How will COP24 be run?
The overview schedule of the COP24 summit was published some time ago, but it is still evolving. A closer look at the last version from 9 November, along with the few annotated agendas, presents us with a better insight into the complexity and course of this year’s summit.
In September, after the Bangkok session, we found out that the COP will not start on 3 December as initially planned, but a day earlier, on Sunday. This solution is unprecedented in the history of the UNFCCC - or at least since 2007, when I first attended a climate summit. It is intended to provide a little more time for the actual negotiations on the implementation rules of the Paris Agreement work programme (PAWP/'rulebook').
All the bodies under the Convention - the supreme ones, COP, CMP, CMA, and the subsidiary ones, SBSTA, SBI and APA - will start with plenary meetings on 2 December. This is when the agendas for their work should be adopted and the new COP President elected; the nominee is the Undersecretary in the Polish Ministry of Environment, Michał Kurtyka. He will be authorised to lead the negotiations only after the agreement of all 197 UNFCCC Parties. The symbol for this leadership handover is the gavel which he will receive from the current Fijian COP23 President.
Other essential tasks to be performed during Sunday’s plenary sessions include, amongst others, organisation of work, and adoption of the draft Rules of Procedure (RoP). Some people may wonder why this is even important to mention; others may ask why the draft RoP would need to be considered again and again at each COP. The short answer is: they were never adopted, and since 1996, at each session Parties have agreed to continue to apply them for the negotiations, with the exception of rule 42 on voting. This is also why decisions in the UNFCCC process are taken by consensus (this term is explained in the Guide for Presiding Officers, pages 11-12).
The Leaders’ Day
Monday 3 December is the day on which over 50 Heads of States and Governments will come to COP24 in Katowice at the invitation of the Polish President, Andrzej Duda. This 'higher level segment' will focus on discussing the challenges of a 'just transition'. This issue is extremely important for Poland, and the coal-rich area of Silesia where COP24 is being hosted. It tries to answer the question of how to transform economies to enable a low-emissions future, while meaningfully supporting those societies whose well-being is dependent upon high-emitting sectors’ fossil fuels, such as coal. The Polish COP24 host has prepared a 'Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration' which will be signed on 3 December. On the same day the Leaders will also have the opportunity to present their national statements, and indicate the main points of their positions.
The negotiations agenda
From Tuesday 4 December onwards, the negotiations on the PAWP/rulebook will start in multiple negotiating sub-groups. Concurrently some of the issues from outside the scope of the PAWP/rulebook (such as the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform) will be discussed. On Saturday 8 December the technical part of the negotiations should be finalised. This is when the results of work on the fora of three subsidiary bodies (SBI, SBSTA, APA) should be handed over to the COP24 Presidency to decide how to further proceed with the negotiations. The first week will also see the finalisation of the technical part of the Talanoa Dialogue.
What’s not on the negotiations agenda?
Events - lots of them - in various formats, running throughout the two weeks. Worth mentioning: on Monday 3 December, simultaneous to the Leaders’ discussion, a workshop on agriculture, forum on the impact of the implementation of response measures, as well as the multilateral assessment are planned. Tuesday will start with a high-level event on the inclusion of the non-state actors under the Global Climate Change Agenda (GCAA). The Polish COP24 Presidency plans to use this forum to present its initiative on electro-mobility, which it intends to include in the UNFCCC process as part of its post-COP legacy. On the same day in the afternoon the IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C will be presented at a special event organised with one of the Convention’s subsidiary bodies, the SBSTA. On the Tuesday evening delegates will be able to meet and network during the host country reception, organised by the President of the city of Katowice.
Looking further ahead, we can see thematic days; Young and Future Generations Day (6.12), Gender Day (11.12) and Education Day (12.12), as well as events on the relationship between climate and: intergenerational inquiry; human settlements; industry; transport; water; oceans & coastal zones; energy; finance; SDG12 (Responsible Consumption and Production); SDG8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth); land use; fashion industry; resilience; water and energy; oceans & coastal zones and transport; sport; tourism, and health and food systems. The above list shows how much climate change is linked to other development issues and proves that the climate summit is not only about closed-doors negotiations. Traditionally, many state and non-state actors want to show their ideas and achievements at the side events, the list of which has already been provided by the UNFCCC Secretariat. Additional climate and environment-related discussions, conferences and events will be taking place outside of the conference centre in Katowice. It is worth noting that somewhere in between all these events, the Polish COP24 Presidency will present its much-anticipated Declaration on Forests, stressing the role of forests in reaching the ultimate aim of the Convention and the Paris Agreement.
The second week – the tough part…
Even though the actual high-level segment will be resumed only on Tuesday 11 December to hear the national statements of those ministers whose leaders had not attended on 3 December, many of the ministers will already be present at the COP24 venue on 10 December. On this day, two important high-level events will be organised: the pre-2020 stocktake in the morning, and the 3rd High-Level Ministerial Dialogue on Climate Finance in the afternoon.
