Climate talks: Was COP24 able to achieve its objectives?

By: | Published: January 3, 2019 12:46 AM

The language of the Rulebook that emerged in Katowice is rather weak and vague. It provides many loopholes to rich nations to dilute their historical, moral and social responsibility towards poor developing nations. Although the Rulebook has been accepted by all the nations, demonstrating the spirit of belief in multilateralism, developing nations are not fully satisfied—the Katowice Rulebook clearly isn’t a step forward in operationalising the Paris Agreement.

Regarding finance for adaptation, the Rulebook says that developed countries are not expected to indicate how much would be as ‘grants’ or ‘loans’, except that a substantial part of funds would be grants-based funding.

The 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) concluded on December 15, 2018. Held in Katowice, Poland, its aim was to finalise guidelines for the implementation of the Paris Agreement post 2020. These guidelines are called the ‘Paris Rulebook’. India was at the forefront of the negotiations as a leading developing country, as it was a ‘make or break’ moment for all poor developing nations and least developed countries, including small island nations.

At the outset, the UNFCCC’s executive secretary outlined three broad segments of the objective—adapting to climate change, mitigating emissions with ambitious targets and ensuring means for implementation such as availability of adequate finance, innovative technology transfer and building of capability, and capacity of poor nations to take proper action. The expectations of any major breakthrough in these areas appeared low because the US—the world’s second-largest polluter after China—reiterated its earlier decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires (Argentina), which was held just before the start of COP24. There were other major disappointments, too—Brazil’s strongman president Jair Bolsonaro had promised his voters to follow the US’s lead on climate change during his election campaign. The French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his inability to attend COP24 due to anti-government protests by the ‘yellow vests’ in his country, which sprang up over imposition of diesel tax. Also, rich EU nations generally and rich oil-exporting countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Russia and the US did not show concerns about the vulnerability of poor developing nations to climate change. This means that the rest of the world will have to strive to meet climate goals on its own.

Against this backdrop, let us examine what really happened in Katowice, which, incidentally, is a coal-mining city of Poland and two major coal companies, ironically, had also sponsored this event. The salient features of the Rulebook prepared in Katowice are the following:
The Rulebook smartly welcomes the bringing of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report titled ‘Global Warming of 1.5°C’ on time but, at the same time, does not accept its findings. This clearly means that we ourselves are surely preparing a stage for more than 3°C rise in global temperatures, which would be simply disastrous. It needs to be noted here that even comprehensive progress on the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) of countries would not be enough to prevent runaway global warming. Voluntary contributions may have to be tripled for restricting temperature rise to 2°C, and for 1.5°C they have to be five times. Thus, while science is so clear on global warming, global consensus on how to tackle it remains elusive. This is a big setback to all developing nations, including the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).

Regarding finance for adaptation, the Rulebook says that developed countries are not expected to indicate how much would be as ‘grants’ or ‘loans’, except that a substantial part of funds would be grants-based funding.

Concerns remained unresolved on climate finance contributions from Annex II countries (which include the US, the EU and Australia) in 2016, which were estimated at $38 billion, but which is less than even 40% of the $100 billion per year that was the target in the Paris Agreement and whether they would come good on their promise in later years. Further, there is an entire ecosystem of issues under Article 9 of the Paris Agreement (not only confining to Clause 9.5) to operationalise including an important issue of progression because just $100 billion will not do forever. In this respect, the Rulebook does talk about setting up a new collective finance goal post 2025, which would be higher than $100 billion per year. Whether and how it would happen, only the future will tell.

Although ‘loss and damage’ will be part of the ‘global stock’ plan, the Rulebook turns a blind eye on how the finance will flow from developed countries and what will be the methodology to deal with the losses due to ill-effects of climate change on poor vulnerable nations.
There also remained a major contention on trade in carbon market mechanism, which is to be finalised this year.
The Katowice package sets out rules and procedures on how information on INDCs would be provided by the nations, which would include details on mitigation measures along with financial support received by developing and least developed countries. However, the rules don’t provide enough clarity about the complicated procedure followed on the flow of climate finance from developed to developing countries because of sufficient variation in the levels of development of the latter.

The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and equity is lacking in the global stock process—a five-yearly review of the implementation of the Paris Agreement. This basically means that developed countries take the lead, while developing and other poor countries also take action according to their capacities.

In view of the above facts, it appears the wordings or the language of the Rulebook that emerged in Katowice is rather weak and vague. It provides many loopholes to rich nations to dilute their historical, moral and social responsibility towards poor developing nations. Although the Rulebook has been accepted by all nations, demonstrating the spirit of belief in multilateralism, developing nations are not really satisfied. In such a scenario, can we say that Katowice Rulebook will prove a step forward in operationalising the Paris Agreement? The answer is clearly ‘no’.

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