Nations agree on Paris Agreement rulebook, fail on climate ambition

As the 'Katowice Climate Package' is adopted, Michał Kurtyka, COP 24 President, takes a giant leap for climate action. [Photos by IISD/ENB - Kiara Worth]

Three years and three days after the Paris Agreement was adopted, the 197 signatory countries gathered in Katowice, Poland, agreed Saturday (15 December) on a rulebook for its implementation but failed to raise their ambition to keep global warming “well below 2°C”.

After the final plenary session was postponed six times, delegations finally agreed Saturday evening on the rulebook – the set of rules that makes the Paris Agreement operative – putting an end to thirteen days of tense negotiation at the 24th conference of the parties (COP24) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

If countries could agree on common binding rules to enhance transparency, they postponed the carbon market section of the rulebook – article 6 – until 2019 and chose to “recognise”, instead of “welcoming”, the 1.5°C report by the Intergovernmental on Climate Change (IPCC), which was supposed to form the backbone of the climate negotiations.

They also reiterated what the Paris Agreement already stated, namely that governments will update their climate plans by 2020 and agreed to use instead the UN Sustainable Development summit to be held in September 2019 as an opportunity to raise their ambition.

Alonside the negotiations, Chile was designated on Friday (14 December) as the host for COP25, with Costa Rica organising the pre-COP.

“We have achieved that, for the first time, not only half the world, but the whole world can be scrutinised when it comes to climate action,” German environment minister Svenja Schulze said in a statement.

French minister Francois de Rugy and his state secretary Brune Poirson did not attend the final days of the negotiations, commonly seen as pivotal in the diplomatic and political process of climate negotiations.

Bringing homogeneity

“Negotiations are not about strategy, they are about tactics, it is a game of give and take,” a negotiator said under condition of anonymity. Indeed, the last two weeks saw confrontations, warnings, unexpected coalition and last-minute drama.

“It could have been more ambitious, but the main point is, the Paris Agreement can now operate, the system is working, and this is an achievement,” the source added. 

The difficulty laid in the structure of the Paris Agreement itself: the primary innovative feature of the treaty is its reliance on nationally determined contributions – or NDCs – that individual countries generate through their own domestic processes.

But these NDCs are largely heterogeneous. Each country uses its own action plan to reduce emission, according to its own geographical, economical and social specificities.

The rulebook aims to provide some homogeneity at the global level, assuming that all countries contribute to the fight against global warming.

Aiming to bring transparency and trust between parties, the rulebook says countries shall communicate their NDCs every five years, as of 2020, and report on their greenhouse gas emissions. Governments shall also publish a transparency report every two years.

If the framework does not make a distinction between developing and developed countries, it nonetheless provides the most vulnerable economies with a so-called “flexibility” margin in the implementation of the different reporting tools.

The rulebook also establishes the Global Stocktake (GST) mechanism, which is to take place every five years, as of 2023. This will allow countries to compare and assess on the progress made in a move meant to establish a cycle of positive actions whereby countries set and deliver increasing ambition.

Progress on climate finance

David Levaï, in charge of international climate governance at French think tank IDDRI, said “substantial progresses on climate finance” was made at COP24, with a number of developed countries pledging additional fundings for the Green Climate Fund, the adaptation fund dedicated to the least developed countries.

He also pointed at the positive signals developed countries sent regarding their annual pledge to contribute $100 billion per year as of 2020 to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, a persistent sticking point in global climate talks ever since the COP15 conference in Copenhagen in 2009.

As for the inevitable loss and damage of climate change (article 8 of the Paris Agreement), a crucial agenda item for developing countries, it is no longer a footnote in the final text, meaning it now has a proper position in the documented released Saturday.

“This has contributed to build trust among countries. However, these are the first steps in the right direction, and developed countries will have to engage more in order for developing to accelerate their transition to a low carbon, resilient economy,” Levaï added. 

Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary, UNFCCC, under whom the Paris Agreement was adopted: "No one is entirely happy with this rulebook, but it is an important step. The foundations of the rules are still the Paris Agreement, which remains as strong as ever. Next year is critical. The 2019 UN Sustainable Goal summit offers all governments the opportunity to report on progress towards new, enhanced targets by 2020. A Latin American COP hosted by Chile in partnership with Costa Rica will also bring new energy and new urgency to these talks. Two clean energy leaders on the frontline of climate change.  We look forward to their leadership.”

