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Paris Agreement Rulebook (mostly) delivered at COP24 but ambition still lacking

Well The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Katowice – COP24 – did give us a deal, it did provide the Paris Rulebook (mostly), but it failed to substantially increase ambition.

For the moment it kept the momentum of the Paris Agreement Moment alive, despite the climate denial of the Trump administration, and despite Brazil’s new President elect Jair Bolsanaro.

The negotiations were highly technical focusing on the detail of the Paris Agreement, the so called rule book for how to apply, implement and operationalize the agreement signed in Paris three years ago. The UNFCCC works by consensus by the 197 parties, so achieving agreement is always difficult, and when it gets down to the fine details even more so.

The science has become very clear that we need to rapidly act to reduce emissions, so the glacial pace of negotiations is very frustrating. Delays and incremental advancement is as good as failure.

The politicians and negotiators are not providing the answers fast enough. That is clear from reading the IPCC special report on 1.5C: a rapid social transformation is needed if we are to meet the 1.5C target. We need to phase out all fossil fuels as rapidly as possible, and coal is the worst, most carbon intense fossil fuel.

The year long Talanoa Dialogue process and the IPCC Special Report on 1.5C were expected to enhance and feed-in to the momentum of the rulebook, setting in place an enhanced and predictable financial package, and countries increasing ambition before 2020.

We need to be well on the way to decarbonising the world by 2030, in just 12 years time, or risk escalating substantial extreme weather disasters, the chance of climate feedback mechanisms kicking in boosting the climate to a “Hothouse Earth’ condition making the end of civilisation, widespread species extinction, and the possibility for human extinction a very real prospect. The science is clear.

David Attenborough speaking on the first day made clear that this is a crisis for human civilisation. 15 year old Greta Thunberg in discussion with the UN Secretary General and UNFCCC secretariat and addressing the high level plenary made clear the ambition required.

In Katowice, governments were expected to craft robust rules for the Paris Agreement that will drive climate action, adopt a COP decision to enhance climate targets by 2020 and deliver adequate and predictable finance and support to fully implement nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

Climate Action Network described the gains as:

Countries agreed to a comprehensive set of rules that will help operationalize the Paris Agreement, despite failing to establish any rules for carbon markets post-2020.

On transparency, guidance for NDCs and accounting, a strong basis has been created that ensures parties will be accountable for their commitments.

A robust framework has been created for the Global Stocktake, taking into account equity and best available science.

The framework for carbon markets proved to be too contentious to land an agreement. Even the most basic and essential accounting requirements could not be agreed upon, such as avoiding double counting of emission reductions, or the transition of flawed pre-2020 markets, could not be resolved and led to postponing the entire set of rules related to article 6 to COP25.

Developed countries are still largely free to account as they see fit for the finance they provide and mobilize to meet the $100 billion goal by 2020.

While these talks saw much-needed financial pledges to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), to the Least Developed Countries Fund — and for the first time Adaptation Fund pledges crossed the $100 million threshold, wealthy nations must offer larger and more predictable channels of funding that will instil confidence in developing countries to implement national climate plans.

The dearth of adequate finance of most countries continues to undermine trust. The replenishment process to the GCF in 2019 must be a race to the top with countries following the example of Germany to at least doubling on their current commitments. Developed countries must also honour the $100bn in the next two years.

Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), and one of the foremost experts on the UN climate change negotiations on the outcome of the talks, made the following statement.

“In Katowice, ministers and negotiators adopted a common rulebook on how countries will formulate and report on their national emissions reduction pledges and move forward on adaptation, technology, finance and other important provisions of the Paris Agreement. While some rulebook elements still need to be fleshed out, the agreement lays a solid foundation for implementation and strengthening of the historic accord reached in Paris three years ago. It could also help facilitate U.S. re-entry into the Paris Agreement by a future presidential administration.

“The recent IPCC Special Report on 1.5 Degrees represents a wake-up call from the world’s top scientists, making clear that we face a planetary emergency unless we take profound and rapid action to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases. While the United States and three other major oil-producing countries prevented the urgency of action from being fully reflected in the final decision, the vast majority of countries indicated they have heard the dire warning from scientists.

