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FEATURE: Bringing the Paris rulebook to life


CDKN’s Kiran Sura, Marisa Donnelly and Toby Morris report on the past two weeks of international climate change negotiations in Bonn, Germany.

The UNFCCC conference in Bonn drew to a close last Thursday after two weeks of negotiations, side events, and informal meetings.  This conference marked the halfway point between COP22 under the presidency of Morocco and COP23 under the presidency of Fiji.

The 2015 Paris Agreement was an unprecedented achievement, however there is still much work to be done.  Parties are now working to operationalise the Agreement by developing the Paris ‘rulebook’.  A long serving legal and strategy advisor to the LDC Group, Achala Abeysinghe remarked, “The Paris Agreement is just an empty shell without the rulebook”.

US indecision loomed at the opening of the talks but a Trump announcement was postponed.

A palpable air of uncertainty pervaded the opening day in Bonn, driven by reports of Donald Trump’s impending May 9th announcement on whether or not the U.S. would be staying in the Paris Agreement.   However, May 9th came and went and the Trump administration pushed its announcement back until after the G7 summit later in May.  This allowed parties and observers to focus on the task at hand – designing the Paris rulebook.  Whilst uncertainty regarding the U.S. and its participation in the Agreement remains, American negotiators were vocal and contributed to technical discussions on the design of the rulebook.

In moving from the conceptual to the technical various issues have emerged.

Action areas should be progressed at a similar pace.  Developing countries felt that mitigation agenda items were receiving more time and attention than adaptation items and asserted that more effort should be made to advance these items at the same pace. There were also calls for greater balance between pre-2020 and post-2020 effort, action and support.   Moreover, in order to ensure efficiency and maintain momentum, many negotiators stressed that efforts must be coordinated across the distinct bodies serving the UNFCCC (that have different yet interrelated mandates) to address interlinked agenda items or “linkages”.

A clear definition of “climate finance” is needed.  The Paris Agreement recognises the need for financial support to be provided to developing countries. This is intended to enable developing countries to implement the Paris Agreement by enhancing mitigation and adaptation action and tracking any support they receive.  However, Parties called for a more specific definition of “climate finance” in order to determine what qualifies as assistance.  Developing countries emphasized that the definition should only encompass grants, as opposed to loans and/or other blended forms of financing. On a related note, Parties engaged in lengthy discussions on options for the Adaptation Fund to serve the Paris Agreement.  During discussions around operation of the Fund, old fault lines between developed and developing countries re-emerged.

Everyone has something to contribute, but some may overstep.  A number of side-events in Bonn highlighted the need to engage a range of non-state actors and stakeholders.  These groups can contribute expertise towards the rulebook and support implementation of the Paris Agreement.  A side event hosted by CDKN and the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) examined how the Agreement could be advanced across local and regional scales, with discussions focussing on NDC implementation.  Two other side-events focused on the role of regional government in adaptation action and the need to integrate non-party expertise in the Paris rulebook.  Some companies and coalitions of progressive businesses have spoken out in support of the Agreement – both since its signature and at the most recent talks.   However, during the second week of talks, developing countries, including those of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group, raised concerns that corporate interests from the fossil fuel industry are, “drowning out the voices of developing nations”.  This concern underscores the need for a delicate balance between promoting inclusivity and restricting the fossil fuel lobby.

Equity is crucial but can be approached with increased sophistication.  Equity pervades all elements of the Paris Agreement.  All parties have “Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities”, meaning that they are working towards a common goal, but their respective duties and capacities to act are varied. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to equity under the rulebook and Parties will need to continue to work together in good faith to agree where strict guidelines are needed around equity and where looser and vaguer notions of equity may suffice.  Any guidelines should reflect national circumstances, especially around action and support.

Negotiators look ahead to the Facilitative Dialogue and new leaders emerge.

The writing of the Paris rulebook and preparing for the Facilitative Dialogue in 2018 will be a focal point of COP23 in November this year.

The Secretariat has suggested that a series of pre-COP23 roundtables on specific elements of the Paris Agreement be held before the next round for formal negotiations.  The goal is to create a space for more technical work to be undertaken and to expedite the process for getting draft negotiating text on the table either at or soon after COP23.

As US uncertainty under the Trump administration remains, other countries are establishing themselves as active climate leaders.  Recent evidence from Climate Action Tracker suggests that emerging economies such as China and India are on course to outperform against their current Paris Agreement pledges and potentially counteract any backsliding by the United States.  It is important that political momentum and unity behind the Agreement are sustained throughout the technical process and felt during key political events, including the G7 meeting, the China-EU climate summit, and the UN General Assembly meeting, leading up to COP23.

Picture: Patricia Espinosa, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, courtesy UNclimatechange via Flickr 

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