A short story of Climate Change

The Paris Agreement Rulebook – not one size fits all but one size fits many  

Customary for all UN Climate Summits, COP24 over-ran by more than a day as well. After two bruising weeks of negotiations, we can firmly conclude that this was a technically and diplomatically challenging COP.

Bringing 197 nuanced opinions to the table in Katowice, and respectfully acknowledging and honouring each was not going to be an easy feat. From the outset one thing was clear: There was never going to be a consensus that would have everybody walking away from this COP24 smiling and content.  

Now that the COP24 is over, opinions on whether the outcome of this Summit was successful or not, vary – as was to be expected. Nobody seems to be really happy with the resulting Paris Agreement Rulebook. It was clear from the beginning that the definition of pragmatic and implementable solutions to aggressively attack Climate Change had to be equally nuanced to adequately reflect the varied opinions brought into the negotiation. Whilst agreeing on “one wording” for the agreement, the Rulebook still needed to maintain enough flexibility for every Nation to buy into it.  That left one feasible option: everybody had to compromise. Let’s call it a sacrifice for the greater good.

Acknowledging that the Climate Change jargon may be daunting for many, let’s use a metaphor that more people may be familiar with.
If the COP21 Paris Agreement in 2015 was the announcement of the arranged marriage between all Nations, the COP24 was about negotiating the details of the nuptial contract (the Paris Agreement Rulebook). A nuptial contract for a group marriage.

Since 2015 we’ve been partaking in a what I would call ‘a dismissive couples’ therapy’.

Hence, all the dialogue

Many of you may now think or say “There was enough time to talk. Action is needed NOW!”. Yes, you are right – partially. If a nuptial contract can take weeks or months for commonly only 2 parties, imagine how long it can take for 197 parties.

It is of vital importance to understand the COP24 negotiations in their contextual background to appreciate the power of respectful dialogue that got us to where we are now.

The aim of this COP24 was to finalise detailed rules and guidelines -the Paris Agreement Rulebook– that will enable the Paris agreement to be put into practice across the world in 2020. Now, that leaves only two years for all Nations to reform and implement their Climate Action plans to move from from ambitious talk to necessary action.

Not any dialogue but the Talanoa Dialogue

The birth of the idea and the initiation of the Talanoa Dialogue during COP23 was pivotal to the outcome of this COP24.

In Fiji, “talanoa” means to hold a conversation in an inclusive, receptive space. It is a traditional method of solving differences in the Pacific, and as such was deemed apt to bridge the long standing divide between developed and developing countries.

Despite the “talanoa” etiquette that confrontation and criticisms of other participants are forbidden, emerging economies and the poorest nations were united in holding developed nations’ feet to the fire on pre-2020 action. Rightly so? I think it is safe to say that we can all agree upon the fact that empathy is one of diplomacy’s best weapons.

The idea of the Talanoa Dialogue in the context of Climate Change was to draw participants closer together through sharing their impactful stories of climate change, and voice their concerns. This said, its aim was to emotionally connect and ethically inform the negotiating Parties going into the Climate talks in Katowice.

Voices of the many – or not?

From January 2018 the global community had the opportunity to submit their ideas, concerns, and stories prior to the COP24. Governments, Cities, businesses, NGOs, but also civil society and others have been invited to submit input responding to three questions:

  1. Where are we now?
  2. How do we want to go?
  3. How do we get there?

As such thing mostly go, and we only get to hear of them once the time for submission passed. The call for submission drew to a close on the 6th December 2018.

The first round of submissions yielded only (or shall we say ground-breaking?) 417 submissions. That is more than one submission a day, but considering the fact that the livelihood of 7.4 billion humans plus many more living creatures is at stake in less than 12 years, it raises concern and questions. How and how well was the invite for submissions communicated? Are we taking this issue serious enough? Are we, as a collective, capable to overcome our cognitive dissonance in relation to Climate Change and reorganise our priorities accordingly?

Whilst 369 of 417 submissions during the first round were from participants other than governments, the focus switched from NGOs to national actors in the second round of submissions.

Hundreds of these submissions  were read out in April and May 2018 in Bonn for a first thought exchange, and since then have rung through dozens of conference rooms. These submissions are our voice – the voice of the global community- and the voice that set out the preparatory phase of the Talanoa Dialogue. It was the springboard empowering and enabling Nations to commit to stronger action on climate change and it was the prelude to the Paris Agreement Rulebook.

