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INSIDER: Ministers to Advance Climate Negotiations and Keep the Spirit of the Paris Agreement Alive

Two weeks after the publication of the landmark IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C,  many negotiators and their ministers will gather in Krakow, Poland. This pre-COP session is just a few weeks before the 24th climate conference (COP24) in Katowice and just after the co-chairs of the negotiating tracks have posted revised text proposals based on the mandate they received at the end of the last negotiating session in September, in Bangkok.

The stakes of COP24 are high, and negotiators left the last round of negotiations in Bangkok with many critical unresolved issues. The pre-COP event is an important lead-in to the COP, since it offers ministers the chance to provide frank insights regarding their expectations for COP24 and to enhance mutual understanding of political priorities and views.

Indeed, at COP24, Parties will be expected to deliver three things: 1) adoption of the guidelines for how the Paris Agreement will be implemented; 2) signals that nations will strengthen their climate commitments by 2020, particularly given the IPCC’s assessment of 1.5°C; and 3) maintaining trust and good faith that access, provision and accounting of finance will be enhanced.

While not all Parties will be present at this pre-COP, it is a good time for the international community to reflect on how to maintain the spirit of Paris and keep the commitments made there within reach. Ministers will have an opportunity to provide guidance for the negotiations’ final leg by tackling the following issues:

  • unlocking the current impasse on finance;
  • reducing the divergence among countries on how national efforts on mitigation and adaptation should be communicated;
  • addressing outstanding and underlying issues on transparency; and
  • unpacking the outcome of the Talanoa Dialogue.

Resolving the Impasse on Finance

In Bangkok, negotiators stumbled on two finance issues: what should happen to the information communicated by developed and other contributor countries on future climate finance; and whether to establish a process to set the post-2025 collective finance goal, beyond the $100-billion-a-year that developed countries have already agreed to provide by 2020. Ministers will need to grapple with these issues and think pragmatically about what is essential to ensure predictability of climate finance, while respecting national budget or investment planning approaches.

Unlocking the Communication of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)

Both on mitigation and adaptation, there are still major divergences on the level of detail to be communicated in Parties' Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), as well as how guidance should apply to developed and developing countries. NDCs already display a diversity of mitigation target types, as well as policies and actions, based on the flexibility provided to countries under the Paris Agreement. This makes it difficult to apply a comprehensive, uniform framework for communicating NDCs. However, there are common, necessary information and accounting approaches that can and should be universally applied. On adaptation, the main challenge is generating the data to recognize and monitor adaptation efforts since methodologies lag further behind those for mitigation.

Transition to the Enhanced Transparency Framework

In Katowice, countries need to agree when the new modalities, procedures and guidelines for the Paris Agreement’s Enhanced Transparency Framework will supersede the current requirements under the UNFCCC. That decision will address when Parties should submit their final national reports under the Convention and their first reports under the new Enhanced Transparency Framework under the Paris Agreement.

This seems like a straightforward question, yet Parties are struggling to agree on a timetable for various reasons. One of the main ones is the different capacity levels among developing countries – since January 2015, fewer than 60 percent of developing countries have submitted reports according to the existing reporting requirements. For all countries to apply the new reporting and review guidelines from the same date, developed countries should provide support (finance, capacity building, transfer of technology) to developing countries to help them transition at the needed pace.

A “perfect” report should not be expected the first time developing countries submit under the Enhanced Transparency Framework, since getting it right may take more time from some countries based on their national circumstances and current capabilities. Ministers need to explore how to ensure that no country is left behind under the new regime, and make sure every effort and all progress (no matter how small) is captured for the first collective stocktaking exercise in 2023, in line with the objective of the Enhanced Transparency Framework. The timetable should align with the sense of urgency injected by the IPCC report, and should not result in countries shifting their reporting timeline so much that the guidelines are obsolete by the time reports are actually submitted. 

A Talanoa Dialogue that Responds to the IPCC Report

The Talanoa Dialogue is set to inform the preparation of countries’ next round of NDCs, which have taken on particular importance given the IPCC report. Ministers are expected to discuss what the outputs and outcomes of the Dialogue should look like. This could range from a report conveying best practices to overcome barriers and opportunities for enhancement of NDCs, to various declarations and announcements. But among these results springing from the Dialogue, the most important would be a set of COP decisions at Katowice that acknowledge the IPCC report’s key messages, provide guidance regarding the submission of the next round of NDCs, and send clear signals encouraging countries to intensify their consultation and review process for updating their NDCs by 2020. A COP decision could also welcome the UNSG Summit in 2019, while taking note of declarations and announcements made by various Parties. Ultimately, however, the true test of climate ambition would be countries’ public confirmation at COP24 of their intent to enhance their NDCs by 2020.

In addition to these specific issues, ministers should not miss the opportunity to look at the overall package of COP24 and consider the regime we want. Is it one that prevents “a wild, wild west” world, where countries are able to trade their mitigation efforts through market mechanisms, without effective means of assessing whether this results in double counting and thus doesn’t reflect the real impacts on the atmosphere? Or is it a regime that empowers countries to generate  trustworthy data that enables policymakers to understand where we are, signal how much progress we’ve made toward collective goals, and identify how we can get there faster, as advised by the IPCC report? Let’s see what leaders will make out of the blueprint created in Paris.

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