This year’s annual UN climate conference concluded late on Saturday evening in Katowice, Poland, after two weeks of tension-filled talks.
Nearly 23,000 delegates descended on the coal-tinged city with a deadline for hashing out the Paris Agreement “rulebook”, which is the operating manual needed for when the global deal enters into force in 2020.
This was mostly agreed, starting a new international climate regime under which all countries will have to report their emissions – and progress in cutting them – every two years from 2024.
But as countries wrestled with the “four-dimensional spaghetti” of competing priorities – as one delegate put it to Carbon Brief – they clashed over how to recognise the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on 1.5C and whether to clearly signal the need for greater ambition to stay below this temperature limit.
The final outcome included hints at the need for more ambitious climate pledges before 2020, leaving many NGOs disappointed at the lack of more forceful language. Meanwhile, new research released at the COP showed global emissions were going up, not down.
With tension mounting across the fortnight of the talks, UN secretary-general António Guterres had to visit the COP twice to force progress. Despite settling on large parts of the Paris rulebook, countries failed to agree the rules for voluntary market mechanisms, pushing part of the process onto next year’s COP25 in Chile.
Poland’s role as host of the UNFCC’s annual talks for the third time in 11 years proved significant.
Its choice to hold the COP in Katowice, in the heart of the coal-dominated region of Silesia, was poignant, particularly as several coal-sector companies were chosen as partners for the talks.
Delegates arriving at the talks were met by the taste of coal in the air and high levels of smog, as well as an accolade from the Polish Coal Miners Band. It was very quickly noted that the Katowice pavilion inside the COP venue featured walls, floors, soap and even earrings all made from coal. “There is no plan today to fully give up on coal,” Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, told the opening plenary.
However, Poland’s presidency also sought to highlight the issue of a “just transition” for workers away from fossil-fuel jobs. Bert De Wel, policy officer at the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), told DeSmog UK:
One element of this was the Polish presidency’s launch of the “Silesia declaration”, signed by some 50 countries, during the first week of the COP. It was notable that this total was only around a quarter of the nearly 200 countries present, with the document adopted by acclamation rather than consensus. It was only “noted” in the final COP text.
The declaration emphasised the need for emission-reducing policies to ensure “a just transition of the workforce” that creates “decent work and quality jobs”.
The Polish presidency also launched a declaration on “forests for climate”, highlighting the important role of forests in reaching Paris Agreement goals. However, some NGOs expressed concern that the declaration showed signs that Poland hopes to use carbon offsets from forests to delay efforts to reduce emissions. Others noted the declaration didn’t include any concrete near-term targets.
A further declaration, released jointly by the Polish presidency and the UK, targeted low-emission transport. Joined by 38 countries and 1,200 companies, it urged cooperation to “renew efforts” to help achieve “an e-mobility revolution”.
A further controversy came when Poland reportedly denied entry at its border to at least a dozen COP24 participants. Poland was also criticised by Human Rights Watch ahead of the talks for introducing a new law this year which would “hamper the rights of environmental activists to protest” at the climate talks.
At the end of the first week, four countries – the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait – delayed the conclusion of a technical plenary by refusing to “welcome” the report. Instead, they only wanted to “note” it, which led furious climate-vulnerable countries to trigger a clause which means the resolution has been postponed until the next SBSTA session in 2019.
In an exclusive interview with Carbon Brief, Saudi Arabia’s senior negotiator Ayman Shasly sought to explain why his country was hesitant to welcome a report that had, as he claimed, “scientific gaps [and] knowledge gaps”.
The wording was somewhat fudged in the final COP decision text. It did not “welcome” the report, but did welcome its “timely completion” and “invited” countries to make use of the report in subsequent discussions at the UNFCCC.
Another report also helped to set a sense of urgency at the talks. During the first week, the latest annual estimates of global emissions from the Global Carbon Project (GCP) found that output from fossil fuels and industry will likely grow by around 2.7% in 2018, the fastest increase in seven years.
