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Blog: COP 24 agreed a rule-book: Now to implement and strengthen it

By Harald Winkler

The climate negotiations at COP 24 in Katowice agreed on a rulebook for future.

Most of the ‘Paris rule-book’ was agreed, which is a considerable step forward in a highly uncertain political context. The rules provide some rigour, in that upfront information is made more mandatory. And the framework to enhance transparency is detailed, with a good fundamentals on tracking progress, review and starting to include some reporting on adaptation.

The political context was that of a Trump administration in the US, uncertainty surrounding Brazil’s incoming President and a wider sense of populism in other parts of the world. Multi-lateralism is not beloved in many constituencies. Yet there is no other way – so far – to create global norms and seek to strengthen collective action. In this context, the Paris rule-book was a significant step forward for multi-lateral rules. Not so much for ambition.

The global stock-take provides an ambition mechanism – and will include consideration of equity and science. That means countries will get together every five years, and discuss how much more everyone has to do – and how those efforts are to be shared. There was also a step forward on financial reporting. Developed countries will report what they have provided. And there 15 specific pieces of information has been identified in the rules that countries submit about “projected levels of public financial resources to be provided to developing countries”. So the rules allow for more transparency on mitigation and finance. Accountability has also been strengthened, with a Committee able to open a dialogue with a country that persistently fails to submit contributions and reports. So the system now generates accountability and facilitates implementation.

The rules are not perfect, but then it is a negotiated outcome. The rules on market mechanisms were deferred in the final hours to next year.  Probably better than adopting a bad decision, but nonetheless disappointing.

Another low-light was the luke-warm reception of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on 1.5 °C of global warming. At the end of the first week, the meeting only ‘noted’ this critical report.  This seemed to convey a lack of a real sense of urgency among negotiators.. However, with a shift among African countries among others to welcome the report itself, the final text expresses appreciation, and welcomes its timely delivery. The text also makes sure that future reports by the IPCC will be considered, which is essential to a science-based process. The outcomes on adaptation leave much to be desired. More work will be needed on methodologies, and to build stronger rules and systems to support adaptation. And it was deeply disappointing that neither the European Union nor the Like Minded Developing Countries showed political will to settle a simple matter – whether commitments apply for 5 or 10 years. There was a clear landing ground, and even negotiators know that 5+5 equals 10. Yet for political reasons, the matter was kicked down the line. There seemed to be no genuine appreciation that this holds back synchronising the heart-beat of the Paris Agreement, and has implications for millions of people already feeling the effects of climate change.

The outcomes on adaptation are thin. Adaptation communications were caught up in political tussles about NDCs and their scope. And there was a disconcerting obduracy among developed countries to support separate ‘commitments’ in communications and reporting. Despite some frustrating delays, there is some information on adaptation communications, and some basis on reporting adaptation. Much further work will be needed to improve on both over time. Some of this will be undertaken in a work programme on methodologies, which could be useful.  Perhaps the best we can hope is that good practice on adaptation communications and reporting will eventually be encoded in international law.  Hope that it is not too late, when the impacts are so great that they go beyond adaptation – to loss and damage (which was included in both reporting and the global stock-take). Given the current low levels of mitigation ambition, severe impacts are an all too likely scenario.

However, ambition right now was lacking. Very few countries increased the ambition of their nationally determined contributions based on the Talanoa Dialogue. And ambition by developed countries in the ‘pre-2020’ discussions was also not increased. Perhaps more hope lies in the UNFCCC becoming more outward looking. While I was firmly inside the negotiation bubble, a wide range of action by non-State actors was being discussed in other halls. Social movements, mayors, businesses and even some US states came to talk about taking action – no matter how fast or slow the negotiations. Yet global norm-setting remains important, and action and rules should be understood not as alternatives, but complements.

Overall, the challenge will be to implement the rules, strengthen them over time – while taking action right now. In a world where national autonomy is writ large, Katowice took a step forward for multi-lateral rules.