The world now has a rulebook for implementing the Paris accord—a way to see if countries are on track to meet the emission cut targets they have set when the deal comes into force in 2020.
At Katowice, the Paris accord didn’t die—and that, however meagre a success in the larger scheme of things, is significant. The world now has a rulebook for implementing the Paris accord—a way to see if countries are on track to meet the emission cut targets they have set when the deal comes into force in 2020, given they are required to report emission levels and cuts every two years starting 2024. The rulebook insists that countries must use the latest emissions accounting guidance from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that were last updated in 2006, but are in the process of getting reset by 2019, while setting their nationally determined contributions (NDCs). A shift to uniform standards, on the face of it, should seem a step forward, given that would allow for comparing pledges and actions of different nations. But, it allows countries to use “nationally appropriate methodologies” for emission reporting, making it easier for certain nations to get ‘creative’. Consensus eluded the talk on voluntary carbon markets/carbon trading, largely thanks to Brazil that wanted the rules on ‘double counting’ of emission cuts—by the country where the credits were generated and the country buying the offsets—diluted. Now, they will be taken up in Chile next year. Another hurdle that the world failed to jump over relates to making carbon trading net-beneficial for the climate rather than just net-neutral. While early drafts of the Katowice rulebook included options that would have resulted in automatic cancellation of 30% of all offsets in emission calculations, in keeping with the goal of “overall mitigation in global emissions”, the final draft makes cancellation—and thus, its quantum—voluntary. The Katowice provisions for Article 13 of the Paris agreement, that covers disclosure of information on emissions, progress towards meeting pledges, adaptation, climate impact and climate financing provided or received, put in place a single set of rules for all countries—with flexibility for developing countries that “need it in the light of their capacities”.
But, beyond the rulebook, Katowice delivers precious little. There was no global climate action vision forthcoming. How desperately one is needed is evident from the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report making it clear that time has run out for the planet to act on climate change to avoid devastation and the present is the last shot the planet gets. The US, the world’s worst polluter historically, has walked out of the Paris deal. Though it gets to formally quit only in 2020, a different future is hard to imagine under the current administration, who have termed the Paris deal “ridiculous”. Developed countries, including the EU, have voiced an unwillingness to step up contributions to the Global Green Fund—the US has, indeed, made clear that it will not take any “burdens or pledges” towards climate change financing. Brazil has threatened to walk out of the Paris accord. The US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait—all oil-rich nations—successfully stalled the formal adoption of the pathway the IPCC report suggests for meeting the desired warming target of ‘1.5oC below pre-industrial levels’ in the final agreement. Meanwhile, emissions continue to rise although the world was supposed to cut emissions by 45% of current levels by 2030 to stay on the below-1.5oC trajectory. India, which has adopted an action-plan that is compliant with the 2oC warming-goal that the Paris deal sets, and other nations saw a year of devastating floods, wildfires and other extreme weather phenomena while the future is predicted to be the harshest for South Asia. The nations most vulnerable to climate change effects, small island-nations, see a bleak future as well. At Katowice, the world moved forward, sure, but only by inches.