At the heart of talks in Poland was the Paris “rulebook”, which was mandated in 2015 to be finalised by the end of COP24. This is the detailed “operating manual” needed for the Paris Agreement to enter force in 2020.
The rulebook covers a multitude of questions, such as how countries should report their greenhouse gas emissions or contributions to climate finance, as well as what rules should apply to voluntary market mechanisms, such as carbon trading.
Two common threads ran through each area of these areas. First, whether to agree a single set of rules for all countries – with flexibility for those that need it – or to maintain the current divide between rules for rich and poor. This is referred to as “differentiation”, or sometimes “bifurcation”.
The second thread was the provision of climate finance to help developing nations adapt to the impacts of global warming, mitigate their emissions and participate fully in the Paris process.
Ahead of the COP, the “co-chairs” and “co-facilitators” of the technical talks had tried to improve on the 307 pages of draft rulebook text that emerged from talks in Bangkok, Thailand, in September. They had whittled this down by mid-October to a series of nine “addendums” covering 236 pages.
This left negotiators with a far larger and more technical task than they faced before the Paris COP21 in 2015. Indeed, heading into the talks at Katowice, the climate diplomats coordinating the process warned: “Time will not be on our side…there are still far too many options on the table.”
Despite this time pressure, negotiators repeatedly missed deadlines for new versions of their texts during the first week at COP24. This meant technical talks spilled into week two, continuing alongside high-level ministerial sessions after having officially closed late on the middle Saturday.
Carbon Brief tracked the negotiating texts throughout the session in an open-access spreadsheet. This records the number of pages of text in each iteration, as well as the number of square brackets – indicating areas of disagreement – and the number of different “options” still on the table.
Starting with nearly 3,000 brackets before the talks began, negotiators faced an uphill struggle to move towards “clean” text – with zero brackets or options – on which all could agree.
Part way into week two the talks reached a crunch phase, with COP president Michał Kurtyka telling delegates: “The current approach to negotiations is exhausted. Many texts are stuck. From now on we will move under the authority of the Polish presidency.”
In practice, this change of gears meant that the presidency took ownership of the texts – a tricky balancing act between making progress and angering those countries or blocs whose language was lost. The resulting shorter texts can be seen from 11 December in the chart, here.
Some of the rulebook sections that proved most difficult to resolve included, for example, provisions for voluntary market mechanisms under Article 6, standards for climate finance reporting under Article 9, and the rules on transparency under Article 13, which cover reporting of greenhouse gas emissions and progress in tackling them.
The Polish presidency produced a second iteration of texts during Thursday of week two. These drafts dramatically reduced the number of outstanding square brackets from more than 600 down to around 180, but left many groups unhappy.
Finally, a much-delayed late-night plenary on Saturday, 15 December, signed off the rulebook with zero brackets and options remaining.
Overall, the deal tends towards single sets of rules for all countries, with wide latitude for those that lack the capacity to meet them. On finance, the rules are relatively permissive, giving flexibility to rich nations in what and how they report their contributions. (See below for analysis of the key sections of the text.)
One casualty was the complex and technical Article 6 rules for voluntary carbon markets. This had been effectively held hostage by Brazil, which tried to water down rules to stop “double counting” of emissions cuts by the country where they were generated, as well as the country buying the offsets.
Unable to reach agreement, the talks instead passed the matter to next year’s COP25 in Chile. The COP24 decision on Article 6 reads: “Draft decision texts on these matters in the proposal by the president were considered, but…parties could not reach consensus thereon.”
Climate pledge guidance – Article 4
Countries’ climate pledges (“nationally determined contributions”, NDCs) are mandated by Article 4 of the Paris Agreement. The rules around what should be in them are supposed to make it easier to compare pledges and to add them up as a global aggregate.
To this end, the final decision says that all countries “shall” use the latest emissions accounting guidance from the IPCC, last updated in 2006, but now in the process of being refreshed next year.
