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Why Does the Paris Climate Agreement Need a Rulebook? 7 Questions and Answers

The adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015 was a historic moment for the global response to climate change. The Paris Agreement solidified long-term, international goals to tackle the climate crisis: to hold global temperature rise well below 2 degrees C and aim to limit it to 1.5 degrees C, to increase adaptation and resilience to climate change, and to align financial flows with low-carbon and sustainable development. But details for how to implement the global pact were left unresolved.

Countries spent three years negotiating guidelines for bringing the Paris Agreement fully to life, and in December 2018 in Katowice, Poland they agreed on the Paris Agreement Rulebook to put those guidelines in place. While a few elements of the Rulebook are still to be finalized, countries have now established processes and rules for how they will work together in a fair and effective manner to achieve their collective goals.

Below we answer seven important questions about how the new Rulebook will help countries implement the Paris Agreement. For an in-depth explanation and reference document, download our Paris Agreement Rulebook booklet.

1. What is the Paris Agreement Rulebook?

The Rulebook contains rules and guidelines detailing how the Paris Agreement will operate in practice. The original Agreement adopted in 2015 outlines what countries should aim for. The Rulebook now tells countries how they should work together to achieve a low-carbon, climate-resilient future. The rules include guidance on how national governments should develop and communicate their climate action plans (known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs). The Rulebook also explains how countries should review their progress, individually and collectively, with a view to upgrading NDCs every five years until the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement are met.

2. How Does the Rulebook Affect Countries' Efforts to Curb Emissions?

Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—including reducing deforestation, increasing energy efficiency or expanding renewable energy production—make up the bulk of countries' NDCs. But countries' first NDCs often do not provide enough information for others to fully understand their emissions reductions goals, such as which sectors and specific greenhouse gases are targeted, or expected timeframes for these climate efforts. The Rulebook outlines the types of information countries should include in their NDCs about emission reduction efforts, as well as how they can credibly measure their emissions and transparently convey this information.

3. Does the Rulebook Say Anything About Climate Adaptation and Loss and Damage?

The Paris Agreement asks countries to periodically provide information about their adaptation plans, priorities and support needs. The Rulebook provides detailed guidance about the specific types of information that countries should provide, such their specific risks and vulnerabilities to climate impacts, and how they are implementing their adaptation plans. The Paris Agreement has elevated the need to deal with loss and damage beyond what adaptation efforts can prevent—such as impacts to countries' economies, cultural heritage and public health. For the first time, the Rulebook provides countries the opportunity to report on their efforts to cope with this loss and damage.

4. Are There Rules for Countries Providing Climate Finance to Others?

The Paris Agreement calls on developed countries to provide financial support for developing nations to cut their emissions and adapt to climate impacts. The Rulebook provides reporting guidance for countries that provide financial, technological and capacity-building support to other countries. Developed countries must share information in advance about support they will offer in the future. This enables developing countries to plan ahead for how they can use these resources most effectively to cut emissions or adapt to climate impacts. In addition, the Rulebook includes guidelines for transparently reporting on finance provided in the past, as well as guidelines for how developing countries should report on the support they need and receive.

5. How Will We Know if Countries Do What They Said They'd Do?

The Rulebook includes a number of guidelines focused on transparency and accountability. In particular, it outlines three important processes to help countries and observers understand whether countries live up to their word.

  • The first is an enhanced transparency framework describing how countries will report updates on their greenhouse gas emissions and track progress toward achieving their NDCs. This framework also allows technical experts to review countries' progress and for countries to review each other's efforts.

  • The second is a global "stocktake" process, which will enable countries to examine whether they are collectively living up to the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement. This process is designed to inform the ambition level of countries' NDCs as governments improve them over time. The first global stocktake will be in 2023, and subsequent stocktakes will take place every five years thereafter.

  • Third is an expert committee charged with promoting countries' compliance with the Rulebook and facilitating countries' implementation of their climate plans. The Rulebook includes guidance on what can trigger a process bringing countries before the committee, as well as response options for the committee.

Over the next couple of years, negotiators will further review, refine and elaborate on these guidelines, based on additional technical advice, to ensure these processes are fully operational.

6. Are Any Parts of the Rulebook Still Outstanding?

There are two key issues that countries were unable to agree on in Katowice. First, countries failed to agree on rules detailing how countries can voluntarily work together across borders to reduce emissions through approaches like international market mechanisms. The Paris Agreement allows countries to transfer emissions reductions among themselves. The Rulebook now needs to specify the rules for how countries will do so—such as by selling credits for their emissions reductions to another country. It must also ensure these reductions are not counted twice.

Second, the Paris Agreement asked countries to consider whether they should standardize the time periods covered by countries' NDCs. Currently, some NDCs extend to 2025, while others extend to 2030. In Katowice, countries agreed that they should use a common time period for future NDCs, but they could not agree on specific years.

7. Where Does National Climate Action Go From Here?

Next week in Bonn, Germany, countries will continue negotiating the unfinished topics. Rules that were not finalized in Katowice should be reviewed and refined in Bonn and then adopted at the COP25 climate summit in Santiago, Chile, this December. At COP25, negotiators will also grapple with how to ensure developing countries have adequate financial, human and technological resources to deliver on their climate commitments and follow the Rulebook's reporting guidelines.

Separate from the formal negotiations, in September 2019, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is organizing a UN Climate Action Summit in New York to galvanize political support for countries to strengthen their national climate commitments by 2020. He will ask countries not only to commit to enhancing their NDCs then, but also to offer concrete plans for more quickly reducing their emissions across a variety of important sectors, including energy, transportation, industry and buildings.

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