When the dust finally settled in Katowice in the wee hours of Sunday morning, December 16 – two days after COP24 was slated to conclude – a fair chunk of the needed Paris Agreement implementation guidelines were agreed on in COP decision.
Much was written about the outcomes right after. All point to the progress in providing detail for all of the Articles listed on the PAWP, except Article 6 on cooperative (markets) mechanisms. C2ES acknowledged the Rulebook achievement as “pivotal” while noting concern that the politics surrounding the COP’s tepid acceptance of the IPCC 1.5C report might signal the lack of high-level political leadership for putting them into practice. The World Resources Institute (WRI) concluded that “while not perfect, the Rulebook provides an important foundation for countries to move forward and operationalize the Paris Agreement.” Carbon Brief noted that “countries wrestled with the ‘four-dimensional spaghetti’ of competing priorities as they clashed over how to recognize the IPCC special report on 1.5C ” and use those findings to spur greater ambition in the 2020 NDC revisions. The Wuppertal Institute saw the Rulebook as helping the Paris Agreement ship move out of dry dock – finally.
Here is my take on the three key Paris Agreement articles and their attendant COP24 guidelines, and how Parties “got to not no” on them.
The Article 4 guidelines on mitigation aspects of NDCs come in four decisions. Decision 4/CMA.1 conveys the NDC information that Parties are expected to use when making mitigation pledges, beginning with their 2020 updates. Annex 1 of the decision details the kinds of information required “to facilitate clarity, transparency, and understanding (CTU),” like base lines, time frames, scope of coverage, and methodologies. Annex 2 mandates using IPCC emissions accounting guidance,unless it cannot be applied to that kind of NDC pledge. Decision 5/CMA.1 sets out how to use the public registry for recording these NDCs. Getting to not no on these guidelines was relatively easy. On the technical level, most of these categories of information have been under discussion since COP19 and have been used under the Kyoto Protocol. So few surprises, and sufficient time to get used to and make comprises on some. On the political level, given that Parties retain the right to self determine what kind of mitigation pledge they make, the technical component form follows the nationally determined function … meaning that the pages of CTU information required ONLY apply once a Party makes a pledge that invokes them. Again, given that Protocol countries are accustomed to gathering and communicating this kind of information, they had little to oppose. Given that almost all developing countries made sectoral pledges, not economy wide ones, most of the CTU categories either don’t apply or are not formidable. Hopefully this is a case where consensus means that behavioral norms are actually in line with the guidelines.
In contrast, Parties did not agree on common time frames for their mitigation pledges at COP24 in Decision 6/CMA.1. While the Paris Agreement specifies that NDCs will be revised every five years, the timeframes for mitigation commitments made within them remain nationally determined. For example, the US INDC pledges a 26-28% reduction by 2025 based on a 2005 baseline, while the EU’s 40% reduction is by 2030 and based on a 1990 baseline. Consequently the Parties returned to the issue at SB50, where they again did not come up with a recommendation for COP25. This negotiations will continue at SB51 during the first week of the COP. What might be the consensus position on this one? The range of options currently on the table indicates disagreement over what conceptually is the right timeframe to achieve both ambitious and feasible change, and how fast to start implementation. Hence we see competing proposals to require all Parties to adopt a 5-year timeframe; a 10-year timeframe; have the choice between the two; and even mandate two successive 5-year timeframes (5+5). As for implementation, there are calls for sooner (in 2025) and later (2031 and 2041 onward). At this point, it is unclear which approach will prevail in Santiago. Parties could not agree on submissions and technical reports on this point during the next six months, so it is hard to see how compromise positions will form before then.
The Article 13 guidelines on transparency get the award for length: Decision 18/CMA.1 comes in at a whopping 34 pages! We know that knowledge is power. While sovereign countries always seek information on others, they are careful when divulging their own. Careful wording takes more pages.
Within the internal logic of the UNFCCC, the length is also testimony to how MRV (measuring, reporting, and verification) has evolved over time. The general requirements outlined in the UNFCCC produced data, but not in a way that helped measure progress. Hence the Biennial Reports and Biennial Update Reports mandated later by COP16 decisions. This change led to the Paris Agreement’s Biennial Transparency Report (BTR), which Parties will begin submitting in 2024, and will likely evolve to be the sole report (with national inventories inside or alongside them).
