Nations agree on Paris Agreement rulebook, fail on climate ambition

Three years and three days after the Paris Agreement was adopted, the 197 signatory countries gathered in Katowice, Poland, agreed Saturday (15 December) on a rulebook for its implementation but failed to raise their ambition to keep global warming "well below 2°C".

The rulebook aims to provide some homogeneity at the global level, assuming that all countries contribute to the fight against global warming. Photo: IRENA (Flickr)

The rulebook aims to provide some homogeneity at the global level, assuming that all countries contribute to the fight against global warming. Photo: IRENA (Flickr)

After the final plenary session was postponed six times, delegations finally agreed Saturday evening on the rulebook – the set of rules that makes the Paris Agreement operative – putting an end to thirteen days of tense negotiation at the 24th conference of the parties (COP24) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

If countries could agree on common binding rules to enhance transparency, they postponed the carbon market section of the rulebook – article 6 – until 2019 and chose to “recognise”, instead of “welcoming”, the 1.5°C report by the Intergovernmental on Climate Change (IPCC), which was supposed to form the backbone of the climate negotiations.

They also reiterated what the Paris Agreement already stated, namely that governments will update their climate plans by 2020 and agreed to use instead the UN Sustainable Development summit to be held in September 2019 as an opportunity to raise their ambition.

Alongside the negotiations, Chile was designated on Friday (14 December) as the host for COP25, with Costa Rica organising the pre-COP.

“We have achieved that, for the first time, not only half the world, but the whole world can be scrutinised when it comes to climate action,” German environment minister Svenja Schulze said in a statement.

French minister Francois de Rugy and his state secretary Brune Poirson did not attend the final days of the negotiations, commonly seen as pivotal in the diplomatic and political process of climate negotiations.

Bringing homogeneity

“Negotiations are not about strategy, they are about tactics, it is a game of give and take,” a negotiator said under condition of anonymity. Indeed, the last two weeks saw confrontations, warnings, unexpected coalition and last-minute drama.

“It could have been more ambitious, but the main point is, the Paris Agreement can now operate, the system is working, and this is an achievement,” the source added. 

The difficulty laid in the structure of the Paris Agreement itself: the primary innovative feature of the treaty is its reliance on nationally determined contributions – or NDCs – that individual countries generate through their own domestic processes.

But these NDCs are largely heterogeneous. Each country uses its own action plan to reduce emission, according to its own geographical, economical and social specificities.

The rulebook aims to provide some homogeneity at the global level, assuming that all countries contribute to the fight against global warming.

Aiming to bring transparency and trust between parties, the rulebook says countries shall communicate their NDCs every five years, as of 2020, and report on their greenhouse gas emissions. Governments shall also publish a transparency report every two years.

If the framework does not make a distinction between developing and developed countries, it nonetheless provides the most vulnerable economies with a so-called “flexibility” margin in the implementation of the different reporting tools.

The rulebook also establishes the Global Stocktake (GST) mechanism, which is to take place every five years, as of 2023. This will allow countries to compare and assess on the progress made in a move meant to establish a cycle of positive actions whereby countries set and deliver increasing ambition.

Progress on climate finance

David Levaï, in charge of international climate governance at French think tank IDDRI, said “substantial progresses on climate finance” was made at COP24, with a number of developed countries pledging additional fundings for the Green Climate Fund, the adaptation fund and the fund dedicated to the least developed countries.

He also pointed at the positive signals developed countries sent regarding their annual pledge to contribute $100 billion per year as of 2020 to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, a persistent sticking point in global climate talks ever since the COP15 conference in Copenhagen in 2009.

As for the inevitable loss and damage of climate change (article 8 of the Paris Agreement), a crucial agenda item for developing countries, it is no longer a footnote in the final text, meaning it now has a proper position in the documented released Saturday.

“This has contributed to build trust among countries. However, these are the first steps in the right direction, and developed countries will have to engage more in order for developing to accelerate their transition to a low carbon, resilient economy,” Levaï added.   

Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary, UNFCCC, under whom the Paris Agreement was adopted: "No one is entirely happy with this rulebook, but it is an important step. The foundations of the rules are still the Paris Agreement, which remains as strong as ever. Next year is critical.

"The 2019 UN Sustainable Goal summit offers all governments the opportunity to report on progress towards new, enhanced targets by 2020. A Latin American COP hosted by Chile in partnership with Costa Rica will also bring new energy and new urgency to these talks. Two clean energy leaders on the frontline of climate change.  We look forward to their leadership.”

Claire Stam, EurActiv.com

This article first appeared on EurActiv.com, an edie content partner


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cop24 | ipcc | low carbon | The Paris Agreement

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