Laurence Tubiana, CEO European Climate Foundation and key architect of the Paris Agreement: “The societal concern about global warming grew substantially over the year, also due to extreme weather events and the IPCC’s 1.5 degree report. We’ve seen climate marches and children going on school strike for more climate action all across Europe that build momentum for COP24.The Future of Europe Summit in May is a golden opportunity for EU leaders to increase the climate pledges for 2030 substantially and describe the EU’s long-term decarbonisation pathway.”

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Leader of WWF’s Climate and Energy Practice, former COP20 president: “World leaders arrived in Katowice with the task of responding to the latest climate science which made clear that we only have 12 years to cut emissions in half and prevent catastrophic global warming. They’ve made important progress, but what we’ve seen in Poland reveals a fundamental lack of understanding by some countries of our current crisis. Luckily, the Paris Agreement is proving to be resilient to the storms of global geopolitics. Now we need all countries to commit to raising climate ambition before 2020, because everyone’s future is at stake. This conference has placed a direct responsibility on leaders to arrive at September’s climate summit with improved climate targets or a commitment to deliver them by 2020. Anything less is a failure in political and moral leadership."

Bas Eickhout, official Greens/EFA representative to the European Parliament delegation in Katowice and leading candidate of the European Greens for the next European elections: "This COP was a big disappointment. It showed that there is a major gap between the expectations of the citizens and the analysis of the scientists on one hand and the decisions of the governments on the other hand. In Katowice, only technical progress was made but the thousands of people on the street don't demonstrate for a rulebook. They want ambitious climate protection. The governments disregarded citizens and scientists who showed in the recent IPCC report that more ambitious action is urgently needed to keep global warming well below 2 degrees."

Lola Vallejo, Climate Programme Director, IDDRI: Three years after the wedding announcement in Paris, this COP was about negotiating the nuptial contract in detail. It’s been a technically challenging COP, focused on negotiating the implementation rules of the Paris Agreement. But acknowledging the scale of this task should not hide that countries lacked the political will to strongly support stepping up efforts to reduce their emissions. Countries now need to wake up to the IPCC alarm and start or continue national and collective processes for more ambition. The U.N. secretary general, together with the Chilean COP25 presidency, with support from Costa Rica, must all actively drive these efforts.

Stephanie Pfeifer, Chief Executive, Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change: “Adoption of the ‘rulebook’ at COP24 is to be welcomed, notwithstanding that work remains over the coming years in order to make it as robust as possible. Given the recent findings of the IPCC Special Report on 1.5 degrees of warming, it is vital that the world’s governments recognise the serious challenge posed by climate change and urgently scale up their efforts both at national level and globally to close the “ambition gap” and limit global temperature rises to well-below 2 degrees. It is only through signals such as these that investors will have the confidence necessary to allocate the required capital to the low-carbon and climate-resilient transition.

“It is clear that the low-carbon transition is already underway in the real economy. Those countries, such as the members of the High Ambition Coalition, who continue to push ahead with ambitious, long-term climate policies will be the ones to reap the investment and economic advantages of doing so, as well as a myriad of linked social and environmental benefits. Investors therefore call on those countries to continue in their progressive leadership in order to set a strong global example to others.”

Wendel Trio, Director of Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe: “The weak outcome of this COP runs contrary to stark warnings of the IPCC report and growing demand for action from citizens. Governments have again delayed adequate action to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown. The EU needs to push ahead and lead by example, by providing more support to poor countries and increasing its climate pledge before the UN Secretary General Summit in September 2019. It must be a significant increase, even beyond the 55% reduction some Member States and the European Parliament are calling for.”


Highlights of finance commitments

  • Adaptation Fund: total contributions US$538m before COP24 (total: US$127.14m with CER sales). At COP24, contributions totalled US$129m, with Germany pledging €70m (the largest contributor), France, €15m; the EU commission: €10m; Italy, €7m.
  • Green Climate Fund: total contributions reached US$10.3bn. Germany and Norway pledged to double their GCF contributions (€1.5bn and $516m respectively) in the upcoming replenishment, making them the largest contributors.
  • Least Developed Countries Fund: total contributions of US$1.33bn with COP24 pledges totalling US$28.2m The largest contributors are Sweden, with $5.5m and France with €20 million.


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