What are the Katowice negotiations about?

In Katowice, Poland, the 24th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is held between 3rd and 14th of December.


When the Paris Agreement was finally gavelled through in December 2015 it was met with applause from tired delegates in the plenary hall. It was also met with a large degree of criticism from civil society around the world who demanded greater ambition and were sore about the deletion of references to equity, human rights, and especially the rights of indigenous peoples.

Each year since, global emissions have continued to rise. In October 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produced a Special Report on 1.5°C global warming which stated that temperatures are rising at a rate of 0.2°C per decade and are already 1°C warmer than pre-industrial temperatures. Combined with historic pollution already in the atmosphere, this leaves governments with an ever-shrinking window in which to bring about the transformation to a fully decarbonised world.

The IPCC report maintains hope in the possibility of keeping warming to 1.5°C but clearly made the case that all countries must increase their climate targets so that global emissions are halved by 2030 and reach near zero by 2050. All countries must step up, but some must step up more than others. There are still fundamental differences in terms of the levels of responsibility and capability between countries. How – or if – these differences are reflected in the Paris Agreement “rulebook” is one of the key challenges facing Parties here in Katowice.

One of the aims of the COP24 meeting is to conclude the rulebook – a set of comprehensive guidelines which would put all aspects of the Paris Agreement into practice. We are now in the stage where we must establish how each government will fulfil national and international commitments in order to meet the lofty goals set in Paris to limit temperature rise to below 1.5°C and mobilize hundreds of billions in finance to do so.

The technical work to reduce some 307 pages of messy options into a coherent package of legal decisions is fully underway in Katowice. But it faces two major roadblocks as developing and developed countries clash over questions related to “differentiation” and finance.

The U.S. – despite having applied to withdraw from the Paris Agreement – is spearheading developed country efforts to remove the distinction, or differentiation, between themselves and developing countries. This marks a U-turn on the agreed approach to climate change which has always been to oblige developed countries to lead the transition by cutting their own pollution and providing finance and technology to developing countries to do the same.

Developed countries as a whole have not met their own obligations under existing international agreements and decisions. According to the UN figures presented in different working and negotiating groups in Katowice, if the Eastern bloc countries are removed, developed countries have only reduced their emissions by 1.3% since 1990. Similarly, there has been a collective shortcoming in regards to the finance goal of $100 billion per year by 2020 – in the most generous analysis, developed countries have only mobilised $38 billion per year.

According to UNEP, UNFCCC and IPCC estimates, the pledges to the Paris Agreement, called Nationally Determined Contributions, would see global warming of 3 – 4°C by the end of this century. They must therefore be revisited and improved before 2020. But no country has done so – even those that paint themselves as climate heroes such as many within the E.U.

Rather than focus on getting their own houses in order, the developed countries are keen to establish a set of guidelines that would see the same rules apply to themselves and developing countries. They would like countries as different as Uganda and Finland to provide the same information, on the same time frame, with little consideration given to the vastly differing circumstances or to the provision of the finance which would be essential for developing countries to do their part.

Finance, as mentioned, is unsurprisingly the other main sticking point. The IPCC has said that the need is in the tens of trillions, to which the amount on offer pales in comparison. Add to this the problem that much climate finance takes the form of loans, and barely any takes the form of “adaptation finance” – money to help communities adapt to climate change impacts.

Both the U.S. and E.U. are refusing to agree to rules that would require them to divulge how much finance they will provide to countries who are already suffering from the impacts of climate change (“loss and damage” in UNFCCC parlance). Instead they insist that developing countries provide information about what they are contributing to climate finance – despite this not being part of the Paris Agreement.

The Rulebook negotiations concern the Paris Agreement regime and the commitments post-2020. The Katowice talks are also deal with the critical issue of countries’ climate action in the immediate-term, pre-2020. At COP23 in Bonn in November 2018, developing countries succeeded in securing a stock take on the implementation and ambition of pre-2020 actions. However, as the first session of the stock take made clear, the developing nations feel that pre-2020 actions – vital for maintaining hope in the long term temperature goal – was relegated to the background.

The 2012 Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol would require developed nations to reduce their emissions 18% from 1990-level between 2012 – 2020 (except for the U.S., who was never a Party to Kyoto, and Japan, Canada, and Russia who abandoned it). However, it lacks the additional 22 ratifications needed to enter into force, lending to the sense of frustration among developing nations.

It is not clear if anything concrete will come of the stocktake on pre-2020 action or even the process (called the Talanoa Dialogue) which attempts to revise up the first set of post-2020 pledges. What is clear is the science – yet the U.S. did not even accept the findings of the IPCC report. With so much at stake it will fall to other developed nations such as the European community to bring hope and faith back to the multilateral process and ratchet up the sense of urgency among national policy makers. The alternatives are too horrific to consider.


Nathan Thanki

Belfast native Nathan Thanki works in service of the global Demand for Climate Justice and reports from the middle of the Katowice climate talks. More of his writings can be found here.

Picture: Demand for Climate Justice

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