One significant difference between the 2006 guidance and earlier versions is an update to a higher “global warming potential” for methane, says Dr Robbie Andrew, senior researcher at Norway’s CICERO climate science institute. His colleague Dr Glen Peters tells Carbon Brief that a shift to all countries using the same accounting rules would be “brilliant” for researchers.
However, Dr Joeri Rogelj, a lecturer in climate change at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute, tells Carbon Brief: “Some aspects do raise concerns about the environmental integrity of NDCs [climate pledges].” He points to leeway over the choice of accounting rules:
Additionally, countries agreed that their pledges will be recorded in a public registry, based on the existing interim portal. This will continue to include a search function, despite attempts to have it removed.
There was also agreement that pledges should cover a “common timeframe” from 2031, with the number of years to be agreed later. Some current pledges cover five years while others cover 10.
[Read more about Market mechanisms – Article 6, Climate finance reporting – Article 9, Transparency – Article 13, Global stocktake – Article 14]
Loss and damage
Loss and damage caused by the unavoidable impacts of climate change was a touchstone issue for vulnerable countries, such as small island developing states. In the end, the rulebook mentions this question in several places, though with less weight than many hoped.
The global stocktake rules do add loss and damage to the mix, having at one point in the talks relegated the issue to a footnote. The stocktake rules now say it “may take into account, as appropriate…efforts to avert, minimise and address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change”.
The transparency rules also say countries “may, as appropriate” report on loss and damage:
Yamide Dagnet from WRI tells Carbon Brief:
Rules were finalised in a number of other areas, including how compliance with the Paris Agreement is to be monitored. COP24 agreed to set up an expert compliance committee that is “facilitative in nature…non-adversarial and non-punitive”. It will not impose penalties or sanctions.
The committee will be able to investigate countries that fail to submit climate pledges. Regarding transparency reports covering climate finance or emissions and progress in cutting them, the committee “may, with the consent of the party concerned, engage in a facilitative consideration of issues in cases of significant and persistent inconsistencies of the information”.
COP24 also agreed on how countries should report their efforts to adapt to climate change. And the COP decided that the “adaptation fund” – a financial mechanism set up under the Kyoto Protocol – should continue under the Paris Agreement.
Outside the rulebook discussions, many of debates centred around another key issue: how countries should raise the ambition of their climate pledges in order to collectively meet the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement.
Countries are set to re-submit or update their climate pledges (known as “nationally determined contributions”, or NDCs) in 2020. The Paris Agreement says successive pledges should “represent a progression” on the previous one – the so-called “ratchet mechanism” – and “reflect its highest possible ambition”, while also acknowledging different national circumstances. It does not concretely say new pledges should be more ambitious, however.
The Paris Agreement only becomes “operational” in 2020, but countries agreed in 2015 to “take stock” in 2018 of progress on climate action to date. The idea was that this would help boost collective ambition at the next round of NDCs in 2020.
This process was originally called the “facilitative dialogue”, but was renamed the “Talanoa dialogue” under last year’s Fijian COP presidency, after the Pacific tradition of collective problem-solving using stories.
Naoyuki Yamagishi, climate and energy lead for WWF Japan, tells Carbon Brief:
The Talanoa dialogue began in January 2018, shortly after last year’s COP, and concluded in a political phase during the second week at Katowice. It consisted of 21 (simultaneous) high-level roundtable discussions and a high-level closing plenary.
This led to a call to action issued by the presidents of COP23 and COP24, which urged “everyone” to “take forward a clear signal” from the dialogue, “act with urgency” and “recognise that we are in a race against time”.
At the closing plenary, Fiji’s prime minister Frank Bainimarama asked countries to increase their climate pledges “fivefold: five times more ambition, five times more action” in a bid to meet the 1.5C target by 2100 – a reference to the recent UNEP emissions gap report.
But the real battle on a Talanoa outcome was how it would be included in the final decision text, Yamagishi told Carbon Brief before the final text emerged.
