Opinion | The challenge of saving the Paris agreement
All the aspects of the Paris agreement are essential for its effective implementation when it kicks off in 2021
The recently released United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change report presents the harsh reality that today, when the average warming is 1°C, the world is already experiencing adverse climate impacts. It also, however, clearly states that limiting global warming to 1.5°C is not impossible, but requires unprecedented transitions in behaviour, investments, political will, policy directions, innovation, and international collaboration
In just three years after the successful summit in Paris, the global context has changed dramatically. The US has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, Australia and Brazil are struggling against domestic pressures to stay in it, while Russia is still waiting in the wings. Further, there are concerns over the future of international cooperation, without which the Paris Agreement will not work. However, there is still hope.
At Katowice, Poland, where the next climate CoP (Conference of Parties) will be held in December, the parties have the task of developing and finalising rules for implementing the provisions of the Paris agreement. The recently held Bangkok Conference belied the expectations of completing this work anytime soon. Not that everyone was optimistic. Agreeing upon nothing until everything is agreed, is usually the norm in international negotiations. But there is always place for some mature parts of negotiations to emerge as early harvest. However, there was clearly no agreement on the degree of trade off to be made among achievable elements.
Climate talks are known to be highly fractious because of historical baggage and the burden of managing the least-cost low emission growth. Finding the right balance among the achievable ones is, therefore, key. They cover not just the level and trend of emissions, but also the associated issues of adaptation, loss and damages from disasters, means of implementation, including finance, technology and capacity building. Among these multiple issues, the sticky ones at Bangkok appeared to be those that dealt with the scope of nationally determined contributions (NDCs), transparency (reporting, measurement and verification) regime, adoption of a measurable and quantitative goal of finance to be committed by developed countries for post-2020 period, and support for adaptation and loss and damage.
What appears to have held back the parties from coming to a negotiated settlement was the lack of trust that has begun to seep in after the reversal in the US and refusal to respect the principle of flexibility in obligations or actions. The mood also got soured because, in their enthusiasm for development of a comprehensive and detailed rulebook, some countries were itching to go beyond the Paris agreement and elaborate more than what it needs.
Hence, as all countries move towards COP 24, the challenge is that of identifying core areas of the rulebook that are mature for adoption and operationalization on the basis of these principles. This is a task for the Polish presidency that has the political responsibility of managing the expectations and bringing them to conclusion at Katowice.
First, there is a pressing need to agree on the nature of NDCs their scope or composition. Are they mitigation-centric or flexible enough to accommodate needs of adaptation, finance and technology according to national circumstances? What features should they have in terms of measurement and report? The current set of NDCs collectively does not achieve the 2 degrees Celsius target. There is thus a debate over the nature and need for ambition to be expressed in the next cycle of NDCs. The NDCs are heterogeneous in nature making comparability difficult. India, China and EU have economy-wide target of different types in 10-years time-frame (2020-2030), while that of the US has a five year time frame of 2025, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, and even Colombia has target in a range of five to 10 years. Flexibility is, therefore, crucial to raising ambition. As the first cycle of NDCs starts from 2021, flexibility based on national circumstances should continue to be available until the next iteration of NDCs. Further, the range of action has to be broad enough to cover both the mitigation and adaptation aspects in order to ensure consistence with the NDCs as already expressed.
Second, the design of modalities, procedures and guidelines (MPGs) for the transparency framework should be thought through. The good news is that major country governments have had some experience in the past to maintain and report emissions inventories. The MPGs should, therefore, aim at building upon the lessons learnt from the existing monitoring, reporting and verification procedures rather than add additional burden on parties or supersede the existing the procedures.
Third, the issue of availability of consistent finance needs to be addressed to help the developing countries alleviate the burden of climate change. The Green Climate Fund is far from reaching anywhere close to what it was anticipated to be. With support from the US withdrawn, the future of the GCF looks bleak. An agreement on ‘new and additional’ finance is essential. While most countries are conscious that the finance flow will take place, not necessarily through budgetary route, there is insistence on this flow being subject to MRV just as emissions are. A trade off on this issue with those in the NDCs and the Transparency is inevitable for a movement to take place in terms of agreement at Katowice.
Evidently, all the aspects of the Paris agreement are essential for its effective implementation when it kicks off in 2021. While on the road to Katowice, the Polish presidency will have to distil the core and mature elements of the rulebook for adoption and assign the residual ones to a continuing work programme. Disappointment at Katowice may cost us dearly in terms of confidence in Paris agreement and ability to raise ambitions of parties.
R.R. Rashmi and Karan Mangotra are, respectively, distinguished fellow and associate director at TERI.
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