What happened at COP24 does not stay at COP24

Whilst political declarations are instruments that pave the way to concrete policies, Katowice had the immense task not to diminish the voices of the public consultation but carry them into the second round of the Talanoa Dialogue held during the later phase of the Summit. Katowice had to facilitate and safeguard ongoing peaceful negotiations yet press for and establish an environment for concrete commitments to be made by all participants.

The highlights:

  • Most parts of the Paris Agreement Rulebook are agreed upon and formalised in a 160-page agreement.
  • The vast majority of countries raise their ambition by 2020 and recognise the latest climate science from the IPCC.
  • The Adaptation Fund received nearly 129 million USD in new pledges to protect most vulnerable countries to climate change. This constitutes a single-year record of new pledges made by nine contributing governments in 2018,  including two first-time contributors of the Fund.
  • The High Ambition Coalition (HAC), a group of 26 developed and developing countries sharing the highest level of ambition in the international climate talks, released a press statement on the 12th Dec 2018 calling for the highest possible ambition in the ongoing climate negotiations at the COP24.
  • The Fiji and the Marshall Islands, both low lying islands and as such more vulnerable to Climate Change, to no surprise of the global community, have become the first to commit to increasing their nationally determined contributions (NDC).
  • The EU is boosting its energy efficiency and renewable targets.
  • The UK is already reviewing its 2050 emissions target with a view to introducing a net zero goal.
  • Norway is doubling their contribution to the Green Climate Fund.
  • Switzerland, Costa Rica, Finland, New Zealand and Sweden back a reform to scrap fossil fuel subsidies, the Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform (FFSR). Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies could reduce global CO2 emissions by between 1 to 4% by 2030 and between 6 to 8% by 2050.
  • ‘Flexibility’ was granted to poorer nations in how they report on their progress, thereby recognizing their fears that their countries lack the necessary governance capacity to monitor and track emissions.

The lowlights:

  • Article 6 of the Paris Agreement Rulebook brought upon contentious discussions, and caused the overrun of the COP despite the fact final decisions regarding on role of Carbon Trading in global emissions reduction were not drawn. Main opponent preventing the conclusion and inclusion of final wording of Article 6 was Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. The decision on Article 6 is deferred until next year.
  • Brazil objecting to planned reforms designed to tackle double-counting of emissions reductions.
  • With Carbon Trading remaining undetermined, a major mechanism in securing sustainable financing and green economic growth, is virtually not available to allow a paradigm shift right now!
  • A record 264 million USD in project requests were received for the last Adaptation Fund Board meeting alone, more than double of the record pledges made in 2018; highlighting the need of long-term financial sustainability to fund measures in vulnerable communities and enhancing their Climate Resilience
  • Amoral stance of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Russia, and the US, prioritising corporate greed over the livelihood of billions of people.
  • EU member states are divided over whether to formally increase the 2030 emissions target.
  • Only 15 out of a total of 196 Nations included FFSR within their NDCs in the lead up to the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015, and not much has changed (yet!).
  • Emerging economies still resist reforms, with the biggest bloc of developing countries, G77 + China arguing that commitments should not be “prescriptive”.
  • The final text “welcomes the timely completion” of the SR15, a compromise that falls way short of the ringing endorsement of the report’s findings that many low lying island states and developing had been pushing for.

Unfortunately valuable time was lost during the early stages of COP24, when no unanimous agreement could be reached to “welcome” the latest publication from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C Special Report (SR15).

The time lost in these less than fruitful discussions came at the cost of time required to
a) agree upon and finalise all articles of the Rulebook, and
b) move Nations towards new ambitious NDCs to aggressively press forward on the urgent task of addressing climate change.

With the Rulebook needing to strike a balance between ambitious challenges and reasonable flexibility for it to succeed, the later stages of the negotiations became more ‘heated’. Time was and is running out. Both for COP24 prolonged talks and for the planet as a whole, as wisely pointed out by António Guterres – Secretary-General of the United Nations during week two of the Summit.

Climate Race

Running yet still being late: COP24 overrun by more than a day because of escalating rows over carbon market rules, and no agreement on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement Rulebook could be reached. Not all is lost though.

