the incrementalism of negotiation tracks in the UN was underscored in Madrid as people took to the streets or occupied plenary space to demand climate action. Much of the lack of ambition is indicative of a few of the major emitters taking up obstructionist roles, and what was moved forward came behind leadership from the most climate-vulnerable nations and those least responsible for emissions.

Even with some flagging ambition, a few key areas where the Stanley Center is working with partners hold potential for action in 2020:

Parties recognized and requested the continuation of work under the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action. The Marrakech Partnership is the official mechanism for non-Party stakeholders like cities, businesses, states and regions to engage with the UN Climate system. Though this item may have flown under the radar in Madrid, the enthusiasm and support shown by parties to renew the Marrakech Partnership’s mandate past 2020 is promising. Subnational actors bring arguably the most ambition to the international climate space, where they can set the bar and pressure national governments to go further. They will also be key to implementing climate action, a lift that relies overwhelmingly on local actors. One group key to advocating for the continuation of Global Climate Action has been Galvanizing the Groundswell of Global Climate Actions, or GGCA. Their work developing options papers and policy briefs on this topic ahead of COP25, and laying the groundwork for these conversations throughout 2019 will be key to continue in 2020, as there is too much to deliver at COP26 for us to wait until next November to develop deliverables.

Alliances for Climate Action (ACA)* continue to demonstrate how non-Party stakeholders deliver the climate action needed to limit global warming to 1.5C. Launched just over one year ago, the ACAs are global networks of domestic, multi-sector coalitions committed to supporting the delivery and enhancement of their countries’ climate goals. Now numbering six alliances in the US, Japan, Mexico, Argentina, South Africa, and Vietnam, the ACAs showed up in force at COP25 to bolster confidence amidst diminishing national government ambition.

The Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA) continues to grow. Climate action is needed across the board, but coal-fired power generation is a potent source of emissions that must be tackled immediately. A sector with clear pathways forward in renewable energy, a set of countries is leading the way in the PPCA to demonstrate how achievable this goal is and to give guidance to members on making their own energy transition. Greece, along with five non-Party stakeholders joined the alliance in December, bringing total membership to 97 members. Led in part by the UK, leveraging this alliance’s diplomatic heft is an opportunity that must be grabbed hold of heading into the UK’s Presidency at COP26 in Glasgow.

There is no time for rest on climate action. In 2020, the Paris Agreement calls for enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and the clock starts on a decade where emissions must be cut in half. But that work begins now, not next November in Glasgow, as the lift is far too big.

Wherever we may have made progress on climate ambition with national governments, non-Party action will be key. The work of the Alliances for Climate Action and Galvanizing the Groundswell of Climate Actions must be set to deliver. Looking back on the COP we just left behind, the lack of agreement on items like market mechanisms may not be ideal, but we can also take solace in the fact that it probably isn’t the worst outcome, either. No deal is better than locking in ineffective rules and loopholes. We now know what we need to accomplish by the end of 2020 and can dig in, building on where there were bright spots in Madrid.

COP25 is over, but there is no climate “off-season.”


*Alliances for Climate Action is organized by founding global partners C40 Cities, CDP, Climate Action Network, the Climate Group, Avina Foundation, We Mean Business, and WWF.