Will COP 25 clarify if it accepts illegal projects?

With the operationalization of the Paris Agreement as key-point on the agenda of COP25, will the UN Climate Change Conference finally clarify whether States can help combat climate change by violating the Geneva Convention and the UN Charter?

28 November 2019

The UN Climate Change Conference COP 25 kicks off in Madrid, Spain on Monday 2 December 2019, with a view to take the next crucial steps in the UN climate change process. Following agreement on the implementation of the Paris Climate Change Agreement at the COP 24 in Poland last year, a key goal is to complete several issues with regard to the full operationalization of the agreement.

Will the international community finally clarify that in their national contributions to combat climate change, a UN member state can only report on projects carried out domestically? Or will the international community allow a UN member state to also report on activities undertaken outside of its national borders - in territories outside of its jurisdiction, without the consent of the people who live there?

Like other parties to the Paris Agreement, Morocco has set Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), as per article 4 of the Agreement. However, in the NDCs that Morocco has submitted to the NDC registry, available at the UNFCCC website, it includes projects in the parts of Western Sahara that it holds under military occupation. 

No State in the world, or the United Nations, recognize Morocco’s self-proclaimed sovereignty over Western Sahara. Rather the opposite: Western Sahara is considered a Non-Self-Governing Territory without an administering power appointed by the UN, and the right of the Saharawi people – the indigenous people of Western Sahara – is internationally recognized.

Yet the UNFCCC has recorded Morocco’s climate change reporting on projects in occupied Western Sahara without question.

In October 2017, Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) wrote to the UNFCCC, explaining that Morocco’s “Nationally Determined Contribution under the UNFCCC” listed the “National Wind Plan for 2020” and the “National Solar Plan for 2020” as respectively number one and two of the unconditional actions Morocco intended to undertake to reach the NDCs. A substantial part of both cited “National Plans” are being carried out well outside of Morocco’s internationally recognized borders, and inside Western Sahara. WSRW asked the UNFCCC whether that was considered acceptable practice. 

In August 2018, the UNFCCC responded that “the secretariat does not have a mandate to review or assess content of NDCs submitted by Parties”. Yet on the UNFCCC’s website (or download here), the express purpose of the secretariat is described as “reviewing climate change information reported by Parties”.

"There are two dilemmas with UNFCCC's lack of will to review the geographical location of projects submitted by state parties. First, by allowing extraterritorial projects as being domestic, the UN risks giving political legitimacy to acts of aggression in violation of the UN Charter. Which occupation power will be the next to get UN recognition for its extraterritorial projects on occupied land?", Western Sahara Resource Watch coordinator Sara Eyckmans questions.

"Secondly, it jeopardises the credibility of the national reports. Will a European polluter be able to report on investments in forests in South America? A line must be drawn somewhere. A state should only be allowed to report on projects on its own territory", Eyckmans told. 

WSRW had asked UNFCCC to clarify three questions on the matter. Given that these questions remain unanswered, WSRW raises them again in view of the COP 25.

1. Does the UNFCCC accept that actions to reach NDCs can be carried out extra-territorially? 
2. Does the UNFCCC accept that actions to reach NDCs can be carried out in a territory regarded by the UN as a Non-Self-Governing Territory – a territory to complete the process of decolonization – that does not have an administering power appointed to it?
3. Does the UNFCCC accept that actions to reach NDCs that would be implemented outside of a country’s national territory, may lack the explicit consent of the sovereign people in the target-territory?

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