“World leaders must come to next September’s climate summit in New York being organized by UN Secretary-General António Guterres with a clear indication of how they intend to substantially raise their climate ambition by 2020. This will be the acid test of how serious they are in their professed commitment to averting a climate catastrophe.

“President Trump continues to question the consensus of the world’s scientists on the urgent need for climate action, and is taking a wrecking ball to federal clean energy policies. In sharp contrast, we were inspired by the presence in Katowice of U.S. state officials, mayors, businesses, indigenous leaders, religious community members, youth activists and others who support bold climate action; they represent the true face of America on climate change. In the wake of recent hurricanes, floods, wildfires and other climate-related extreme weather events, a clear majority of Americans support a rapid transition away from fossil fuels towards a clean, renewable energy future, as is needed to avert even worse and more costly climate impacts.”

The Climate Vulnerable Forum, with many members from the Pacific region, was upbeat about the final result. H.E. David Paul, Hon. Minister-in-Assistance-to-the-President and Minister of Environment for the Republic of the Marshall Islands released a statement for the forum:

Katowice has responded to the plea of the most vulnerable with the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) under the UNFCCC by sending an unambiguous signal for all nations to deliver new national contributions (NDCs) to fight climate change by 2020 and calling for “the highest possible effort by all”. The more than 190 members of the United Nations have demonstrated that the aims of Paris Agreement are taken seriously by all countries, each of which now plans to take greater action than previously in order to keep the 1.5 degrees Celsius target within reach, and to safeguard the most vulnerable.

We have therefore entered a phase of special vigilance, or “Jumemmej” in Marshallese, as called for by the leaders of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) at our 22 November Virtual Summit, the first entirely online intergovernmental meeting of its kind, seeking unity and solidarity to address an emergency situation for the most vulnerable around the world.

on the whole most assessments were more sober. Helen Mountford, Vice President for Global Climate and Economics, World Resources Institute:

“The reality is that the world has not yet turned the corner to aggressively drive down global emissions. And the window is closing. The inadequate global response to the climate crisis was articulated eloquently by 15-year-old Greta Thunberg who confronted delegates at these negotiations, calling on them to “pull the emergency break” to combat this existential crisis. Her words delivered a powerful message that global leaders should not ignore.

“The Paris Agreement is grounded in a vision of the world working together, united by a spirit of cooperation. Heads of state urgently need to take bold measures in their countries and collectively to cut emissions, enhance resilience and seize the economic and social benefits that can propel us to a safer, more prosperous future.”

The most scathing assessment came from a statement by India’s Centre for Science and Environment:

“The Katowice CoP will be remembered as an anti-science CoP for its failure to take into account the findings of the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5oC. It will also be remembered for coming out with a Rulebook that dilutes an already weak Paris Agreement, thereby undermining the global effort to combat climate change,” said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE.

Brazil undermines market mechanism negotiations with loopholes enabling double counting

Environmental Defence Fund (EDF) Senior Vice President Nathaniel Keohane highlighted that while negotiators had made significant progress in establishing sound accounting rules for bilateral transfers between countries (under paragraph 2 of Article 6), the talks broke down over Brazilian intransigence on the treatment of credits generated by a new “mechanism” under paragraph 4.

Brazil refused to budge on its longstanding insistence that it be allowed to double-count such credits by applying them toward its own NDC while selling them to another country seeking to apply them toward that country’s NDC. Such a loophole would undermine the integrity of the mechanism and could potentially threaten the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

“By leaving Poland without clear rules on international cooperation under Article 6, however, negotiators missed a major opportunity to start creating a robust framework for flexible approaches such as carbon markets. While there was overwhelming support for common-sense accounting rules among countries, businesses, and NGOs, a handful of countries, led by Brazil, thwarted progress by insisting that they should be allowed to cheat the atmosphere — and their trading partners — by double-counting their carbon credits.

“Such a loophole would undermine the integrity of the carbon market and contradict the basic principle that each ton of emissions reductions should only be counted once.

“It is no surprise that markets have become the flash point in these talks, because they are the fulcrum for ambition going forward. International cooperation will be the engine of deeper emissions reductions, and Article 6.2, which recognizes that countries may cooperate through markets, is the unsung hero of the Paris Agreement.