In a statement issued early on in the conference, five former COP presidents called for the Katowice outcome to send an “unequivocal message” for enhanced ambition by 2020. But civil society groups became increasingly concerned that there would be a lack of concrete ambition emerging from the Talanoa.
In the end, the final text simply “invite[d]” countries to “consider” the outcomes of the Talanoa dialogue in preparing their NDCs and in efforts to enhance pre-2020 ambition.
However, another section of the text not dealing strictly with NDCs “stresses the urgency of enhanced ambition in order to ensure the highest possible mitigation and adaptation efforts by all parties”. Reacting to the final text, Yamagishi tells Carbon Brief:
The reason the paragraph was not strengthened in this respect was “simple”, says Yamagishi: not enough parties supported it. While the least developed countries and some European countries did support it, countries such as the US, Japan, China, India did not, he adds.
A key moment came when several dozen countries from the “High Ambition Coalition” – including the EU, UK, Germany, France, Argentina, Mexico and Canada – pledged to “step up” their ambition by 2020. This will be done through enhanced climate pledges, low-emission development strategies and increased short-term action, the countries said.
There were also signs of progress in other areas. For instance, the Powering Past Coal Alliance, launched at last year’s COP by the UK and Canada, announced a round of new members, including Scotland, Israel, Senegal, Sydney and Melbourne, bringing its total to around 80.
And the Talanoa dialogue did manage to introduce a positive spirit into the negotiations, says Yamagishi:
This part of the outcome text pushes for developed countries who haven’t yet done so to ratify the Doha Amendment so that it can enter into force. This would extend the Kyoto Protocol on developed country emissions out to 2020.
The decision text also “strongly urges” developed countries to increase their financial support in line with the promise to jointly mobilise $100bn per year in climate finance to poorer countries by 2020. It acknowledges that “the provision of urgent and adequate finance” will help developing countries in order to up their own pre-2020 action.
The text also “welcomes” the 2018 stocktake on pre-2020 implementation and ambition, and reiterates its decision to convene another stocktake next year. These stocktakes were part of the compromise made last year to acknowledge developing countries’ frustrations on what they see as a lack of action of developed countries before 2020.
Some developing countries pushed in the talks for the global stocktake in 2023 to address implementation of the pre-Paris commitments made for 2020, if they are not met by then. However, this did not make it into the final rulebook.
A growing sore spot for developing countries was the setting of a new climate finance goal. The Paris Agreement says this should be set by 2025 and go above the $100bn per year “floor” promised to developing countries by 2020. In the end, parties agreed to start discussing this new goal at COP26 in November 2020.
Meanwhile, rich countries’ contributions remain some way short of the $100bn target for 2020. Several announcements at the COP showed at least some scaling-up of finance, however.
Germany said it was making a €70m contribution to the Adaptation Fund, while smaller pledges from the likes of France, Sweden, Italy and the EU raised the total to $129m – a record annual fundraising for the fund.
Germany also became the first country to announce a concrete amount for the Green Climate Fund (GCF)’s replenishment round, offering €1.5bn – double the amount of its previous contribution in 2014. Norway also pledged $516m to the GCF, while Japan said it would consider more funding once the replenishment process officially starts in 2019. Japan also put forward diplomat Kenichi Suganuma to be the next head of the GCF, due to be selected in February.The GCF has so far received only $7bn of the $10bn promised to it in 2014 due both to the US reneging on part of its $3bn pledge, as well as changes in exchange rates from donor country currency to US dollars.
The World Bank, meanwhile, announced $200bn for its 2021-2025 climate investment programme, which doubles the $100bn given to its previous five-year investment plan up to 2020. Half the total will come directly from the bank, it said, with equal shares of this going to mitigation and adaptation. The remaining $100bn will come from other parts of the World Bank group and “mobilised” private capital, the bank said.
