For much of the two week-long 24th Conference of Parties (CoP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), it seemed that delegates would struggle to attain the meet’s main goal — frame a rulebook to operationalise the Paris Climate Change Treaty. The CoP at the Polish city of Katowice, in fact, stretched a day beyond schedule. However, by late evening on December 15, the delegates had built enough bridges to produce a 156-page document, which covers a multitude of issues, including how countries will measure, report and verify their emissions-reduction efforts. This is significant because the Paris Pact hinges on voluntary emission reduction targets — Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) — of individual nations, who have different definitions and timetables for their greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction pledges. The rulebook will ensure that the signatories of the pact are held to standards.
Katowice also saw some progress on a major sticking point of UNFCCC meets — climate finance. The rulebook has allayed some concerns about the opaqueness of climate financing. It enjoins rich nations to provide hard data on the sources of future financial flows. But the most vulnerable countries, including the small island states, are reportedly dissatisfied with the document’s failure to secure a commitment from the developed nations after 2025, when their pledge to contribute $100 billion annually to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) expires. The rulebook also does not provide a governance framework for the carbon market that is sought to be created under the Paris Pact. A decision on the issue was put off till the next CoP because there was no consensus in Katowice on Brazil’s demand for a provision that allows countries to carry the unused carbon credits, earned under the Kyoto Protocol, to the mechanisms being created under the Paris Pact.
Three years after it was inked, the Paris Agreement has proved its resilience to global geopolitics. However, the spirit of solidarity that led to the signing of the landmark pact has been witnessed only sporadically since 2015. Longstanding disputes over finances and technology transfer have come in the way of countries raising their GHG reduction ambition. This is a serious failure because the individual NDCs do not add up to the Paris Pact’s goal of keeping the global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The failure becomes more worrying in light of the IPCC’s latest report which shows that the Paris Pact’s targets are too conservative to avert “catastrophic” climate change. Unfortunately, the rulebook drafted at Katowice does not provide a roadmap to tackle this challenge.