Climate Negotiations Start in Poland: Setting the Stage
Much at Stake in COP-24, Including Negotiation of Paris Rulebook to Implement 2015 Commitments
This week and next, negotiators are meeting in Poland for the large annual international climate-change meeting. This meeting, formally, is the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 1992 treaty that gives the inspiration for all official international motion on climate change, and informally is known as “COP-24.”
It’s now three years for the reason that 2015 Paris meeting, which adopted a set of agreements defining a recent framework for international climate motion. Paris was widely considered a significant source of latest hope, for 2 essential reasons. First, the agreements were adopted with virtually unanimous support worldwide. And second, since the agreements adopted required, for the primary time, motion on climate change from all nations, wealthy and poor. Expectations of the degree and timing of contributions to emission reductions vary with development status, after all – according to the core principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” from the 1992 Convention – but for the primary time, all are in and committed to some extent.
Unfortunately, things haven’t looked so promising within the three years since Paris – and this somber assessment applies in full force to the current meeting.
This is barely partly concerning the setbacks and reversals in national commitments since then. Along with the crazy, head-in-the-sand faction now running Federal policy in america, there have also been setbacks, albeit less dramatic and distinguished ones, in several other countries: shortfalls from ambitious emissions-reductions targets and political response against strong green policies in Germany; distraction and government weakness within the UK, as Brexit consumes all of the air within the room; reversal of policies following a change of presidency in Australia; retreat from a proposed fuel tax increase following riots in France; provincial reversal and federal weakening of proposed policies in Canada; and just last week, the announcement of Brazil’s recent government that it’s withdrawing its offer to host next 12 months’s meeting.
These national reversals – bad enough on their very own terms – are especially worrisome since the Paris agreements are weaker than is widely known. Despite its ambitious targets for limiting global temperature increase, Paris doesn’t specify any particular motion by individual nations, but merely defines a framework for subsequent motion. Unlike prior international efforts, this framework is very decentralized, stating that governments must make and report contributions to controlling climate change but leaving what those contributions are – what variety of motion, how strong or weak, how briskly or slow – almost entirely as much as each government to specify for itself. The hope was that increasingly strong declarations and actions from governments would spur ever stronger reciprocal motion by other governments, in a positive feedback of accelerating ambition and achievement. But realizing this hope, even greater than in other international agreements, relies heavily on sustained leadership from national governments in major economies.
What’s more, negotiations since Paris haven’t only failed to attain further progress, but have in some respects seen the re-emergence of a number of large-scale political conflicts that the seeming harmony of Paris papered over. The large ones, all linked to one another, are expectations for emissions cuts, the extent and type of “differentiation,” and the role of finance in climate commitments.
On obligations to chop emissions, the initial 1992 Framework Convention arrange a binary distinction between two lists of nations, one in all industrialized countries who had emissions-cutting obligations and one in all developing countries who didn’t. This clumsy two-way division of the world, into “have-to’s” and “don’t-have-to’s” was repeated within the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, but has grow to be increasingly anachronistic as countries have developed at widely differing rates. Paris dropped this binary distinction, but did so by letting each country select its own level and type of emissions cuts, however the resultant voluntary pledges should not nearly strong enough to attain the Paris global temperature targets. Because the urgent need for steep emissions cuts becomes clearer and clearer, the old hard questions of who should do how much are being forcefully re-asserted. Everyone accepts differentiated commitments, meaning that wealthy countries must cut more and before poorer ones, but there are sharp disagreements over how far more, how soon, and in addition over the obligations of the rapidly developing, emerging economies reminiscent of China.
The fights over differentiation of commitments also extend to the implementation and procedures of the agreement: how emissions are counted, the way to describe what is anticipated of every country, what procedures apply for monitoring, reporting, and verification, how are national actions and progress subjected to international scrutiny, and so forth. There have long been divides on these matters parallel to those on emissions cuts: the identical rules procedures for all countries, or more lenient, flexible, and cheaper ones for developing countries. Paris got here very near establishing a set of common procedures for all, but there may be now strong pressure to re-impose differentiation on these matters as well.
