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At COP24 in Poland, Negotiators Must Lay Down Ground Rules for the Paris Agreement

Climate leaders will gather once again next week to make progress in the global fight against climate change. This year’s meeting, the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), taking place in Katowice, Poland marks the most important moment since countries celebrated adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015. Countries will need to come to agreement on the implementing guidelines (or colloquially, the “Paris Rulebook”) necessary to operationalize the landmark 2015 agreement, signal their intention to strengthen their national climate plans by 2020, and make progress on questions around finance. (Learn more here.)

Though outcomes on all three of these elements are important at COP24, the rulebook negotiations will receive significant attention. Countries will be trying to meet the deadline they established in 2016 to finalize the rulebook this year.

What You Need to Know About the Paris Agreement Rulebook

The goal of the rulebook is to turn the Paris Agreement into action. It will transform the Agreement’s text into a functioning and dynamic system that moves climate action forward.

The rulebook will provide guidance to countries on how to produce their national climate plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs); how they communicate their emissions-reduction targets; how they can cooperatively implement their targets; how they adapt to the changing climate; how they track climate finance; and how to review both individual and collective progress toward the Paris Agreement’s goals.

To understand broadly what the rulebook is about—what it is, what it does and why making progress on it this year is so essential—we’ve just published a new brief, Explaining the Paris Rulebook: What You Need to Know for COP24 (see also versions in français and español).

Key Elements of the Rulebook

Negotiating and adopting the Paris rulebook is a highly technical and political exercise. We discuss many of these technical and political elements in the paper, Setting the Paris Agreement in Motion: Key Requirements for the Implementing Guidelines. Here are a couple of the key elements that would make up an ambitious rulebook:

  1. Common timeframes: In preparation for the Paris Agreement, countries submitted intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), which outlined their individual contributions to fight climate change. However, these plans did not have the same implementing periods, with some ending in 2025 and others in 2030. The rulebook should specify that countries’ climate plans cover the same time frames. To ensure NDCs reflect the dynamism of the Paris Agreement and the highest possible ambition, countries should submit in 2025 plans with targets for 2035, with a five-year implementing period (2031-2035).

  2. Reporting and accounting methodologies: In order to understand countries’ efforts and build confidence in the Paris Agreement, the rulebook should establish guidance for tracking efforts to a) adapt to climate change; b) mobilize finance; and c) assess progress on the implementation and achievement of emissions-reduction targets. In order to achieve the most effective rulebook, we expect countries to establish common guidelines, while providing flexibility for developing countries that need it in light of their capacities. For example, countries should all agree to use the latest IPCC methodologies for completing greenhouse gas inventories, since it already provides flexibility for those that need it, instead of using different versions of those methodologies.

  3. Transitioning to the new transparency framework: There are already a number of transparency requirements in place under the UNFCCC, and countries are negotiating new requirements under the Paris Agreement. One of the biggest questions for the discussions in Katowice is when these new requirements will come into effect. To signal commitment to the Paris Agreement and to allow the new transparency system to feed into the first global stocktake, the Paris Agreement process for assessing collective efforts to address climate change, countries could begin reporting under the Paris requirements in 2022. Developing countries may need flexibility in adhering to the new system, but strengthening their capacity with more human, institutional, technological, and financial resources can help ease the transition.

  4. Effective peer review processes. The review processes established in the Paris Agreement are crucial, not only to hold countries accountable for their climate pledges, but also to share experiences, identify challenges and barriers, and explore further opportunities to incentivize action and collectively achieve the Paris Agreement‘s goals. Technical advice could emerge from the expert review of countries’ individual efforts by highlighting areas for improvement without impinging on national discretion. How much this year’s Talanoa Dialogue—the first collective stocktaking exercise under the Paris Agreement—will set a precedent for the global stocktake remains to be seen. Negotiators will debate how they should consider issues such as loss and damage (limits beyond adaptation) and response measure (minimizing unintended or adverse effects of actions to reduce emissions).

For the Paris Agreement to come to life effectively, the rulebook must provide the framework to support countries as they plan, implement, review and upgrade their low-carbon transition. The rulebook must establish a delicate balance between providing clear and ambitious international directions, while acknowledging the country-driven nature of the commitments made, together with the need for flexibility for developing countries who need it. Ensuring that the scope of the guidelines and processes adopted are comprehensive enough and that the ultimate package is coherent will also be challenging until the final hour. But robust, clear and empowering rules are within reach. Let’s make it happen.

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