Tuesday 11 December can also easily be named the “Talanoa Dialogue Day”: ministers will engage in discussions on how to best implement their existing, and enhance planned, climate goals. It remains to be seen to what extent Parties will take into account the findings of the recent IPCC 1.5°C Special Report, and if they will indeed be considered as a reference point for the shaping of future climate and energy policies. This political phase of the Talanoa Dialogue will finish a day later, on Wednesday 12 December. The two COP Presidencies - Fijian for COP23, and Polish for COP24 - will prepare a declaration summarising the message from the Talanoa Dialogue. It will be presented at the closing meeting on Wednesday afternoon. I remain hopeful that the results of the Talanoa Dialogue will be ambitious enough to show climate action non-believers that every country under the Paris Agreement is doing its part - as promised and ratified.
Concurrently, the negotiating process will enter into the second week’s ministerial ‘hot phase’. The issues from outside of the PAWP/rulebook negotiations should already have been finalised at COP and CMP plenary meetings on 12 December. Achieving this will require extraordinary engagement from Parties, the Presidency and the UNFCCC Secretariat because there is a limit as to how many negotiating bodies can meet at the same time. This obviously makes it more difficult to run discussions on multiple topics in parallel, and stems from the fact that not all delegations have enough experts to participate in all the meetings. Now, let us not forget, the ministers will also be there. My experience tells me that some of them will require personal assistance, which can in turn further limit delegates’ availability for actual negotiations. This happens often in small delegations.
To sum up, what we see in the second week is four overlapping layers of major COP activities: 1. The high-level meetings, including the Talanoa Dialogue on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; 2. The resumption of the high-level segment on Tuesday; 3. The negotiation of the non-rulebook agenda points, and 4. The negotiation of the PAWP/rulebook.
Handling the rulebook
Information as to what needs to be done on the PAWP/rulebook in the second week will result from progress in the first week, and obviously we cannot really predict this. What we can safely assume, however, is that whatever is left for the second week will be fiercely debated before consensus is reached.
The question about the format of these discussions goes to the COP24 Presidency. There are quite a few options to choose from, including, amongst others: the Presidency can appoint its own representatives to lead some parts of the negotiations; it can ask the chairs of the subsidiary bodies for support, and/or ministers or prominent participants of the negotiations process can become facilitators at the request, and under the responsibility, of the Presidency. It may also be that if there are multiple issues still left to be decided upon, all the above formats may be used simultaneously.
The undoubted challenge here will be to secure and maintain the transparency of proceedings. What we have so far learned is that unless Parties know exactly where progress on the overall text of the PAWP/rulebook is coming from, they are not likely to adopt its final version. This is why it should not be very surprising if in the second week there are numerous calls for the so-called “stocktake meetings”. Their aim is to allow all Parties to understand where the whole negotiating process stands. Whilst these can be necessary and beneficial, at the same time they take - limited, and, moreover, already extended - time away from the actual negotiations, and make the whole process itself longer.
Meanwhile, the end of the summit, planned for 14 December, will be approaching at a terrifying speed.
The exhausting endgame
Usually at COPs, somewhere around the middle of the second week delegates realise that the progress achieved so far is not sufficient to finish the negotiations on time. This is when the night sessions start to try to address the timing problem. This year, due to the number of issues on the PAWP/rulebook agenda, these prolonged meetings may occur by the beginning of the second week, or even at the end of the first week. If this scenario is the case, then at the end of the second week the already tired negotiators, together with their ministers, may need to stay in the conference centre round the clock. Similar situations took place at COPs in Paris (2015), and before that in Durban (2011) and Copenhagen (2009). It may not seem like the most efficient way to run negotiations, but that is the reality of global climate summits.
The final puzzle
It is important to know that the UNFCCC process has an unwritten rule saying that “nothing is decided until everything’s decided”. This basically means that no negotiating item can actually be deemed closed until it is adopted (negotiators say “gaveled”) at the final plenary session. It results from the fact that each of the 197 Parties has power, and may want to keep leverage, over the adoption of individual issues. This is why the atmosphere of trust is important to keep the negotiations going. However, this trust is always limited; only when Parties see the whole, complex deal, can they assess if the compromises they have agreed to in one part of the negotiations truly pay off with satisfactory benefits in other, priority, areas.
Taking the above into consideration, for the negotiators the whole COP, and especially the second week, means constant re-checking of the whole negotiations landscape to see if their priorities are secured. If not, they can stop some part of negotiations to force more flexibility or support from other Parties with priority areas located in the blocked item. Thanks to this approach, the atmosphere in the second week can become extremely tense, stressful and exhausting - not only for the negotiators and the Presidency, but also the thousands of observers who do not necessarily understand why the various governments cannot agree on something as important as climate protection.
Finally, we come to the closing plenary. It will start only when the Presidency has managed to get sufficient confirmation from all Parties that they agree on the proposed solutions on all the negotiated items. The other, underestimated, issue is the requirement to have the decisions’ texts available in all six UN languages prior to adoption. Both take time, and both make all the exhausted participants of the COP wait many long hours for the beginning of the end. Let it be a happy one.