The difficulty to, on the one hand, challenge developed countries and having them to commit to more ambitious climate actions without overburdening them and, on the other hand, acknowledging the insufficient governance structure and ability to track and monitor emissions in developing countries, and supporting them without handing them the “get out of jail card” was successfully overcome – in my humble opinion. That in itself, is a tremendous achievement and a reason to celebrate.  

Acknowledging the scale of the task at hand is obviously not enough. Countries now need to wake up to the IPCC alarm that broadcasted was loud and clear in October 2018 within the SR15.

The new Axis of Evil

Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kuwait and the USA acted like an axis of evil against the other 193 countries in opposition to the common good of the world. A high profile row was sparked at COP24 by the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait in opposition to ‘welcome’’ the SR15. Australia and Brazil have not much to show for either as they have clearly not shown up prepared to do what they said they would.

United States:

The Talanoa Dialogue was plainly ignored by the US federal government, which left an alliance of Caribbean countries in a position to submit the latest US national climate assessment on their behalf. At a later stage, concerned US states, cities and businesses submitted their own documents showing that their efforts go some way to limiting the impact of inaction of the current Administration. One might say that there are obvious reasons for why the US was less invested in the Talanoa Dialogue and COP24, as as they leaving in 2020 but what surprises is that they’ve been openly hindering the attacking the peaceful process of negotiations at the COP24. The US is technically still in the deal and accountable for its promises but they chose to be ridiculed on stage by the entire world following Wells Griffith’ ludicrous statements at the COP24.

Saudi Arabia:
Those who are unable to embrace the future will face extinction. Saudi Arabia harks back to its 1990s classification as a developing country despite being ranked as high income country by the World Bank.

What is next after COP24?

Now that the “talks” are over at COP24 – we have to “act”. That means we have to now enter in a new phase, a phase of implementation, of acceleration of action.  Whether or not the Katowice Summit was a success or not will be evidenced over the next 12 months, if countries change their pledges to the Paris Agreement to make them more ambitious.

The Paris Agreement Rulebook fundamentally now sets out how countries will report on progress against their NDCs, which aim to keep global temperature rises below 2°C by 2100. Each Nation’s NDC hence becomes their essential ‘vehicle’ manifesting political commitment, increasing national targets, and boosting domestic climate action. It is vital that the world’s governments recognise the serious challenge posed by climate change and urgently scale up their efforts both at national level and globally to close the ‘ambition gap’ in order to limit global temperature rises.

This said, it doesn’t mean that society is standing at the sidelines watching governments updating their NDCs. The outcome of COP24 sends countries home to begin consulting with their citizens, business and investors to come up with new plans for strengthened climate action. We have to build broad coalitions between governments and non-Party stakeholders.

Social unrests have been growing in direct proportion to the rate of the failure of governments to act across a whole range of social, economic and environmental issues. Setting clear short, medium and long-term targets will allow business to go further and faster.

Governments need to find the transformational solutions that bring their populations along with them if they wish to succeed. It is up to everybody now to keep up the pressure on governments to strengthen their decarbonisation plans over the next two years. We need to demand evidence for an intense step up in their ambition within two years. Our Governments, business communities, and our civil society must now turn the attention to the next phase of the process, ratcheting up ambition. Establishing fundamental new policies to give assurance to investors is critical to ensure strategic investment and ensure parallel concerted actions to avoid the damages that will arise from unabated emissions.

We have to stand in solidarity with people and countries particularly affected by climate change.  

Discussions specifically around Article 6 will need to continue at the next September 2019 Climate Summit in New York that was initiated by UN Secretary-General António Guterrez, and the Latin American COP hosted by Chile in partnership with Costa Rica in November 2019. These Summits must deliver a clear, strong and effective multilateral response to the SR15. Further, the 2019 UNSG summit will offer all governments the opportunity to report on progress towards new, enhanced targets by 2020.

The IPCC’s warning and COP24 outcomes fell on more fertile ground with global business leaders and was echoed by a clear signal in support of low carbon strategies and investments as they make economic sense.

“Every business leader and every investor should be concerned about the IPCC’s most recent report. If we don’t tackle the climate challenge head on, the world will soon find itself in an environment of irreversible risk – for life on our planet, for people and communities, and for our economies. Business cannot operate under these conditions.”
Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group

Are you one of these business leaders who sees the potential for growth?

Please contact us, so we can initiate our dialogue, “talanoa style”, and establish a path forward to decarbonise your business effectively.


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