The Paris Agreement on climate-change was adopted in 2015. Countries agreed to limit warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels – preferably 1.5°C. Now the rulebook for implementing the pledges of almost 200 countries must be agreed in December 2018. Failure would set back the global process by years.
It was decided in 2015 that guidelines for the Paris Agreement must be concluded at this year’s annual ‘Conference of the Parties’ or COP24. Without a rulebook, the agreement is merely an intention. December’s meeting in Katowice, Poland, is thus the most significant since Paris.
Working groups have pulled together various draft texts in the years since Paris and these will be the basis for tough negotiations in Katowice. But progress has been uneven across different issues, with politics sometimes a distraction. The Herculean task is to whittle down all documents to a final set agreeable to all parties.
Achieving the goals requires both mitigation (reducing emissions) and adaptation (preparing for the impacts). But balancing those is complex. Reducing emissions today lowers future impacts – but the impacts are already being felt and will grow, almost irrespective of the longer-term emissions reductions.
Climate-change efforts historically focused on mitigation but extreme weather events and their resulting impacts have lifted adaptation up the agenda, with calls for both to be treated equally. However, whereas mitigation is a global issue because emissions reductions anywhere directly benefit everyone everywhere, adaptation is sometimes perceived as only a local issue.
There is also a distinction between countries that contribute to global emissions and those most vulnerable to climate impacts. True, some of the most vulnerable, including China and India, are also high emitters, but most are not: the 20 top emitting countries account for three-quarters of global emissions.
At Katowice, vulnerable nations will push hard to include adaptation in countries’ pledges because they are mandatory and must be updated regularly.
How mitigation and adaptation actions, plus associated reporting and communication requirements, are implemented is important to ensure they do not place too much additional burden on poorer countries. Technology needs to be transferred between different countries too, and finance must flow from richer to poorer economies.
Developed countries are committed to providing USD100 billion a year by 2020 to facilitate climate action. The Paris Agreement requires them to report every two years on their finance flows and the rulebook must determine how this is done: they prefer to report after funds have been disbursed, yet developing nations seek more predictability. Transparency is key whatever is negotiated.
As more investors, corporations and other organisations begin the move to a lower-carbon economy they need guidance on the trajectory and speed of transition. The rulebook will provide signposts. We sensed in 2017 the balance of climate leadership shifting towards developing or more vulnerable countries and expect this to continue. And given recent extreme events across the world, we expect adaptation to receive increased prominence.
The negotiations will be long and hard – and sometimes quite divisive. They are already starting early and may over-run too. But Katowice is the end of the start on climate change: with the rulebook, a new implementation phase awaits.
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