29 November 2018
Paris Agreement Implementation Guidelines: How Do We Get There?
UN Photo/Mark Garten
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Progress achieved in Bangkok was “uneven” and likely “insufficient” to set Parties up for a successful conclusion of the PAWP in Katowice.

Parties will need to advance work on the PAWP in spite of lingering differences in a speedy and coordinated fashion in order to complete negotiations on operational guidelines for implementation of the Paris Agreement at COP 24.

It remains to be seen if the guidelines will catalyze climate action ambitious enough to keep global warming under 1.5°C.

Next week, the UN Climate Change Conference will kick off in Katowice, Poland. Governments are expected to adopt guidelines for implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change and flesh out the details required to operationalize the treaty through the Paris Agreement Work Programme (PAWP). Paris Agreement implementation contributes to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and advances SDG 13 (climate action). This policy brief outlines expectations for the Katowice Climate Change Conference, and is structured around the three questions of the 2018 Talanoa Dialogue: Where are we? Where do we want to go? and How do we get there?

The conference, running from 2-14 December 2018, will include the meetings of five bodies: the 24th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 24) to the UNFCCC; the 14th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 14); the third part of the first session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA 1-3); the 49th sessions of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI); and the seventh part of the first session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA 1-7).

The political phase of the Talanoa Dialogue, a political process seeking to inform the preparation of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) initiated in January 2018, will be held during the second week of the COP. Based on information gathered during the Dialogue’s preparatory phase, which is reflected in a synthesis report by the Fijian Presidency of COP 23 and the incoming Polish Presidency of COP 24, the political phase will take stock of Parties’ collective action towards “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels,” in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.

Where Are We?

The last round of negotiations in Bangkok, Thailand, concluded with the adoption of identical conclusions under the APA, SBI and SBSTA – the ‘Bangkok Outcome,’ which also includes the ‘PAWP Compilation,’ a 307 page-long document capturing the work of the three bodies. Negotiations in Bangkok were based on a set of seven “tools,” prepared by the APA Co-Chairs. The APA also convened a one-day round table that sought to identify substantive linkages across the various parts of the PAWP, which many saw as constructive. However, progress achieved in Bangkok was “uneven,” and, some noted, likely “insufficient” to set Parties up for a successful conclusion of the PAWP in Katowice.

In preparation for the Katowice Climate Change Conference, APA, SBI and SBSTA Presiding Officers have prepared, under their own responsibility, a joint reflections note addressing progress made at the Bangkok session, and identifying ways forward, “including textual proposals,” to help advance Parties’ deliberations towards the PAWP. Negotiations in Katowice are expected to be informed by this document, which includes nine addenda outlining the ways forward and textual proposals on the various elements of the PAWP. These correspond to the APA agenda items and relate to:

  • mitigation: developing further guidance on features and transparency of, and accounting for, NDCs; NDC registry; common time frames for NDCs; and modalities, work programme and functions of the forum on the impacts of the implementation of response measures;
  • adaptation: further guidance on adaptation communication and adaptation communication registry;
  • transparency: modalities, procedures and guidelines for the transparency framework for action and support;
  • the global stocktake (GST);
  • compliance: developing the modalities and procedures for the effective operation of the committee to facilitate implementation and promote compliance, established by Article 15 of the Paris Agreement; and
  • further matters.

Parties have raised numerous issues under “further matters,” including elaborating the governance and institutional arrangements for the Adaptation Fund to serve the Paris Agreement, a new collective finance goal, guidelines for countries when they adjust their NDCs and loss and damage, which, some Parties feel, the CMP ought to “take up.”

Where Do We Want to Go?

Delivering a detailed set of guidelines on the numerous aspects of the PAWP is no doubt a tall order, especially given the fact that, in Earth Negotiations Bulletin’s (ENB) estimation, the Bangkok session “did little to bring the PAWP into sharper focus,” and there is little clarity on how the multiple cogs and gears will fit together. The task is further complicated by the many sticking points, with deep-rooted divergences, which have also given rise to new disagreements.

For example, differences over differentiation appear to persist in spite of the Paris Agreement arguably “settling the matter” by weakening the developed/developing country firewall. The Group of 77 and China (G-77/China) continues to be concerned over “the attempt by some to undermine” the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR-RC). The Like-Minded Group of Developing Countries (LMDCs) has lamented developed countries’ “repeated attempts” to renegotiate the Paris Agreement by “erasing differentiation” in negotiations on NDCs in the context of mitigation, as well as on compliance and the transparency framework. The BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) have also expressed their desire to see work on mitigation reflect differentiation between developed and developing countries, with developed countries taking the lead on emission reduction. Many developed countries maintain that this bifurcated approach, particularly to NDCs in the context of mitigation, “has no basis” in the Paris Agreement.

The developed/developing divide has spilled over to negotiations under the enhanced transparency framework. Developed countries view transparency of mitigation efforts as key to reaching the objective of the Paris Agreement, whereas developing countries find transparency of support provided and received of paramount importance. Communication by developed countries of transparent and consistent information under Article 9.7 on accounting modalities for provided finance also remains contentious.

Parties will need to advance work on the PAWP in spite of these and other differences in a speedy and coordinated fashion in order to complete the guidelines in Katowice. The incoming COP Presidency’s push for political declarations on a just transition, forests and electric mobility may present an additional challenge, given that the task of operationalizing the Paris Agreement is momentous, and time and resources are limited.

How Do We Get There?

The recent IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (SR15) has warned that while limiting the global average temperature rise to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels is still possible, it will require rapid and “unprecedented” transitions in all aspects of society, including: the transformation of energy, agricultural, urban and industrial systems; engagement of non-State actors; and integration of climate action into broader public policy and development frameworks. The urgency of global, concerted climate action has been highlighted by other reports, including NewClimate Institute’s ‘Global Climate Action from Cities, Regions and Businesses,’ the UNFCCC ‘Yearbook for Global Climate Action 2018’ and the WWF ‘Living Planet Report 2018,’ which paints a “sobering picture” of the impact of human activity on the world’s wildlife, forests, oceans, rivers and climate.

Several States have recently announced ambitious carbon neutrality targets, expanding the membership of the Carbon Neutrality Coalition that includes countries and cities alike. In a recent report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) recognized the importance of government decisions in bending renewable energy trends and achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement and the SDGs. Non-State actors, including federal states, regions, investors, businesses and civil society, showcased a broad range of climate initiatives at the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) in September 2018. If implemented, these pledges, together with countries’ NDCs, will bring the world closer to the 2°C target. It remains to be seen if the operational guidelines Parties are expected to agree in Katowice will catalyze climate action ambitious enough to keep the warming under 1.5°C – the temperature threshold that will offer some of the most vulnerable countries “the best chance for survival.”


The author would like to thank Jennifer Iris Allan who provided comments on an earlier draft.

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