Climate conference makes limited progress on enshrining Paris Agreement rules

Almost 200 UN member states have moved forwards on developing a system to track their progress towards reducing carbon emissions in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. However, other decisions have been delayed until next year, frustrating the efforts of environmentalists.

After two weeks of talks in the Polish city of Katowice, nations finally reached consensus on a more detailed framework for agreement, which aims to limit a rise in average world temperatures to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Mohamed Adow, a climate policy expert at Christian Aid, said: “The majority of the rulebook for the Paris agreement has been created, which is something to be thankful for.”

He added that “the fact countries had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the finish line shows that some nations have not woken up” to the dire consequences of global warming as outlined in a report by the UN Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Universal rules on how nations can cut emissions have been agreed upon and poor countries secured assurances on financial support to help them reduce their emissions, adapt to changes such as rising sea levels and to pay for damage which has already happened.

A 156-page rulebook was created which breaks down how countries will report and monitor their national pledges to curb greenhouse gas emissions and update their emissions plans.

“Through this package, you have made a thousand little steps forward together,” said Michal Kurtyka, a senior Polish official who led the talks.

At the 11th hour, ministers managed to break a deadlock between Brazil and other countries over the accounting rules for the monitoring of carbon credits. But the bulk of that discussion was deferred to next year which misses an opportunity to send a signal to businesses to speed up their actions.

While each country would probably find some parts of the agreement it did not like, Kurtyka said, efforts were made to balance the interests of all parties.

“We will all have to give in order to gain,” he added. “We will all have to be courageous to look into the future and make yet another step for the sake of humanity.”

The talks took place against a backdrop of growing concern among scientists that global warming is proceeding faster than governments are responding to it. The conference opened with a concerned speech from British broadcaster David Attenborough who warned about the devastating impact of climate change and urged world leaders to do more to fight it. 

Halfway through the talks Climate Action Tracker (CAT) released a report showing that even if countries met their Paris targets, the world is still set to warm by 3°C, considerably above the hoped for targets.

Another report by the IPCC concluded that while it is possible to cap global warming at 1.5°C by the end of the century, doing so would require a dramatic overhaul of the global economy, including a shift away from fossil fuels.

Alarmed by efforts to include that idea in the final text of the meeting, the oil-exporting nations of the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait blocked an endorsement of the IPCC report midway through this month’s talks.

That prompted uproar from vulnerable countries such as small island nations as well as environmental groups.

The final text omitted a previous reference to specific reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and merely welcomed the “timely completion” of the IPCC report, not its conclusions.

Johan Rockstrom, a scientist who helps to lead the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, called the agreement “a relief”.

The Paris deal, he said, “is alive and kicking, despite a rise in populism and nationalism”.

His biggest concern, he said, is that the summit “failed to align ambitions with science, in particular missing the necessity of making clear that global emissions from fossil fuels must be cut by half by 2030” to stay in line with the IPCC report.

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