UN Climate Negotiators Work to Advance Paris Rulebook

24 May 2017

UN climate negotiators concluded their annual mid-year meetings last week in the German city of Bonn, working to advance the development of a “rulebook” for the Paris Agreement on climate change, among other objectives.

The 8-18 May meetings sought to build on the work from the Conference of the Parties (COP) 22 last year in Marrakech, which saw parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agree to adopt a “Paris rulebook” by 2018, with a review of their progress this year, among other items. (See Bridges Weekly, 6 November 2016 and 20 November 2016)

Major topics on this month’s Bonn agenda included transparency, accountability, and financing areas of the accord, in large part paving the way for the rulebook discussions for this autumn.

Thus far, 195 countries are signatories to the Paris Agreement. Of this number, 146 countries have formally ratified the landmark climate deal. The latter group accounts for approximately 83 percent of global emissions, according to an assessment by the World Resources Institute.

Fiji COP presidency begins

The 6-17 November COP will be held under the Fijian presidency, though the meetings themselves will also take place in Bonn. Incoming COP23 President Frank Bainimarama said last week that his country will aim to bring its own Pacific island nation perspective to the climate talks.

“We who are most vulnerable must be heard, whether we come from the Pacific or other Small Island Developing States, other low lying nations and states or threatened cities in the developed world like Miami, New York, Venice, or Rotterdam,” he told a Bonn audience on 18 May.

Among Fiji’s priorities for COP23 will be to keep in place the “multilateral consensus for decisive action” on climate issues, along with supporting the Paris Agreement in this next stage; to make clearer the connection between ocean and sea health and climate change; to push for developing innovative climate solutions and financing them accordingly; and to bring together a “grand coalition” aimed at boosting climate action by the end of this decade.

Also on the Fijian priority list is to help those countries most at risk to better prepare and have financial support for their adaptation efforts. All this, he said, would involve incorporating the “Fijian ‘Bula Spirit’ of inclusiveness, friendliness, and solidarity.”

Rulebook progress

Advancing preparations for a future Paris Agreement “rulebook” under the Ad-hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA), which is the steering group that is in charge of the deal’s implementation, was one of the key goals for this month’s Bonn talks.

Coming to a consensus on these issues was expected to be challenging due to the technical detail involved in discussions. However, officials welcomed the move to more technical work in Bonn, pledging to push these efforts forward at this November’s COP.

“The APA noted that substantive progress has been achieved at this session in making a transition from conceptual discussions to focused technical work, including, as appropriate, on textual elements. The APA emphasised the need to make progress on all items in a coherent and balanced manner and to ensure a coordinated and coherent approach regarding the related matters considered under the SBI and the SBSTA,” said the co-chairs’ conclusions, which were adopted at the APA’s closing plenary on 18 May.

The SBI refers to the Subsidiary Body for Implementation and the SBSTA refers to the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice. These are two UNFCCC negotiating tracks, which pre-date the Paris Agreement.

Response measures

Among the items on the Bonn docket was advancing work on the topic of “response measures,” which involves the social or economic effects that may result from climate activities taken by other countries. At the 2015 COP which adopted the Paris Agreement, UNFCCC parties signed off on an “improved forum and work programme” for addressing these measures, which would be in place for the years 2016-2018.

The issue of response measures, as well as the forum itself, were discussed in Bonn under the SBI and the SBSTA, along with briefly under the APA. Ultimately, the two subsidiary bodies signed off on a set of joint conclusions welcoming an ad hoc technical expert group (TEG) that met earlier this month on the technical aspects of this issue.

“The SBI and the SBSTA welcomed with appreciation the summary of the meeting of the ad hoc technical expert group (TEG) held in Bonn, Germany, on 9 and 10 May 2017, presented by the co-chairs of the TEG, which provided further technical elaboration on the two areas of the work programme on the impact of the implementation of response measures in the context of sustainable development,” said the conclusions.

They also asked that the group’s co-chairs prepare a “detailed report” for the November SBI and SBSTA meetings, which would take the summary presented in Bonn and go into greater depth.

Furthermore, the conclusions note that parties and observers have been asked to table by end-September “their views on aspects related to economic diversification and transformation and just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs, in the context of sustainable development.” These submissions are meant to support the meetings at COP23 and next year’s mid-year Bonn talks on the potential use of “modelling tools” in this area.

They also endorsed joint conclusions relating to the response measures “forum,” which among other items refers specifically to developing the necessary “modalities, work programme, and functions” and ask that parties and observers table submissions on what these could entail by the end of September.

In addition, the APA will need to adopt a decision that formally designates this forum as “serving” the Paris accord, which is being developed jointly under the two subsidiary bodies and was also discussed in Bonn.

Article 6 debates

Talks in Bonn under the SBSTA also looked at various aspects of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which among other provisions lays out the possibility of countries choosing “voluntary cooperation” for meeting their national commitments, including through “internationally transferred mitigation outcomes.” Experts say this could have implications for linking sub-national, national, and regional carbon markets. (See Bridges Weekly, 2 June 2016)

The discussions in this area touched upon a range of issues, including on developing “guidance” on the above-mentioned cooperative approaches, as set out under Article 6.2 of the Paris Agreement. Under the SBSTA conclusions on this item, parties have been asked to make submissions on what might form the “content” of this guidance by early October. There will be a roundtable on the subject in November, which will be summarised in an informal document put together by co-facilitators.

