UN climate change conference ushers in 'Katowice Climate Package'

The annual UN climate talks, held in the Polish mining town of Katowice in December, had as the main agenda item the drawing up of the rules for the implementation of the Paris climate treaty. Although the negotiations proved acrimonious, in the end they succeeded in producing these rules, which have now been dubbed the 'Katowice Climate Package'.

Meena Raman and Evelyn Teh

AFTER the momentous adoption of the Paris Agreement (PA) in 2015, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)'s 24th session (known as COP 24), held in the coal city of Katowice, Poland, on 2-15 December, set another milestone in climate negotiations with the approval of the rules for the implementation of the PA, dubbed the 'Katowice Climate Package'.

Once the PA was ratified and entered into force in record time in 2016, the clock began to tick for governments to agree on the rules for implementation by COP 24, under what was known as the Paris Agreement Work Programme (PAWP).

These rules, among other matters, spell out the guidelines for governments on what information to provide when they communicate their intended climate actions, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs); what they will report on in the implementation of these contributions, including on the financial and technology resources provided to developing countries; and how these actions will be reviewed at the international level.  

The package of decisions adopted also includes guidelines that relate to:

 the process for establishing new targets on finance by 2025, from the current target of mobilising $100 billion per year from 2020 to support developing countries;

 the conduct of the global stocktake in 2023 to assess the collective progress of governments in achieving the goals of the PA; and

the assessment of progress on the development and transfer of technology.

The drawing up of these rules in the three years leading up to COP 24 had been mired in a battle of interpretation between developed and developing countries over the agreement reached in Paris.

Developing countries viewed developed countries as trying to undermine the fine and delicate balance reached in Paris in respect of their respective obligations under the PA, through the push by the latter for guidelines and processes that were mitigation-centric and that diluted differences between developed and developing countries on how the rules are to be applied; the developed countries' refusal to acknowledge their historical responsibility for climate change; and their resistance to having processes in place for enhancing financial and technology support to developing countries in meeting their NDCs. 

This deep North-South political divide over the years was somehow bridged with some compromises during the final hours of COP 24, after almost two weeks of gruelling technical and political negotiations among governments and behind-the-scenes diplomacy under the leadership of the COP 24 President Michal Kurtyka, the Secretary of State for the Polish Ministry of Environment. (For further details on the areas of divergences and the final decisions adopted, see the article 'The key decisions on the Paris Agreement implementation rules' in this issue.)

The decisions under the PAWP were finally delivered on 15 December (except for guidelines on cooperative approaches relating to the use of markets and non-market approaches) in what was the most significant outcome of COP 24. The adoption of the decision was greeted with cheers of jubilation in the plenary hall and a giant leap of joy by Kurtyka. However, when the government representatives delivered their statements, the reactions were somewhat mixed.

The Group of 77 and China, which represented the developing world, in its assessment of the overall package of decisions, said that it 'did not see a level of balance', as it saw 'a mitigation regime in the making, with urgent adaptation needs relegated to second-class status'. It also expressed fear that the regime ignores the principle of 'common but differentiated responsibilities' (CBDR) between developed and developing countries.

On the other hand, developed countries such as the European Union and the Umbrella Group (which includes the United States) were more upbeat, stressing that clear guidance is now in place on the information to be provided for their future actions, with a robust framework that would allow Parties to track progress of their actions. (For more on this, see the article 'Decisions for implementation of Paris Agreement adopted' in this issue.)

On the decisions on finance, a senior developing-country negotiator involved in the process told the Third World Network that 'there were wins and there were losses for developing countries', but was of the view that 'developing countries got more wins than losses'. (For more, see the article 'Important finance decisions adopted at climate talks' in this issue.)

While there was relief in the conference hall that the Paris Agreement rulebook had been finally agreed to, there was much frustration among developing countries and many civil society groups at the inability of developed countries in particular to urgently raise their mitigation targets (as the NDCs only take effect from 2021 onwards).

Notably, the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol (KP) has yet to be ratified and enter into force, hence the lack of a second commitment period (2CP) for emission reductions by developed countries which are Parties to the KP.

