More than two years after the adoption and signing of the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, and following its unprecedented rapid entry-into-force, the hard work of implementing the Paris Agreement is just getting going. Turning this landmark pact into a functioning regime requires adopting the rules of the game to bring the vision of Paris to life in a trustworthy, effective and fair manner.

Beginning April 30, climate negotiators will meet once again in Bonn, Germany to focus on making progress on developing these rules of the game, often referred to in UNFCCC jargon as the implementing guidelines, or colloquially as the rulebook. These negotiations are vital to ensuring a strong framework for international climate action, thus providing an opportunity to strengthen the Paris Agreement’s muscles so that it delivers at the pace and scale needed to prevent irreversible damage from climate change. The current NDCs do not do enough to hold global temperatures rise to the Agreement’s goal of 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), so enhanced climate action is necessary. A weak or insufficient rulebook could undermine efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

Ahead of the Bonn negotiating session, three questions ring loudly:

  1. What is still being negotiated and why is it important?
  2. What needs to happen during the Bonn session?
  3. Why is adopting a strong rulebook necessary this year?

Remaining Negotiations

Negotiators will work simultaneously on a number of different topics – including transparency, the global stocktake, the communication of nationally determined contributions (NDCs), market and non-market approaches to reduce emissions, compliance and predictability of finance. They will need to tackle complex technical issues while overcoming political divergences on a number of key topics that will cut across all the various negotiating streams.

One of the top cross-cutting topics is the application of the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities-respective capabilities. The Paris Agreement marks a cornerstone in balancing the requirements between developed and developing countries. Indeed, while the Paris Agreement defines a universal framework to strengthen over time the global response to the threat of climate change, it also acknowledges that countries are at different stages of development. Hence, the importance of implementing its enhanced transparency framework with “built-in flexibility” for “those developing country Parties that need it in the light of their capacities”, while sustaining improvement overtime.  Negotiators are therefore expected to identify better ways to take into account diverse and evolving national circumstances, capabilities and vulnerabilities, while developing a common framework to deliver and track the progressive ambition called for in the Paris Agreement.

Another challenge is the fact that some of the issues at stake are more complex than others, such as setting up rules for effective market-based approaches. Other issues are politically sensitive, such as the level of scrutiny on submission documents or the predictability and mobilization of financial support. Negotiators will need to ensure balance across the various elements and a minimum level of guidance to make them operational, and drive improvement and greater action over time.

Ultimately, the various provisions of the Paris Agreement interact to create what we refer to as the cycle of implementation – where national planning and policymaking inform the domestic implementation of NDCs, which is then subject to global review and stocktaking exercises to inform additional national planning in order to continuously close the emissions gap and increase resilience. In developing the rulebook to support this cycle, countries must consider the linkages between provisions and how individual components interact with others.

Finally, by underpinning the Paris Agreement’s implementation for years to come, the rulebook needs not only to build confidence and ramp up the ambition necessary to achieve the Paris Agreement’s long-term goals, but also ensure the durability of the regime. In other words, these guidelines need to support clear long-term signals while being able to adjust to technological, societal and climatic changes.

Expectations for the Bonn negotiations

Limited progress was made during negotiations last November at COP23. Much more progress is needed. Countries must significantly intensify their efforts at the next session in May in order to finalize the rulebook by the agreed deadline of December 2018 at COP24 in Katowice, Poland.

To ensure that negotiations remain on track for adoption this year, countries need to have a negotiating text – a document with legal language for countries to debate – ahead of the additional negotiations in Bangkok, Thailand, scheduled for September. This means that negotiators should ideally leave Bonn with a negotiating text. As this may be challenging, at a minimum, countries should task negotiation facilitators and co-chairs to prepare a text ahead of the Bangkok meeting. It is vital that negotiators move closer to a negotiating text in Bonn or they jeopardize their ability to adopt a robust rulebook by the end of the year.

Why We Need a Strong Rulebook

Like the rules and laws in our societies, the Paris implementation guidelines must be designed to: organize the relationship between countries; create a sense of a level playing field for the domestic actions needed to tackle a global commons problem; and foster cooperation between Parties and their main stakeholders.

The rulebook will support the Paris Agreement’s cycle of implementation: planning and policy making, implementation of national pledges, and the review and stocktake of progress. A weak or watered-down version of the implementation guidelines will undermine efforts to bring the Agreement to life. On the other hand, a well-crafted and robust set of rules will provide clarity to Parties regarding what has been and should be done, confidence in what will happen if countries do not follow the rules, and assurance that support will be offered to countries to fulfill their requirements.

Ultimately, the implementation guidelines should galvanize trust and reinforce the credibility of the multilateral process. What is urgently needed now is a strong Paris rulebook that will signal, drive, facilitate and demonstrate the transformation required to achieve a cleaner, safer and more prosperous future our children deserve.