Co-facilitators also released an informal “information note” aiming to capture the Bonn discussions, with the caveat that the informal “list of elements” therein are not meant to suggest that these have consensus or convergence among the parties. The document also refers to the various disagreements that arose on the subject, such as on how these elemnts relate to the Paris Agreement itself.

Among the various other topics relating to Article 6 that came up in Bonn is a “mechanism” that will “contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and support sustainable development.” The mechanism was agreed under Article 6.4 of the Paris deal, which also outlines a series of related goals that it should meet.

Negotiators in Bonn agreed to ask parties to put forward what should serve as this mechanism’s rules, modalities, and procedures by early October, while similarly asking that the UNFCCC secretariat host a related roundtable in November, which will be summarised informally by the co-facilitators. As with the Article 6.2 discussions, the co-facilitators on this topic also put forward an informal “information note” outlining the elements raised by various parties, while referring broadly to disagreements that arose in this month’s talks.

Global stocktake

Establishing a process to check, maintain, and improve the rigour of the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) was another important agenda point for this month’s Bonn meetings.

Through a stocktaking process, all countries will examine and report on their climate goals every five years from 2020, identifying best practices and areas for further improvement. This accountability measure provides an avenue for revising policy in order to meet the ultimate goal of keeping the rise in global average temperatures within two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The first “global stocktake” will happen in 2023, with a 2018 “Facilitative Dialogue” to serve as a test run.

Following the Bonn talks, the APA has asked that parties table “focused submissions on the possible elements of textual outline for the identification of the sources of input to and development of the modalities for the global stocktake.”

The co-facilitators also released an ">informal note summarising these discussions in further depth, including a “possible textual outline” that they put together based on the views heard in Bonn, while not pre-judging the outcome or indicating any sort of agreement on the subject.

Reviewing progress

Notably, the Bonn talks also saw the US, India, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, Morocco, Russia, Thailand, France, and Chile among the 27 developed and developing countries slated to go through the “multilateral assessment” or “facilitative sharing of views,” respectively, regarding their climate action plans.

Participating countries shared achievements alongside lessons learned, providing a chance to clarify procedural elements of the national reporting process and show what their emissions cutting efforts have meant for their respective economies. The sharing exercise also gave a chance to demonstrate how far along these countries are toward meeting their 2020 emission reduction goals.

The countries listed above were asked to describe their climate plans’ progress to date, answering public questions from other parties. India and China, both countries audited in Bonn, were among those larger developing countries reporting positive news with India highlighting its National Solar Mission, and China noting its declining coal consumption.

Waiting on Washington

The United States was one of the countries under review at Bonn as well, with China and India reportedly questioning the US about its international climate finance pledges. These reviews happened under the wider concern that President Donald Trump could withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement itself.

Trump campaigned against the Paris Agreement during his presidential run last year, with his current administration still debating whether the US should remain part of the global climate pact. (See Bridges Weekly, 30 March 2017)

The new US leader has already indicated that he would not fulfil the previous US pledge to provide US$2 billion to the Green Climate Fund, though the previous Obama Administration has already provided US$1 billion to the project. The Fund which was established in order to mobilise billions of dollars in climate finance for helping poorer nations slash emissions and respond to climate change impacts.

The US president is currently out on his first foreign trip, which includes the G7 leaders’ summit on 26-27 May in Taormina, Italy. Newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron along with Chinese President Xi Jinping have publicly defended the Agreement, with domestic support for the accord coming from a host of civil society groups, as well as myriad private and public sector actors.

In anticipation of the Taormina meeting, nearly 300 investors and corporations co-signed a letter this month pledging their backing to the Paris accord and calling upon leaders to do the same, including by taking steps at the national level aimed at limiting global temperature rises to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius, as well as by spurring greater investments in facilitating a transition to a low-carbon economy.

“Investors recognise the global transition to a low-carbon, clean energy economy is now firmly underway and they want to make well-informed decisions that help Paris Agreement signatories deliver their national commitments,” said Stephanie Pfeifer, who serves as the CEO of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change in Europe.

ICTSD reporting; “Insider: Designing the Global Stocktake under the Paris Agreement: The Catalyst for Climate Action,” WORLD RESOURCES INSTITUTE, 1 May, 2017; “Setting the Rules of the Game at Bonn Climate Talks,” WORLD RESOURCES INSTITUTE, 1 May 2017; “Climate Negotiations in Bonn: The Countdown to 2018 Starts,” WORLD RESOURCES INSTITUTE, 3 May 2017; “Bonn Climate Change Conference- May 2017: Summary Highlights,” IISD SERVICES, 8-18 May 2017; “India and China ‘on track to exceed Paris climate pledges’,” CLIMATE HOME, 15 May 2017; “Bonn Climate Talks Make Incremental Progress on the Paris Agreement Rulebook,” IISD, 22 May 2017.

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