The clock is ticking down to COP24, the climate talks in Katowice, Poland this December that will be the most important moment in international climate change negotiations since the Paris Agreement was struck in 2015. Success in Poland will be three-fold: adopt the guidelines for how the global climate pact will be implemented; send clear signals that nations will strengthen their climate commitments by 2020; and maintain trust by delivering adequate finance to developing countries to address climate change. The summit will come on the heels of a major IPCC special report on the feasibility of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F), and the dire consequences if we do not.
To prepare for COP24, negotiators spent last week in Bangkok focused on the Paris Agreement's implementing guidelines. Negotiators arrived in Thailand with three key tasks:
- Understanding, clarifying and streamlining the options on the table;
- Translating the options into legal language; and
- Compiling a negotiating text that facilitates final discussions in Katowice.
Despite a week of intense work, negotiators made uneven progress across the various negotiation tracks, which was reflected in a 300-page document that captured the state of the negotiations.
Encouragingly, options became clearer on elements of the negotiations such as: the global stocktake; the mechanism to facilitate implementation and promote compliance; the transparency framework; the use and accounting of market mechanisms; the accounting modalities for reporting finance; identification of forward-looking finance information to be communicated by developed countries and other contributors; and how the Adaptation Fund can serve the Paris Agreement.
However, negotiations stalled elsewhere. For instance, the number of negotiating options tripled on common timeframes, which is the process for getting countries to submit their national climate plans, or NDCs, with the same target year and implementing period. More divergences appeared on politically sensitive issues such as:
- how to provide flexibility for reporting and accounting requirements to developing countries that need it in view of their capacities;
- how comprehensive in scope the reporting, review and global stocktake processes should be, especially whether they should include consideration not only of mitigation, adaptation and support, but also loss and damage, adverse impacts of mitigation actions, etc.;
- how to address equity in the operation of the global stocktake; and
- how to deal with the forward-looking finance information mentioned above and the process to set a collective finance goal for the period after 2025.
Two issues were particularly troubling. There was an impasse on the information countries share about the mitigation components of Parties' NDCs. Countries had diverging views on whether and how guidance should apply differently for developed and developing countries, and how to consider the broader aspects of NDCs beyond mitigation.
And on climate finance, negotiations reached stalemates on two issues: First, on what should happen to the information communicated by developed and other contributor countries on future climate finance. And second, on the establishment of a process to set the post-2025 collective finance goal, beyond the $100 billion a year developed countries have already agreed to mobilize by 2020.
Developed countries maintain that there is no mandate from the Paris Agreement to discuss these two finance-related areas, and that other areas of the Paris Agreement Work Program should be complete before conversations on these issues are considered. Developing countries were frustrated by the lack of developed countries' engagement on these finance issues and for having their proposals on the mitigation elements of NDCs blocked.
The spirit of solidarity that swept over the historic Paris summit clearly did not prevail in Bangkok, as negotiators fell back into a developed-versus-developing country dynamic that has often slowed progress in previous climate negotiations.
As Bangkok concluded, Parties made a leap of faith for a successful outcome at COP24 by giving chairs of the negotiating tracks a mandate to translate the 300-page document into balanced, legally written negotiating text, as well as possibly offer bridging proposals by mid-October.
While that mandate is quite helpful, more is needed from negotiators, national leaders and COP presidencies. Negotiators must continue to engage with each other to whittle down the options, compromise and create a cohesive package for consideration at Katowice. To overcome the most sensitive issues, high-level leaders must get involved and lend their support and diplomatic tact.
The incoming Polish COP presidency and its new team of negotiators will need to drive the discussions of the implementing guidelines forward in the spirit and letter of the Paris Agreement. The current Fiji presidency will need to work with Polish counterparts to spur ambition to respond to the forthcoming IPCC special report. Meanwhile, the Green Climate Fund board meeting next month will be critical to rebuild trust and support implementation of the Paris Agreement while unlocking progress in finance negotiations and enabling more ambitious climate action.
The intensity and pace of climate impacts being witnessed around the globe should be matched by an equally intensified individual and collective leadership from countries. The effective implementation of the Paris Agreement depends on the ability of Parties to adopt a clear, robust, cohesive and incentivizing set of guidelines for all key aspects of the Paris Agreement. Moreover, the Paris rulebook will be part of a broader COP24 package, which must also signal that countries will strengthen their climate efforts and offer greater clarity on climate finance for developing countries.
We have a lot to do before we are ready for a successful outcome at COP24 in Poland. Encouragingly, there are numerous opportunities between now and then to galvanize political leadership – from this week's Global Climate Action Summit, the One Planet Summit on the margins of the UN General Assembly in late September, the ministerial Pre-COP in Krakow at the end of October, and the upcoming Climate Vulnerable Forum virtual leaders' summit on November 22.
Let's get to work!