“Analysis from Environmental Defense Fund shows that countries could nearly double their ambition through the use of well-designed carbon markets, relative to the targets that are currently on the table. The best way to realize the promise of markets would be clear rules under Article 6 that require comprehensive reporting of transfers and prevent double counting. Negotiators must do better next year.

“While the failure to reach agreement in Katowice is a disappointment markets will move ahead in the more than 50 jurisdictions where they are already underway, including the European Union, California and nine other U.S. states — and China, which is building the world’s largest carbon market.

“The Paris Agreement explicitly recognizes that countries can pursue international cooperation on carbon markets on their own, regardless of whether or not the UN provides guidance. Countries interested in carbon markets are actively discussing the prospect of creating coalitions, or ‘clubs,’ to agree on harmonized rules for high-integrity carbon markets.

“EDF will continue to work with all interested countries to ensure that carbon markets and international trading of emissions reductions maintain sound accounting and environmental integrity.”

Sounds familiar to the Australia Clause that was inserted into the Kyoto Protocol for counting land use and forestry emissions reductions just for Australia’s benefit so we would not scuttle the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

High Ambition Coalition emerges to push for greater pre 2020 ambition

During the final days the reemergence of a “High Ambition Coalition” provided some positive news. This group that initially surfaced in Paris in 2015 to drive an ambitious target and agreement, came together again in Poland. It included the Marshall Islands, Fiji, Ethiopia, EU, Norway, UK, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Mexico, Columbia, all pledging to enhance their national climate plans before 2020 and increase both short and long term action.

Australia’s role at COP24

And where was Australia during the talks? Our Environment Minister Melissa Price did several photo opps, and delivered a very staid speech that talked up our low targets and many of the policies which had earlier been slated to be abolished.

Australia is still plugging away trying to use creative accounting loopholes to undermine our fair share of emissions reduction by carryover of excess Kyoto credits to meet our Paris targets. Environment Minister Melissa Price failed to rule out use of this loophole to meet Australia’s already low targets. This won Australia a Fossil of the Day award at COP24. But the Labor party can’t hold it’s head up on this issue as Climate Spokesperson Mark Butler has also failed to rule out use of this loophole.

The silence by Australia in the debate over the IPCC Special Report on 1.5C in the negotiations reflects the current Ministerial issue with accepting climate science and the need to rapidly phase out coal.

Australia’s diplomatic reputation wasn’t enhanced when Australia’s lead negotiator Patrick Suckling appeared at a US government side event panel on clean coal and carbon capture and storage. But despite this Australia’s negotiating team have a high reputation for being constructive in negotiations, and we are one of the few Party delegations which has a good gender balance.

Our youth delegates raised the Adani mine and called for both Prime Minister Morrison and Opposition Leader Shorten to heed the science and stop the Adani Carmichael coal mine. Our two largest cities Melbourne and Sydney stepped up and joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance with a commitment to phase out coal power generation.

The Climate Action Tracker came out with an update during COP24 saying that Climate policies on the rise globally, but ambition level still lacking. Australia’s climate policies are rated as highly insufficient, with no climate policy progress, delaying global progress, and policies consistent with 3 degrees of global warming.

Australia is currently one of the bad guys on the block, and this reflects upon us all.

I described Malcolm Turnbull’s role three years ago at COP21 as all style little substance. He made the right statements, and I do believe he wanted to do far more on climate action, but he sold his soul out to the far right in February 2015 not to change the Coalition’s climate policy.

Prime Minister Morrison has continued this legacy, and if anything has moved to a more hostile climate policy stance appointing former mining lawyer Melissa Price as Environment Minister and anti-renewables campaigner Angus Taylor to the Energy Portfolio.

With a Federal election looming in the next six months and Labor adopting a country wide all sector emissions reduction target of 45 per cent on 2005 levels, we finally might get back on track to our fair share, but we have much catching up to do. The last five years of Coalition Government has seen Australia’s emissions rising when they should have been falling.

The ALP national conference has adopted strong messaging on the science and climate emergency, but this is at odds with the silence on the Adani coal mine and need to set in place phaseout of coal, although the establishment of a Just Transition Authority is an important initial step.


Statements on the outcome of COP24 in Katowice: