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Two joint SBSTA-IPCC special events will provide the space for Parties to reflect on the Panel’s recent special reports on climate change and land and the ocean.

The Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action will convene a series of events in parallel to formal negotiations to showcase examples of efforts being made to “transition to a 1.5°C climate-neutral and resilient world”.

At COP 25 halfway point, the Earth Negotiations Bulletin team will host a webinar to update the global sustainable development community on progress made and expectations for the second week of negotiations.

Following Chile’s decision not to host the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference in Santiago, the Bureau of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC accepted the proposal from the Government of Chile, as incoming Presidency, to hold the conference in Madrid, Spain. The change in the COP hosting arrangements, announced some four weeks before the beginning of the conference, threw a wrench into preparations for the biggest climate event of the year, also affecting numerous side events and associated meetings.

With five bodies meeting in parallel and dozens of mandated and high-level events scheduled to take place, the conference will be a busy one. It includes the 25th session of the COP (COP 25), the 15th session of the COP serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 15), the second session of the COP serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA 2), and the 51st sessions of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI 51) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA 51). The bulk of the substantive work will be undertaken by the Subsidiary Bodies in the first week of the conference. At the halfway point, the Earth Negotiations Bulletin team will host a webinar to update the global sustainable development community on progress made and expectations for the second week of negotiations.

In preparation for the conference, the Chair of the SBSTA, Paul Watkinson (France), published a “reflections note,” containing: proposals for working “efficiently, effectively and harmoniously”; information on the status of work and suggested ways forward, including on items taken up jointly with the SBI; information on other activities and related events; and thoughts “looking beyond Madrid.” Reflecting on the SBSTA Chair’s note, this Policy Brief discusses expectations for the conference, and seeks to identify synergies between today’s climate process and the broader sustainable development agenda taking shape at the COP.

Science and Ambition

In his reflections note, Watkinson recalls the “Keeling Curve” that shows the evolution of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions since 1958 as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, US. He warns that unless we reach a balance between greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and absorptions, the underlying upward trend in GHG concentrations will continue. “Until we stabilize concentrations,” Watkinson cautions, “we cannot limit future temperature increases, and impacts will be harder and harder to deal with.” He further argues for: a “Keeling Curve that no longer shows an underlying rise in concentrations of CO2” in the near future; successfully addressing the consequences of climate change; and a just and equitable transition.

Watkinson’s message is reinforced by several reports issued ahead of the Madrid Conference. For example, the Production Gap Report 2019 reveals that countries’ planned production of coal, oil and gas far exceeds levels needed to achieve the Paris Agreement on climate change. At the same time, according to the ‘Current Policies Scenario,’ outlined in the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook 2019, energy demand will increase by 1.3% each year to 2040, accompanied by a “relentless upwards march in energy-related emissions” and a growing strain on nearly all aspects of energy security.

“The emissions gap is large,” warns the 2019 edition of the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) annual flagship, the Emissions Gap Report 2019. It calls for “dramatic strengthening” of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in 2020, noting that countries “must increase their NDC ambitions threefold to achieve the well below 2°C goal and more than fivefold to achieve the 1.5°C goal.”

Parties’ failure to engage in substantive discussions on the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C during the Bonn Climate Change Conference in June 2019 prompted the now-well-known refrain “Science is not negotiable,” chanted by many country and civil society representatives alike. While IPCC special reports are not included on the SBSTA’s agenda for Madrid, two joint SBSTA-IPCC special events will provide the space for Parties to reflect on the Panel’s recent special reports on climate change and land (4 December) and the ocean (5 December).

Completing the PAWP: Paris Agreement Article 6

As noted in the SDG Knowledge Hub Carbon Pricing and Markets Update from November 2019, negotiations on Article 6 (cooperative approaches) are gaining prominence as more countries indicate that they want to use international market mechanisms to meet their NDCs. Parties are expected to resolve issues related to internationally transferred mitigation outcomes (ITMOs), a market mechanism and a non-market mechanism to conclude Article 6 negotiations under the Paris Agreement Work Programme (PAWP) – the “rulebook” of the Paris Agreement.

Although Parties arrive in Madrid with an agreed basis for negotiations, in his reflections note, Watkinson notes that “a fundamental change in the pace of work and the engagement of all Parties” are needed to achieve “an inclusive, balanced, comprehensive package for implementation for the three instruments on Article 6.” He acknowledges that some of the unresolved issues will require “political heavy-lifting” during the second week of the conference so that we can collectively ensure that the whole of the Paris Agreement is in full implementation mode from 2020.”

Review of the WIM

Prior to the official opening of the UN Climate Change Conference, on 1 December, the UNFCCC Subsidiary Bodies will convene a mandated event of the review of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM). During the event, as part of their deliberations on the effectiveness and efficiency of the WIM, Parties will have an opportunity to examine the performance of the mechanism since 2013, associated barriers and gaps, challenges and opportunities, and lessons learned.

While Parties agreed on the terms of reference for the review during the Bonn Climate Change Conference in June 2019, there are still divergent views on issues such as the review’s exact scope and the WIM governance arrangements agreed in 2013. Parties would need to resolve those differences to complete the review in Madrid and agree on any recommendations to take the WIM’s work forward.

“Challenges We Face Cannot be Addressed Successfully in Silos”

Drawing on the findings from the recent IPCC special reports on oceans and land and the Global Assessment of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), Watkinson recognizes that the “challenges we face cannot be addressed successfully in silos.” He underscores “a growing need” to situate climate action in the wider framework of the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to “take account of interactions” with activities under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and related fora such as on the ocean. Acknowledging that the extent to which these issues can be addressed by the SBSTA “is an open question that Parties will need to consider,” Watkinson says “it will be relevant to explore how we can continue to better integrate the link between climate change and these issues into our existing agenda items.”

In Madrid, the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action will convene a series of events in parallel to formal negotiations to showcase examples of efforts being made to “transition to a 1.5°C climate-neutral and resilient world,” highlighting actionable and collaborative, science-based ‘Climate Action Pathways’ relating to, inter alia, energy, human settlements, industry, land use, oceans and coastal zones, transport, water and the cross-cutting area of resilience.

In addition, a roundtable will convene on the theme, ‘Advancing Climate Actions on Resilient and Sustainable Agriculture Food Chains for a 1.5°C Net Zero World.’ Two roundtables will discuss linkages between climate action and SDGs 14 (life below water) and 15 (life on land) in the context of human activities, and climate action and SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) to build a resilient future. Another dedicated roundtable will explore ways to achieve SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy) in the context of the Paris Agreement. Two events on circular economy will focus on cities and buildings as agents of climate action and on the role of circular packaging and business models in achieving the 1.5°C goal.

“All Hands on Deck”

While it is necessary to pursue synergies between climate action and other development goals to achieve transformative outcomes, another question for Parties to ponder is whether and how the international climate regime can effectively support implementation of the Paris Agreement.

The ‘Yearbook of Global Climate Action 2019,’ issued by the UNFCCC Secretariat and the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action ahead of COP 25, calls on all actors to step up their climate action, unite behind science and collaborate in inclusive ways to support Climate Action Pathways to reach the objectives of the Paris Agreement. In a letter, Gonzalo Muñoz, High-Level Climate Champion for Chile, urges cities, regions, businesses and investors to join Chile’s Climate Ambition Alliance.

Over the years, the international climate regime has played a significant role in catalyzing and supporting implementation of climate goals, yet it remains to be seen how it will respond to challenges posed by major outliers, inadequate climate finance and increasingly fragmented climate action. After all, in the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in order to “massively increase our ambition to advance low-emission and resilient development,” we need “all hands on deck.”


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