KATOWICE, Poland – A global action plan to deal with climate change was adopted by almost 200 nations on Saturday night (Dec 15), a day after talks were scheduled to conclude, following a two-week marathon involving delegates spending days and nights poring over the fine print.
“The overall impact of this package is positive to the world,” said Mr Michal Kurtyka, Polish president for COP24, during the final plenary session of the UN climate change conference in Katowice. “It will move us one major step closer to realising the ambition enshrined in the Paris Agreement.”
The action plan, or the Katowice Rulebook, provides guidance on what countries can and should do to keep global warming well below 2 deg C above pre-industrial levels – a target set out in the Paris Agreement drawn up three years ago.
The bolder target, however, is to cap this at 1.5 deg C – the threshold for avoiding catastrophic climate change, according to a recent scientific report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
While the Paris agreement provided a skeletal framework to help countries achieve this goal, the rulebook lays out the roadmap for how this can be done.
Ms Laurence Tubiana, chief executive of the European Climate Foundation and key architect of the Paris Agreement: “Despite all the headwinds, the Paris Agreement has stayed course at COP24, demonstrating the kind of resilience it has been designed for.
“The decisions made here on the… rulebook give us a solid foundation to keep building trust in multilateralism and accelerate the transition all across the world.”
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli told The Straits Times at the conference venue that the adoption of the rulebook was a historic moment — one that was especially significant for Singapore, which will be wrapping up its Year of Climate Action at the end of this month.
He said: “We bookmarked the year with the passing of a carbon tax, which showed our responsiveness and commitment to reducing emissions by industries. This is a fitting end to the year, with the rulebook adopted by all the countries that ratified the Paris Agreement.”
THE KATOWICE RULEBOOK
Among other things, the document provided greater clarity for future climate action in three key areas: Finance, transparency, and the process of increasing collective global ambitionto limit warming to 2 or 1.5 deg C.
In terms of finance, the rulebook signalled a commitment from rich countries to contribute funds to help poorer nations reduce their emissions and adapt to the impacts of the changing climate.
The Paris pact had outlined a broad architecture in which all nations pledge to do their part to combat global warming based on their own national plans, which could include reducing emissions, or preventing deforestation. These are meant to be periodically strengthened and regularly reported and assessed.
Under the current UN framework, developed and developing countries have different transparency mechanisms for the measurement, reporting and verification of these pledges.
But the rulebook includes a new framework, called the Enhanced Transparency Framework, which would from 2024 subject all parties to the same reporting, measurement and verification standards. However, developing countries will get the necessary support to do so, in terms of finance and capacity-building support, for example.
Such a framework will also provide the basis for countries to ratchet up their pledges every five years. This increase in collective ambition to curb global emissions was a key feature of the Paris Agreement.
Ms Melissa Low, a research fellow at the Energy Studies Institute at the National University of Singapore who is tracking the developments at COP24: “This common transparency framework will ensure that all countries adhere to a single set of guidelines. It also ensures that developing countries would get the support they need to do so.”
Added Ms Low, who has attended 8 COPs: “By levelling out the differences, it would be easier to assess where the world is at at reaching its climate targets, and help to ensure that collective ambition to achieve this is gradually increased when the pledges are updated every five years.”
The 156-page rulebook was adopted following multiple delays in the final plenary session, which was pushed back almost 10 times from noon on Friday (Dec 14) to 2pm on Saturday afternoon (Dec 15). It finally began at about 9.30pm.
There was a palpable sense of relief among those gathered at the conference venue when the Katowice Rulebook was adopted at 10pm on Saturday night, with the audience rising in applause.
But the rulebook is not as robust as people had hoped.
One sticking point – about how carbon emissions should be accounted for – remained unresolved at the final plenary session due to objections from Brazil, and was tabled for discussion at next year’s COP in Chile.
The crux of the issue is whether developing countries should be allowed to “double count” their credits for emission reductions.The Paris Agreement had provided for a new kind of tradable offset known as an Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcome. This means that once a country sells the credit to another country, it should be retired from the seller’s inventory, and not used to offset the seller’s emissions.
But Brazil wants developing countries to be granted a grace period which will allow them to do both – sell the credits, and also use the sold credits to count toward their emissions reduction, with the caveat that they will make adjustments at a later date.
Because the UN climate talks work on the basis of consensus, and no agreement has been reached on this issue, discussions have been postponed to next year.
Ms Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary, for the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change said: “No one is entirely happy with this rulebook, but it is an important step.”
Mr Masagos said Singapore’s Year of Climate Action, a year-long initiative to raise awareness on climate change, had been a productive one, with many activities for Singaporeans.
“Now, the world has responded by putting an end to all the difficulties that negotiators have gone through by agreeing on the rulebook.”
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