Stepping off the plane in Katowice Airport into a coal-scented night was an immediate reminder of what was at stake at COP24. Here are some reflections on the main successes and disappointments of the Katowice talks.
Just three years ago at the Paris Climate Summit, nearly 200 countries welcomed the ground-breaking agreement to limit global temperature rise to ‘well-below 2° C’. The main objective in Katowice was for delegates to agree an ‘operating manual’ to bring the Paris Agreement to life. Without the rules of the game, this Agreement is little more than a set of aspirations – all be it aspirations shared by a great many of the world’s people.
Commonly referred to as ‘the Paris Rule Book’, this set of methods, procedures and guidelines regulate how countries will cut emissions, provide finance for poor nations, and ensure everyone is doing what they said they would. With the future of climate action riding on the outcome, negotiations on the rules stalled during the second week and delayed the close of the COP by one day. However, at 21:33 on Saturday 15 December, 196 countries agreed on some crucial elements. The key overarching debate concerned whether countries should apply a single set of rules to guide emissions reductions – with flexibility for those that need it – or the differentiated reporting of the past.
The final deal creates one set of rules with flexibilities where countries themselves determine they are needed – with accompanying explanations. From 2024, all countries will report biennially (except where flexibilities are applied) using single registry and, crucially, will account for emissions using the 2006 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) guidelines for warming potentials. This means it will be much easier to compare the efforts made by countries and to measure global progress.
While considerable progress was made on finance reporting, a long-term finance goal and rules for carbon markets were postponed until COP25. The Paris Rule Book will become a key tool for the GCCA+ to use to develop climate actions with its partner countries in support of their NDC implementation.
Science is worth fighting for, but not always welcomed.
While finalising the Paris Rule Book was a key success at COP24, a low point was the refusal of a group of countries to welcome the Special Report of the IPCC, on the impact of 1.5° C warming on the world’s ecosystems. This move was widely seen as political as the report integrates more than 6 000 citations, drawing together the latest reviewed findings on the impact of global temperature rise, and was welcomed by governments back in October.
“We have responded to the urgency of science by acknowledging positively the IPCC special report on global warming of 1.5° C. This was a key ask for the EU and its allies,” commented EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete.
The Special Report, which countries requested at the Paris Climate Summit in 2015, was expected to provide major input into the Katowice outcome, and there was anger among the 191 countries and numerous civil society representatives who felt that acknowledging the science was critical. Although a compromise which welcomed the ‘completion of the report’ helped to move countries beyond the impasse, it does beg the question of those determined not to transition, ‘if not science, then what’?
Multilateralism continues, inch by inch, and new voices are emerging.
With the recent rise of nationalist policies, concerns were expressed that getting even a technical agreement at Katowice might be challenging. The magic of multilateralism, however, is that while very few countries (if any) get everything they want, in the end everyone has come round to supporting a single package in which we all have a stake. This is crucial because despite the perception of slow progress, climate action can only succeed if everyone is on board, and multilateralism is the solution we have.
While the deal may not exactly be a win for the planet, it does keep us on course. And as the new voices of today’s children – that is, tomorrow’s leaders – began to make themselves heard, we can perhaps take solace in their sentiments: “We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis”.
Of interest to GCCA+ partners from SIDS and coastal countries, COP24 also hosted the Oceans Action Day, part of the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action. Presentations from over 50 speakers, including UN Special Envoys and Champions, ministers, ambassadors, and representatives from governments, civil society, academia and the private sector highlighted issues linking the ocean and its resources to climate change adaptation and mitigation. Detailed report and additional information can be found via the weblink provided below.
The Global Climate Change Plus (GCCA+), a flagship initiative funded by the European Union (EU), celebrated on 7 December its 10th Anniversary with a special event at COP24. A special space is dedicated to the event on the GCCA+ website at the link below, with presentations and biographies of panellists.