This article is part of our special report Road to COP24: A just energy transition ahead?.
As December’s UN climate summit in Poland rapidly approaches, it is shaping up to be a race against time to prepare the so-called Paris rulebook, which will govern how the landmark climate agreement will actually be implemented.
Between 3 and 14 December, a circus of international diplomats will descend on the former coal mining hub of Katowice in southern Poland for the latest annual UN climate summit, which is this year billed as the last chance to make the Paris Agreement a reality.
More than 1,400 delegates will have to reduce hundreds of pages to a single, coherent paper upon which all countries that have ratified the agreement can agree.
Many of these pages are of technical nature, such as how countries monitor and report their greenhouse gas emissions or keep track of climate change efforts. But they all aim to describe measures governments must take to achieve the Paris goal of keeping the global temperature increase “well below” 2C, aiming for 1.5C.
Negotiators have to act fast: summit follow-ups in Marrakech and Bonn were mostly geared toward setting the timeline for implementation of the Paris deal and containing the fallout from US President Donald Trump’s intention to scrap his country’s involvement in the agreement.
In preparation for COP24, negotiators have already met in Bangkok in order to try and whittle down the vast amount of documents and texts already on the table, so that Katowice will be all about picking from a number of pre-prepared options.
However, the Bangkok talks, which were added to the agenda after slow progress in May, also yielded “uneven progress”, according to UN climate change leader Patricia Espinosa. An extra negotiating day has since been added to the Katowice talks.
One of the major bones of contention is a China-backed plan to create a two-speed rulebook that will split developed and developing countries in two on certain issues. It’s an idea that has already been opposed by both the EU and the US.
That is in addition to a debate on how ambitious countries should make their commitments, or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which has quickly turned into a political issue, one that will need to be looked at in Katowice.
Non-state actors are getting in on the action too. Following on from the 2017 Bonn summit, which saw two US delegations show up with very different attitudes to tackling climate change, September’s Global Climate Action summit saw a call of action issued by more than 4,000 leaders to governments to roll up their sleeves in Poland.
For now, world leaders are at least talking the talk. At the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week, Secretary-General António Guterres called climate change an “absolute priority” for the multilateral body he heads.
“The commitment [at the Paris climate summit] was universal – but we are nowhere close to where we need to be to meet these minimum targets,” Guterres added.
French President Emmanuel Macron also gave a bombastic speech to delegates where he insisted he would not sign off on large trade deals with countries that do not “respect” the landmark climate agreement.
It was a clear shot at Donald Trump but could also be interpreted as a warning to countries like Brazil and Australia, which are flirting with the prospect of watering down their commitments or even scrapping the deal altogether.
However, Macron’s pledge is a little empty, given that France does not sign trade deals on its own, as the EU handles commercial wrangling on behalf of its member states.
Brussels has already moved to make Paris a key tentpole of its trade deals and a new sweeping agreement with Japan and an updated version of the CETA pact with Canada now include promises to effectively implement the climate accord.