Governments had agreed in 2012 for the 2CP to ensure that developed countries would cut emissions by at least 18% below 1990 levels by 2020, and that they would revisit their commitments by 2014 with a view to increasing their ambition. This was the political understanding reached that allowed for negotiations that eventually led to the PA.

However, just before COP 24 began, only 122 Parties, including the European Union, had ratified the Doha Amendment, when 144 Parties are required for the amendment to enter into force. Developed countries such as Canada, Japan and Russia have not ratified and the US is not a party to the KP. In addition, no developed country has revised or raised its pre-2020 mitigation targets, thus reneging on their 2012 promise.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP)'s Emissions Gap Report released prior to the COP showed that 'current commitments expressed in the NDCs [for emission cuts from 2021 to 2030] are inadequate to bridge the emissions gap in 2030', and that 'technically, it is still possible to bridge the gap to ensure global warming stays well below 2oC and 1.5oC, but if NDC ambitions are not increased before 2030, exceeding the 1.5oC goal can no longer be avoided'.

Key developing countries such as China and India made clear that the gap in mitigation ambition of developed countries in the pre-2020 period must not be passed on to developing countries in the post-2020 timeframe of the PA, adding that this was the responsibility of developed countries.

In a stocktake session on pre-2020 actions during the Katowice climate talks, Xie Zhenhua, China's Special Representative for Climate Change Affairs, said that governments were 'still a long way before achieving our [climate] objectives', and added that the emissions gap (created by developed countries) should not be shifted to the post-2020 period.

Ravi Prasad from the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change expressed similar sentiments and stressed that many reports - including a recent special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the impacts of global warming of 1.5oC - indicate 'significant gaps in pre-2020 action even amounting to up to 40-50% and called for emissions reductions by about 25-40% by developed countries in this period'. The Indian delegate asserted further that 'any emissions gap which was part of the pre-2020 period must be carried over and fulfilled in the post-2020 period and countries which were responsible for them must take that responsibility'.

With nothing to show especially on the part of developed countries in raising their pre-2020 emission reduction targets, the COP 24 decision could only underscore the urgent need for the entry into force of the Doha Amendment and emphasised that 'enhanced pre-2020 ambition can lay a solid foundation for enhanced post-2020 ambition'. Another stocktake on pre-2020 implementation and ambition will take place at the next COP, which is expected to be held in Santiago, Chile, this year.

Meanwhile, world media coverage of the Katowice talks was mainly on how governments could not welcome the IPCC's 1.5oC special report, given objections raised by the US, Russia, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The US said explicitly that it could not endorse the findings of the report.

In the decision adopted in the final hours, the COP only managed to 'welcome the timely completion' of the special report.

Several groups of countries, especially from the Alliance of Small Island States, highlighted important findings of the special report during the course of the COP, including that 'impacts at 1.5oC, such as on global sea level rise, biodiversity and ecosystems, ocean temperature, and adaptation needs, will be lower compared to 2oC'. The report also states that 'limiting global warming requires limiting the total cumulative global anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) since the preindustrial period, i.e. staying within a total carbon budget'.

The UN Secretary-General's initiative to convene a Climate Summit in 2019 (to be held in September) was also welcomed by governments at COP 24, whose decision calls on Parties 'to participate in the Summit and to demonstrate, through such participation, their enhanced ambition in addressing climate change'.

Whether governments, especially in the developed world, will indeed step up to more ambition remains to be seen, despite the sounding of alarm bells through scientific reports and rising incidences of heatwaves, forest fires, droughts and extreme weather events around the globe.

As pointed out by well-known nature broadcaster Sir David Attenborough at the opening ceremony of the COP, 'time is running out' and decision-makers have to act now, by making the tough decisions and sacrifices to help make the changes the world needs - 'the continuation of our civilisations and the natural world' is in the hands of world leaders.           

Meena Raman is senior legal adviser and coordinator of the climate change programme of the Third World Network. Evelyn Teh is a senior researcher with TWN.

*Third World Resurgence No. 335/336, 2018, pp 17-18