But, as the latest round of the UN climate change talks begin in Katowice, Poland, it is worth remembering that we have, in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the framework we need to build a common response to this global challenge.
Paris Set the Scene
Paris was built on four important elements: a robust scientific basis, namely the 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in 2013; a broad coalition of non-state actors, including business, local government and non-profits, mobilised through the Lima-Paris Action Agenda; effective financial support, primarily but not exclusively through the Green Climate Fund; and bottom-up plans put forward by both developed and developing country governments.
These Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), as they are known, gave governments the confidence to propose emissions targets and actions without taking on legally binding commitments. The process has focused minds, uncovered opportunities, and set a process in motion to translate the global goals of Paris to the national level.
However these first NDCs are not, collectively, equal to the task: if they are implemented as written, they would lead to 3.4°C of warming by the end of the century, more than double the limit of 1.5°C Parties agreed to strive to stay below in the Paris Agreement, and also far more than the well below 2°C backstop goal.
For negotiations to be successful it is essential to establish a solid normative package that regulates the update of NDCs established in 2014-15. Rules are needed on transparency around NDCs, governments’ accountability for them and, ultimately, how they can be made more ambitious in line with the climate science.
Again, the groundwork has been laid. The Talanoa Dialogue has allowed parties to share experiences and, hopefully, will give them confidence to enhance their targets. The IPCC’s 1.5°C report has vividly set out the scale of the problem, and provides the scientific basis for decisive action.
Finance, as always, will have an important part to play. The most climate-vulnerable countries are also the poorest: they need to see solidarity and financial support as they adapt to climate change while seeking to develop in a low-carbon manner. The Paris Agreement enshrined the goal, set in 2009, of mobilising $100 billion each year in climate finance by 2020, and maintaining at least this level until 2025. However, there is no clarity as to what happens after that date.
More Ambition Necessary
It will also be crucial to increase ambition regarding emissions reductions before 2020, when the NDCs come into effect, and further accelerate the needed transformations in our energy, transport and industrial systems, and protect and restore forests and other natural systems. Those countries that haven’t yet done so must ratify the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, which establishes a second commitment period (covering 2013-20); while 120 parties have done so, it remains 24 signatures short of entering into force.
Notwithstanding the results obtained in Katowice, it shouldn’t be forgotten that there is a fifth element that underpins the Paris Agreement: strong popular support for taking action on greenhouse gas emissions.
In the face of such worrying scientific evidence, and despite the best efforts of those who seek to profit from the status quo, we must mobilise ever-greater public support for negotiators in all climate change talks so that they have clear mandates for aggressive and ambitious climate action.
WMO Provisional statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2018, tinyurl.com/y85hnrte
AR5 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2014, www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/syr
The Lima-Paris Action Agenda, https://unfccc.int/news/the-lima-paris-action-agenda-promoting-transformational-climate-action
Green Climate Fund, www.greenclimate.fund/home
Talanoa Dialogue, https://talanoadialogue.com
IPCC, Special Report Global Warming of 1.5 ºC, www.ipcc.ch/sr15
The Doha Amendment, https://unfccc.int/process/the-kyoto-protocol/the-doha-amendment