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OPINION: Countries must follow technical achievement of COP24 by stepping up ambition

Mairi Dupar and Shehnaaz Moosa of CDKN take stock of COP24’s achievements and the bigger picture for climate action.

Delegates to COP24 in Katowice, Poland closed the conference on Saturday with a considerable achievement: they signed off an almost-complete ‘rulebook’ – or set of guidelines – for implementing the Paris Agreement. The Agreement is due to come into force in 2020 and, until now, lacked detailed guidance on how countries would account for their greenhouse gas emissions reductions (or avoidance), adaptation measures and finance contributions.

Why the rulebook is so important

Agreeing and following collective methodologies are critical, if countries are to trust each other to contribute fairly to limiting global warming and its impacts. Playing by accepted rules is a precondition for countries to create a ‘race to the top’ where they hold themselves and each other accountable for ambitious action.

And so, the conclusion of the rulebook is a considerable achievement for climate negotiators. They deserve congratulations. Toiling to produce the hundreds of pages of technical text was no mean feat. Before the meeting, and even until the final days of it, there was a real risk that it could have fallen apart or delivered far less. As recently as September 2018, when an extraordinary session of the Parties was called in Bangkok, delegates were frustrated at the little progress they had made until then.

The remaining significant gap is around the rules for Article 6: carbon markets including international carbon trading. Here the parties in Katowice, Poland disagreed on how to set up a mechanism that would avoid  emissions credits being ‘double counted’. This issue has been parked for resolution next year at COP25. It is important that Article 6 rules are resolved but it’s not a deal-breaker that the text is missing from Saturday’s book.

COP24 was always going to be a ‘technical COP’ and in this, it largely delivered.

Now it’s time for greater action on the ground 

Of course, beyond the rulebook, the pressing big-picture questions are: what is happening to global emissions? What are the prospects for a less-dangerous planet with a limited degree of global warming? And what are the prospects for the levels of finance – responsibly invested – that are necessary to transform delivery of climate adaptation and mitigation?

On these big picture questions, the outlook for 2019-2020 and beyond calls for extraordinary effort by governments, businesses, civil society – indeed, everyone.

Countries’ voluntary commitments to reducing emissions – the Nationally Determined Contributions – are still putting the Earth on track to more than 3oC of warming and must become farther-reaching.

Indeed, even at today’s levels of warming, which is 1oC above the preindustrial era, certain areas of the planet are warming more quickly (read about what warming means for hotspots) creating a heavy toll on crop production, freshwater availability and human health. Meanwhile, low-lying island nations are more exposed to rising seas than was previously thought – new analysis finds that sea level rise is accelerating due to the melting Greenland ice sheet.

Worst of all, the data and analysis in the latest UNEP Emissions Gap report indicates that global carbon dioxide emissions are once more rising (2017 figures), after three years of stagnation. When emissions plateaued in 2014-16, it brought the hope that global emissions might be heading for an inexorable decline. It’s vital that emissions peak and decline as quickly as possible to increase the chances of staying within the Paris Agreement’s target of as close as possible to 1.5oC of average global warming.

IPCC has shown us what’s at stake

The IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5oC of Global Warming, launched in October 2018, made it clear that global net carbon dioxide emissions must fall by around 45% by 2030 and must reach net zero by 2050 for it to be more likely (than not) to keep warming to 1.5oC.

Of course, the IPCC’s Special Report also revealed how high the stakes are, if warming increases above this 1.5 degrees. Sea level rise at 1.5oC of average global warming will be 10cm lower than at 2oC, which gives scope for adaptation to tens of millions more people. Limiting warming to 1.5oC reduces by 50% the area of land that could be transformed entirely from one ecosystem to another – compared to 2oC.

Half a degree makes a vast difference in the marine environment: a 2oC average global temperature rise is expected to destroy more than 99% of coral reefs; at 1.5 oC, at least some would survive.

The IPCC finds major differences in human impacts in half a degree of warming: “limiting warming to 1.5oC compared to 2 oC could reduce the number of people exposed to climate related risks and susceptible to poverty by up to several hundred million by 2050.” The main challenge, which we explore in the CDKN blog, will be that – to reach a net zero emissions world – institutions and governance processes for climate mitigation must protect the poorest, too.

However you look at it, countries’ collective failure to reduce emissions as they receive this scientific knowledge is unacceptable. Increases in both political ambition and finance are needed to right this wrong.

Climate finance: a critical piece of the puzzle

Countries previously agreed that US$100 billion per year should flow to climate-vulnerable countries by 2020. The latest Biennial Assessment of Climate Finance, a report to the UNFCCC’s Standing Committee on Finance, finds some reason for cheer.

According to the Biennial Assessment, public climate finance flows from developed to developing countries are steadily up – they amounted to US$ 55.7 billion in 2016, an increase of 30 percent over 2014 levels. Of course, there is still a significant way to go to reach the $100 billion target.

And it may be frustrating for the least developed countries that they still receive only 24% of bilateral finance flows, in spite of their pressing needs. COP24 failed to provide a clear, coordinated plan on how donors will reach the $100 billion.  The outcome document “sets a way to decide on new, more ambitious targets from 2025 onwards” but this may seem like a long way off given the urgency.

In positive news, the Adaptation Fund (AF) formally invited by Parties to serve the Paris Agreement and it got a record-breaking replenishment.  The direct access offered by the AF and its commitments to gender and social inclusion, learning, knowledge management and scaling up from pilot projects are all critical components for success in delivering adaptation.

These and other donor initiatives must be seen as the thin end of a much larger wedge to be delivered by donor countries from now on.

And this climate finance needs to be delivered with recipient countries in control of their own agendas and empowered to mainstream climate finance and climate action into their national development priorities.

World needs an inspiring next chapter

COP24 closed one chapter and is just the beginning of a long chapter to follow. The next chapter must contain increased ambition from donors and all countries – starting with the political spotlight created by the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in September 2019 and continuing through 2020. These are key moments for countries to set and submit higher targets.

Next stop for the climate COP will be Chile in November 2019. Here, an ambitious national government is writing a Framework Law on Climate Change, with intentions to lock in climate action from the national through provincial and local levels. Let us hope that Chile’s ambitions will not only succeed in their own right, but also provide inspiration to others, for the next stage of this journey.

 

Image: After the typhoon, courtesy Asian Development Bank

 

 

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