Summary of COP24: realistic deals but little political will

 Summary of COP24: realistic deals but little political will

After two weeks of tiring negotiations, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24) officially closed on December 16th on a note of enthusiasm that would have seemed unrealistic only a couple of days before.


An enthusiasm that brought the deal to be welcomed by a standing ovation of the around 200 governments gathered in Katowice (Poland) and by a jump of COP President Michal Kurtyka down the plenary table. The reason for all this excitement was the adoption of the so-called “Rulebook” of the Paris agreement, which includes the technical guidance that will make it operational from 2020.

The Paris Agreement is based on the “Nationally Determined Contributions” (NDCs), i.e. the climate plans that every country has committed to implement from 2020 onwards. The objective is to peak global greenhouse gases emissions as soon as possible and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter so to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels while making efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. The Agreements creates an institutional framework that should support and monitor these efforts. The heart of it lies in the “Transparency Framework” which describes how, how often and how in detail States need to report on their mitigation, adaptation and climate finance commitments. The most controversial point during negotiations was how to possibly differentiate between developed and developing countries in their reporting efforts. A compromise was eventually found in having common criteria while allowing for flexibility for those countries that lack capacity.

As for climate finance, a topic which is typically controversial at COPs, the process for defining the new 2025 targets was also nailed down. The new targets should replace the current commitment to mobilise 100 billion dollars a year from 2020 to support developing countries in their mitigation and adaptation efforts. The language agreed is nevertheless permissive and it does not provide clear indications on the type of financial resources that would qualify for the goal. More clarity was instead reached on the modalities for tracking progress on technological transfer. Finally, the COP specified the functioning of the Global Stocktake, the mechanism that should ramp up States’ ambition in climate action every 5 years.

It was impossible to reach an agreement on the voluntary market mechanisms foreseen by Article 6 of the Paris Agreement and which should allow countries to sell their surplus in climate action (eg. mitigation efforts exceeding their domestic goal). Brazil held the talks in hostage on some technical issues -and this is why the conference closed with a delay of one day and a half- and it was therefore decided to leave this issue for COP25.
The objection by some countries (USA, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) in welcoming the importance of the IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C was eventually weakened in the final decision. As a compromise solution , the text now welcomes the timely completion of the IPCC Special Report and invites all Parties to make use of it in the UNFCCC process. Yet, it looks like it is still difficult for some countries to accept the call made by the scientific community on the urgency of keeping temperature increase within 1.5°C so to limit particularly adverse climate change impacts on people and ecosystems. This is even more important in light of the results of a recent report by Global Carbon Project which shows that emissions increased again in 2017 and will probably increase by 2.7% in 2018.

It is probably too early to analyse in detail the implications of the complex technical guidelines agreed in Katowice. Defining the Rulebook was undoubtedly an important step ahead and a good technical result. Yet, the relief for having reached a deal after sleepless negotiation nights, comes with a sense of disappointment for the lack of urgency and ambition in the text. In Katowice, it was agreed what was actually possible. Yet, what is possible will not be enough for acting on the climate crisis. In the final speech to the Plenary, Amalen Sathananthar from “The Activist Network” and in representation of youth civil society organizations, was clear: “Nobody expected COP24 to save the world, but we expected more. And deserved more”. On the same line, Carlos Rittl from the brazilian Observatory on the Climate said: “Paris defined the framework for limiting global warming and its adverse impacts. Katowice created the tools for making the Agreement operational. Yet it is only political will that can ramp up climate action”.

The next COP25 will be hosted by Chile in 2019, while for COP26 the competing hosts are Italy and the United Kingdom. Italy’s candidature was officially presented by the Minister Sergio Costa in Katowice. The COP26 in 2020 will be of extraordinary importance as the Paris Agreement will take effect and the first revision of NDCs will be completed.

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