The World Bank was also one of nine multilateral development banks who made a declaration at the COP to “align…their activities” with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Meanwhile, five other banks – ING, BBVA, BNP Paribas, Société Générale and Standard Chartered – with a combined loan book of €2.4tn committed to measuring the climate alignment of their lending portfolios with the aim of steering them towards the “well below 2C” target.
The UK also made several announcements at the COP. Firstly, a £100m increase in funding for renewable energy projects in sub-Saharan Africa. Secondly, £170m of funding to support the creation of a “net zero” cluster of heavy industry in the UK by 2040. The government’s climate advisors welcomed this announcement, but said 2030 would be a better fit with the UK’s 2050 climate target.
Finally, amongst the many business statements made at the talks several major announcements stood out. Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, said it plans to cut its net carbon emissions to zero by 2050, while Shell said it will begin to link short-term carbon targets to executive pay from 2020.
There is increasing recognition internationally about how climate change may affect the number of people migrating, both within their own country and to different ones.
The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) says 18 million people were displaced in 2017 due to weather-related disasters, while the World Bank recently said up to 143 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America could be forced to migrate internally by 2050 due to climate change.
At the Paris talks in 2015, countries agreed to establish a taskforce to provide recommendations on averting, minimising and addressing climate-related displacement. Harjeet Singh, global lead on climate change at Action Aid, tells Carbon Brief:
The recommendations of this task force were submitted and discussed in September at a meeting of the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM), the formal mechanism at the UNFCCC for addressing the loss and damage caused by climate change. They were then endorsed at this year’s COP as an annex to the WIM’s final text, which “invites” countries to consider the recommendations.
The recommendations touch on many issues related to both internal and cross-border migration. Singh says:
Now COP24 is over, a key moment next year will be a UN climate summit set to take place in September in New York. This is seen as a place where frontrunners could begin to submit more stringent pledges. In the opening plenary of the COP, UN secretary-general António Guterres said:
COP25 is due to take place in Latin America and the Caribbean, and Brazil was the decided location until it withdrew its candidacy last month. (Brazil’s future environment minister recently said that the country will remain party to the Paris Agreement, however.)
This left members of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC) to decide between them on a new host for the 2019 conference. Several countries including Costa Rica said they were interested, but lack of funds in other countries led to Chile being selected, with Costa-Rica instead hosting the “pre-COP” and helping with organisation.
Meanwhile, the UK and Italy have both signalled their interest in hosting COP26 in 2020, which is set to take place somewhere in the “Western Europe and others” group. This is seen as a crucial COP as it is when countries have been asked to submit their next round of climate pledges for 2030. UK climate minister Claire Perry formally announced the UK’s bid at the COP, saying:
“I would very much like the UK to be the place where we come together in 2020 and see if we can get those NDCs and rulebooks together.”
Speaking to Carbon Brief shortly after the gavel went down on the COP24 decision text, WRI’s Yamide Dagnet said next year’s COP – and the following ones – are “about ambition, ambition, ambition”. Capacity building and loss and damage will be also issues to watch for, she said, adding:
[This article originally appeared on carbonbrief.org.]
South Asia’s vulnerability to climate change and associated fragility risks calls for a regional approach to climate services. Different actors need to cooperate to share actionable climate information—the security architecture in the region would benefit.
With cities continuously more threatened by climate change-induced disasters, urban planning’s reflex response is to protect cities against nature. But what if the solution lies in working with nature instead against it? Architect Kongjiang Yu invites readers to imagine what cities could look like if they took into account ancient wisdom on spatial planning.
During the past two weeks, Antigua & Barbuda, Nicaragua and Panama ratified the Escazú Agreement, giving a major boost to the unprecedented and innovative Latin American pact that seeks to reduce social conflicts and protect frontline communities in the world’s deadliest region for environmental defenders.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres outlined priorities for the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP 26) during a briefing at UN Headquarters. The briefing was hosted by the UK, which will be assuming the COP 26 presidency in partnership with Italy. COP 26 is scheduled to convene from 9-20 November 2020, in Glasgow, UK.