With little over a year to go, there is no margin for delay in setting the rules to implement the Paris Agreement on climate change.
With the UN Climate Conference at Katowice just days away, many alarm bells have been sounding on the closing window of opportunity to effectively address climate change.
The most recent comes from the World Meteorological Organization, which found unprecedented CO2 concentrations in the order of 405.5 ppmv in 2017. That portends a scenario similar to 3-5 million years ago when the temperature was 2-3°C higher, leading to melting of ice sheets and sea levels that were 10-20 meters higher than current levels.
Meanwhile, a special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says the world has just 12 years to take action to avoid the dangerous impacts of climate change. That action, according to the IPCC, would involve a 45% reduction of global net human induced CO2 emissions from 2010 levels by 2030—to prevent the 1.5°C temperature increase scenario—and a 20% decline in emissions for limiting global warming to below 2°C.
With this background, the need for delivering on the implementation architecture for the Paris Agreement is of paramount importance. While there have been some political shifts since the agreement was reached three years ago, negotiators are still making progress towards finalizing the rulebook that will guide climate action globally.
The expectations, however, for the UN Climate Conference next month in Katowice, are more modest. The key challenge will be winnowing down a 307-page volume of divergent positions into a streamlined draft which captures firm, collective implementation guidelines.
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The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), or climate commitments by countries, is the most important cornerstone of the Paris Agreement. A significant amount of time has rightly been dedicated to fleshing out the contours of NDCs for comparability, and for instituting a transparency framework for monitoring reporting and verification of climate commitments. However, the importance of providing financing for climate action, including adapting to climate change, in developing countries is the counterbalance that will determine the success of Katowice.
To my mind, there are three important steps to build confidence in financing flows for climate action, including for the success of negotiations in Katowice and, therefore, for the future of the Paris Agreement.
The first step is to ensure that the pre-2020 financing commitments are seen to be met. Here, I refer to the commitment made by developed countries to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries.
In 2016, climate finance to developing countries, as reported in developed countries’ biennial reports to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, stood at $38 billion. The $100 billion was expected to come from an array of sources, public and private, and bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance. But ensuring both the integrity and transparency of the $100 billion funding flows will be critical for building trust among countries.
The second important step is a clear roadmap, under Article 9 of the Paris Agreement, for ensuring these financing flows continue beyond 2020, as well as a willingness to discuss raising the $100 billion a year floor. It is understood that prior to 2025, developed countries will set a collective quantified goal that addresses the needs and priorities of developing countries, as articulated in their NDCs. If there is no clear signal on this at Katowice and in the coming months, it is highly unlikely developing countries will deliver on their commitments on their existing NDCs, or agree on more ambitious NDCs in the future.
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The third step is ensuring a clear and transparent framework for monitoring, reporting, and verifying the financial flows. It may be relatively easy to develop guidelines for the climate financing currently being delivered. However, there is also a need for developed countries to indicate what they intend to provide, including indications on the level of finance, extent of mobilization from different sources, the time frames, use of financial instruments, and the different channels.
Meeting these three conditions for climate finance will not be easy, and they will have to be balanced with the other complicated and confounding elements of the Paris Agreement, such as modalities for financing adaptation and loss and damage due to climate impacts.
Katowice may deliver on a political level. But the more important technical details will still need to be negotiated. It took four years for the modalities and procedures for the clean development mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol to be worked out. The Paris Agreement, in comparison, has a broader expanse and scope requiring many complex pieces to align.
More importantly, to commence the implementation of the agreement, the rules of the game have to be clear, hardwired, and understood by all parties before January 1, 2020. With a little over 12 months to go, and with the window for action closing, we do not have the luxury of time.
There is absolutely no margin for delay, and one can only hope that the UN Climate Conference in Katowice will deliver.