Another reason for length derives from Article 13’s negotiation over the course of 2015 into a two-part reporting system: one on transparency of action (e.g. mitigation and adaptation) and one on transparency of support (e.g. finance, technology, capacity-building). That second part was hard fought. Since 1994, developing countries perceived chronic shortfalls on these UNFCCC “means of implementation” commitments. As a compromise, they negotiated their willingness to take on new mitigation obligations with developed countries’ willingness to be more transparent about how they provide support.
While long and detailed, the transparency guidelines are organized in a straight forward fashion, first giving an overview of BTR requirements in Part I before providing lists of the kinds of information and methodologies required for making a national inventory of emissions and removals in Part II. Part III details the information needed to report on progress made on NDC pledges, which mostly mirrors that described in the NDC guidelines. Part IV lists the optional information on adaptation that may be included in a NDC. Parts V and VI address the provision by developed countries and the receipt by developing countries of support, respectively, via finance, technology, and capacity building. Guidelines on the technical expert review of these submissions are outlined in Part VII and multilateral review of them by the Parties is covered in Part VIII.
While the end product seems tidy and matter-of-fact, the negotiation of them during COP24 occupied most of the available meeting time. This kind of detailed reporting – most of which most developing countries have not prepared for – was ground zero for advocating for different requirements for countries of different development status. While LDCs and SIDs continue to be treated with “flexibility,” developing countries are really not. Almost all of the transparency provisions begin with the undifferentiated label of “Parties.” While developing countries may exercise flexibility “in light of their capacities” on some aspects of reporting, they must transparently show where and why they are doing so and communicate when their capacity will improve. To help them meet these timelines, developed country Parties have pledge additional capacity-building support for transparency, via the CBIT fund located at the GEF, which was created at COP21. A uniform transparency system was a red line for the US and EU delegations. To get to not no required giving up an outside limit on how long developing countries could exercise this flexibility – and funding this kind of capacity building.
At SB50, the focus on the transparency framework’s mechanics continued with negotiations on common reporting tables and tabular formats for this information. The Parties left Bonn with pages of ideas, an invitation to submit more, and a decision to continue negotiating the specifics at SB51 with dedicated time for discussing how exactly to put those flexibility options into practice.
The Article 14 guidelines on the global stocktake (GST) are captured in Decision 19/CMA.1 in a comparatively short 5 pages. Yet they give a fair amount of detail on both the procedure and data inputs for this collective review of all the Parties progress (or not) on achieving the Article 2 goals, which is set to start in 2023 and continue every five years thereafter. On procedure, the implementation guidelines divide the stocktake into three phases: 1) information collection and preparation, 2) technical assessment of it per the Paris Agreement goals, and 3) using that assessment to inform Parties’ updating of their NDCs to enhance ambition. While the SBI and SBSTA will jointly assist the process, a “technical dialogue” will be convened to help assess both the inputs and outs of the stocktake. Not surprisingly, inputs will provide information on the current status of emissions and removals, overall NDC progress, adaptation and loss and damage efforts, financial flows, challenges faced by developing countries, good practices, and “fairness considerations.” Data for these inputs will come from individual NDCs and BTRs; reports from the IPCC, SBI and SBSTA, and relevant constituted UNFCCC bodies; synthesis reports requested of the Secretariat, as well as reports from other UN bodies and regional organizations; and submissions from Parties and observers. The technical dialogue looks to be an important method for focusing the assessment of evidence-based actions, akin to the structured expert dialogue that set the stage for the inclusion of 1.5C in Article 2’s aims and the COP requesting the IPCC’s special report on 1.5C. Perhaps it will be equally skilled in diplomacy, as the GST turns the focus from individual country actions (and inactions) to global action (and inaction)?
Taken together, these three sets of implementation guidelines provide something for everyone yet enough top down in common to drive compromise.
“The Paris Agreement could have died in Katowice,” Li Shuo, head of Greenpeace-China, said in a Rolling Stone article post COP24. “Instead, it lives. The question now is, ‘Who will step up and show some ambition and political leadership?’ ”