The busy picture of international climate change negotiations – October 2018
By Lidia Wojtal
Roughly one month before the start of the next climate summit in Poland, Katowice, the incoming Polish COP24 Presidency organised a Pre-COP. This high-level political meeting is a traditional introduction to the climatic “hot” time of the year which ends with the last day of the summit. But there is more to the picture: apart from the IPCC’s 1.5°C Special Report, the streamlined parts of the negotiated rulebook text have already been published, and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) Board had its meeting. Let’s see what kind of new information about these elements we can squeeze into October’s picture.
The rulebook (aka Paris Agreement Work Programme)
On 15 October the Chairs of the respective bodies working on the development of the rulebook published a “joint reflection note” in which they suggested a way forward for the Katowice summit. It is fully justified to write about “suggestion” and not a firm intention on how to steer negotiations: in the UNFCCC Party-led process, the Chairs can do only as much as the Parties allow them to. So what do they say?
To start with, all the elements of the rulebook will be allocated the same negotiating time – and rightly so. UNFCCC negotiations experience clearly shows that an attempt to prioritise certain issues over others may end up in an “agenda fight” which can effectively prevent not only progress, but even the commencement of negotiations. At the same time, the Chairs are hinting at the possibility that in some cases, after COP24, more technical work may be needed which would imply not finalising the negotiations this year. They also point out that other issues, such as the Global Stocktake, could use the experience gathered during COP24 itself. This particular consideration can be read as relating to the facilitative Talanoa Dialogue. According to many participants, the approach to modalities and proceedings of the Dialogue, if successful, can later be replicated in 2023’s Global Stocktake. This will be the first official round of the Paris Agreement’s ambition mechanism which would aggregate the global achievements in mitigating climate change according to the new transparency rules, followed by the preparation for the next round of commitments to be embedded in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
Furthermore, all the options provided by Parties in the earlier course of the negotiations stay on the table. As already mentioned, only Parties can decide on any substantial changes to the negotiating process. Removing an option would be such a case. The solution proposed by Chairs was to add their textual suggestions in order to streamline and “bring all items to a comparable state of maturity and readiness” and hope that Parties would find them acceptable. If so, it would greatly speed up the negotiating process. Lastly, the final format of the rulebook will be decided only at COP24. There are two possible options: around a dozen separate decisions, or one long decision.
The Green Climate Fund
The last GCF Board meeting took place 17-20 October in Bahrain. Members of the Board were under a lot of pressure to succeed – primarily because any repetition of the failure of the last meeting would put into question the overall effectiveness of this relatively new institution (operationalised only in 2015). This would in turn lead to a decrease in Parties’ trust in the UNFCCC climate financing system, and could undermine efforts to adopt the rulebook in Katowice this December.
Fortunately, this time the GCF’s meeting was successful. The Board approved 19 new projects worth USD 1 billion, 16 new accredited entities, and launched the fund’s first replenishment. Moreover, the empty seat of the GCF’s Executive Director has been temporarily filled, while the decision on how to proceed with the election of the new Executive Director has also been made. All in all, it seems that the issue of ineffective functioning of the GCF will not be a major hurdle in the international climate talks this year. But what will?
Some hints at where the difficulties remain come from the agenda of the Pre-COP in Kraków, Poland, 22-24 October. With 40 countries represented at the ministerial level, the discussions focused on four areas: mitigation and adaptation (with particular attention drawn to the modalities around the NDCs), finance and transparency. Although the results of the discussions were not made publicly available, one can safely assume that the ministers were made aware of the extent to which compromises will need to be made by all to ensure that COP24 is a success. The views expressed by the participants at the Pre-COP show increased understanding of the magnitude of the task, but also some optimism that solutions can indeed be found.
As the summit’s general agenda shows, the ministers will step into negotiations in the second week of the COP. Traditionally, they would need to focus on the unsolved, and politically most difficult, decisions. However, if by that time agreement on various technical issues is not sufficiently advanced, it will be up to the ministers to take up the negotiations and decide. This, in all probability, would make both the national negotiators and their ministers uncomfortable and would require focused and effective progress, albeit unconsolidated, in the first week. To help prepare the ground, after the formal closure of the Pre-COP the Polish incoming COP Presidency organised a working meeting with the main negotiators to better facilitate agreement on the final shape of the rulebook.
The Pre-COP was preceded by the Non-Party Stakeholder Day on 21 October, Business Day on 22 October, followed by a Polish-Norwegian seminar on Just Transition – a topic of great significance for Poland as the host of the summit. It is worth noting that a declaration on Just Transition will be signed by Heads of States and Governments on the COP24 Leaders’ Day on 3 December.
All these events show how the preparations are speeding up but also how much remains to be done. November will bring the time for all the Parties to reflect on and coordinate their positions to come to Katowice well prepared. We remain hopeful that the positions will include a lot of flexibility to reach compromises – we will need this for COP24 to succeed.