Particularly, one distinguished group, the “Like-minded developing countries” or LMDCs, is pressing to revive the anachronistic binary divisions of the 1992 Convention, with weaker oversight and procedures for all developing countries. This powerful group of about 25 countries will be usefully considered including two groups: major emerging economies whose serious participation is important for meaningful global progress on emissions, who might be first in line for stronger expectations in the event that they get separated from the poorer, lower-emitting developing countries (e.g., China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia); and countries who’ve mainly acted to dam progress, either because they’re oil exporters whose economies can be harmed by serious mitigation (e.g., Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait) or because – for lack of a greater explanation – they like poking a stick in the attention of the naively globalist, save-the-world ambitions of the North (e.g., Nicaragua, Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba). Brazil, a middle-income developing country that has long positioned itself as constructively engaged in limiting climate change, has not been a member of this group. Here’s a prediction: At this meeting, the brand new government of Brazil will either announce its intention to withdraw from the Paris agreement, or will join the LMDC group.
Finally, finance: It’s long agreed in principle that the industrialized countries should contribute financial assistance for developing countries’ climate responses, each mitigation and adaptation. But the small print are perennially contested. How much money, from whom, under whose control? Private investment flows, public development assistance, or some mix? Grant, loan, or some combination? For what purposes, and under whose control? Roughly speaking, the industrialized country payers prefer to pay less, rely more on private capital flows and loans, keep more control, and mainly fund emissions cuts. The developing country recipients prefer to receive more, of which more is ODA and grants, with more control of their hands, to fund each mitigation and adaptation with an emphasis on adaptation. The fights over finance are long-standing: many representatives of industrialized countries think they are only buying mitigation and the developing countries are holding the world for ransom while all of us burn; many representatives of developing countries think financial payments are partially compensation for past industrialized-country contributions to climate change, that the funds are theirs to allocate in accordance with their highest development priorities, and that the industrialized countries have repeatedly broken prior guarantees.
Against this somber background, what are the negotiators in Poland actually doing? Mainly, they’re aiming to finish negotiation of the “Paris Rulebook” – the foundations, procedures, and requirements to make the Paris agreements concrete and operational: how are emissions measured, what do nations report and the way, what are the expectations for continuing increase within the ambition of national actions, how do the international review processes work, what are the provisions for climate finance (especially post-2025, for which no numerical targets have yet been agreed), and what’s the connection of finance to the remaining of the agreement? This meeting is the deadline for completing the rulebook, but progress has been slow and uneven. As of the last negotiating session before this meeting, the draft negotiating text was 307 pages long, with 1000’s of bracketed passages denoting unresolved disagreements. Finalizing this might be an enormous, hard job, made harder by the foremost points of disagreement, as noted above, which are playing out by proxy in negotiations over specific language at various points within the draft rulebook. The co-chairs of negotiating groups did yeoman’s work in structuring and simplifying the text after the last meeting, identifying major alternatives on multiple key points and going a ways toward having a transparent agenda for negotiations at this meeting. They could make it, but it is going to be a heavy lift for just two weeks work.
While some critics of the method are tossing around “deck chairs on the Titanic” analogies, that is just not quite correct, or fair. The work of the Paris rulebook is significant. The negotiations are detailed, meticulous, and heavy on procedure – but this work is important if the Paris agreement goes to have any operational significance in guiding and motivating stronger motion. This work needs to be done, and done well.
However the incontrovertible fact that this work is barely now being done does represent a discouraging state of affairs relative to gravity and growing urgency of the climate problem. National commitments made at and since Paris fall far in need of what is required to satisfy the Paris temperature targets. On this regard, the elephant within the room – or more aptly, one in all the several elephants within the room – is the September report from the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the implications of the Paris 1.5°C temperature goal. Despite intensive efforts to shape a positive message, the upshot of this report is two-fold: first, climate-change impacts are more likely to be worse than previously projected, to 2°C not looks “protected” and even 1.5°C is just not free from risk of significant disruptions; and second, current efforts and commitments fall far in need of meeting either of those. Current policies are on target toward heating of three.1 to three.7°C by 2100, current pledges not yet enacted in policy toward 2.6 to three.2°C. Current pledges, if fully realized, would hold global emissions roughly constant through 2030, when to be on target to achieving 2°C they should drop at the least 30% by that 12 months, or 45% to be on target to 1.5°C.
The one place on the meeting where this stark reality is on the agenda is on the “Talanoa dialogue,” an off-the-cuff consultation planned in Paris as an early, interim assessment of collective progress toward the Paris targets. Initially called a “consultative dialog” in Paris, this process was re-titled under last 12 months’s Fijian presidency, with the name of a standard Fijian consultative process intended to be “inclusive, participatory, and transparent.” This dialog will after all be a vehicle for lamentations over how far short collective efforts are falling. It is going to probably, hopefully, even be a vehicle for brand new announcements of stronger measures and policies by individual governments. But it is going to don’t have any concrete implications for the actual institutional mechanisms being set as much as implement Paris unless the output of this dialog is brought forward to the formal negotiations, in the shape of concrete proposals for decisions of the parties, ideally decisions that represent some significant strengthening of ambition, policies, or supporting processes. As of the primary day of meetings, there was no sign output of this aside from environmental groups calling for it – however it could still occur.
Finally, I can’t fail to notice the multi-level irony of the placement of this 12 months’s meeting, each in Poland and in Katowice. Poland is the EU’s largest coal producer and second-largest coal consumer (second after … wait for it … Germany!) Poland can be the consistently strongest opponent of ambitious EU climate motion. Silesia, the region around Katowice, is the essential coal-mining area of Poland. The Polish government has prior to now 12 months announced one large recent coal-fired generating station and several other recent mines, as a part of a “lignite strategy” to exchange declining currently exploited deposits. Giving a reluctant participant in climate motion the chance to host a climate meeting is a two-edged sword. On the plus side, it is feasible that the highlight, and the will for a successful end result, can move the host country to a little bit more constructive and leading engagement than otherwise, while also allowing them the chance to deal with the problems of best concern to them. On the opposite side, the choice also gives the host the chance to make use of their control over the venue and proceedings to slow-walk or distract.
The early signs of the Polish government’s engagement within the meetings should not promising. The President used his opening remarks to state his continuing commitment to coal, albeit at steadily declining levels. The private sponsors of the conference include coal firms, and there are decorative installations of coal across the conference facility. The president has stated that his priorities for the meeting are to barter three recent political declarations, on forests, electric vehicles, and a “just transition” – the latter of those meaning commitments regarding transition assistance, re-training, and other measures to melt the harm that aggressive emissions controls – if ever achieved – would impose on coal miners and others whose livelihoods rely on fossil-fuel production. That is actually a value and essential goal, maybe even an initiative that would ease the current blockage on serious motion. But it surely may additionally be a distractions, maybe even (depending on the small print) a further source of blockage. And it’s not that the negotiators don’t have already got an excessive amount of to do.
So the cognitive dissonance is screaming. It goes to eleven. The one thing that would make it louder – can it go to 12? – might be the US side event, now planned for next Monday, to remind people how wonderful fossil fuels are, how the world’s economy relies on them, and the way they’ve contributed to raising living standards worldwide, especially in the current wealthy industrialized countries. This might reprise a similar event the US placed on at the least 12 months’s meeting in Bonn. These claims are after all all true historically – but given the central role of fossil fuels driving climate change, they aren’t any longer true looking forward.
So … listed below are my predictions for this meeting. Delegates will make substantial but not total progress on negotiating the rule book – enough progress for a face-saving declaration that the meeting was a hit. They are going to defer the toughest substantive issues embedded within the rulebook to a different meeting, which might be deemed a continuation of this one to avoid the awkward appearance of missing a deadline.
There can even be a number of declarations of plans for stronger climate motion from national governments. Key ones to look at might be the foremost western European nations, long among the many leading national climate activists, to see how serious, concrete, and impressive their statements are within the face of all of the political difficulties they are actually confronting. A very powerful announcements will probably be from China. As a part of its continuing pursuit of significant world leadership, in addition to its imperative to administer severe domestic air-quality and health problems, China has repeatedly adopted a number of the strongest emissions policies and ambitions on the earth, and has so far over-achieved its declared targets. (Note that this “ambition” is within the context of a rapidly growing developing economy: China’s overall emissions commitment is just not for a discount from present levels, but for a date by which its emissions will peak and begin declining. Initially announced as 2030, that peaking date has been most recently estimated as 2023.) This strong ambition and achievement sits in seeming tension with China’s role obstructing strong international motion as a part of the LMDC coalition: it’s willing to do quite a bit, but by itself terms, and resists, at the least for now, being constrained or coerced by international structures. Also concentrate, after all, for announcements from a number of the sub-national governments which have emerged because the strongest leaders within the absence of national leadership, notably but not exclusively California.
Ensure also to look at the drama, or perhaps the burlesque, of the four-way collision underway at these meetings: between the borderline crazy posturing of some governments; the intensity of fossil-fuel commitment of others; the actual, essential, but small-bore work being done within the actual negotiations; and the desperate gravity of the particular climate situation, slowly and inexorably getting worse with each passing 12 months of inaction.
Stay tuned: Emmett Institute folks will report back at the top of the meeting, possibly also with mid-meeting reports in from our colleagues on the bottom in Katowice (including my colleague William Boyd, who’s attending the COP).