Will the Paris Climate Agreement Work?

Negotiators from nearly 200 countries are once again meeting in Bonn on climate change from now to May 10 as the gap continues to widen between what countries have pledged to do to limit rising temperatures and what climate experts believe has to be done

Experts and observers in Bonn are calling for governments to radically step up climate ambitions amid analysis that the window to avoid breaching the Paris Agreement’s threshold of a 1.5 degree Celsius temperature rise is closing fast. By some estimates, fewer than four years remain, and current pledges are projected to result in 3C warming if unchanged.

2017 went down as the costliest year as well as the third hottest on record. Large tracts of the world's oceans are being suffocated, and according to World Bank estimates, hundreds of millions of people are at risk of being displaced in the coming decades.

A 3C rise in temperature would probably result in masses of people being forced from their homes, suffering from disease, starvation and social upheaval that could include armed conflicts, in addition to severe weather such as increased typhoons in some areas and extreme drought in others, climate scientists say.

Among the negotiators are representatives from the United States, whose President, Donald Trump, has vowed to abandon the climate change talks, although it is unclear what role they are playing. The US is the second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after China. That leaves the continuing attempt to limit greenhouse gases with enormous questions.

Nonetheless, the negotiations are seeing to smooth the delivery of two outcomes viewed as critical to the actual implementation of the 2015 UN-sponsored Paris Agreement, a historic pledge by the leaders of 196 countries to attempt to limit climate change. They are attempting to create a rulebook for implementation of the Paris accord and crucially revising country pledges to reduce emissions from the previous targets in each country's Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Those goals must be revised or the world will be unable to keep temperatures from rising by more than 1.5C by 2030.

The Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) oversees drafting the implementation rulebook for the Paris Agreement. The Subsidiary Body for Science and Technology (SBSTA) reports and advises on advances in technology necessary to cut emissions. The Ad Hoc Working Group (APA) prepares for the Paris Agreement implementation, ensuring that the text of the rulebook presents the final outcomes of negotiations and agreements.

The implementation rules are shaped around six key issues that government negotiators will need to agree on: transparency of implementation, mitigation, adaptation, technology, capacity-building, and financing.

Greenpeace’s senior global policy adviser Li Shuo said countries must agree fast on this range of technical issues as the gap between what was pledged and what they are actually delivering.

“Countries need to sort out certain tasks under the transparency framework, particularly, whether and how flexibility should be granted to developing countries in implementing their national climate goals,” he said. “We need to know how scaled up finance and technology support will be mobilized.”

A key result Li is expecting from this Bonn conference is a “clear legal text,” or a draft, for the rulebook which needs to be finalized in December during COP24 in Katowiche, Poland.

Dharini Pharthasarathy, senior communications coordinator for non-profit Climate Action Network, said some countries want to follow a universal approach at implementing the Paris Agreement, where one rule applies to all, whereas others are proposing an approach that is based on equity and flexibility, where lesser developed countries are given “leeway on the implementation of their Nationally Determined Contributions.”

As well as hastening the creation of the rulebook, the original nationally determined contributions are “woefully inadequate to reach the Paris goals,” and must be revised, Pharthasarathy said.

“All the countries’ pledges to lower emissions put together will fail to deliver on the ambition of the Paris Agreement. It’s been almost three years since they first wrote their pledges and climate change has only gotten worse within this period of the time,” she said.

Talanoa: Three questions to make Paris work

To facilitate scaling up the country’s ambitions, the Bonn conference will highlight the Talanoa Dialogue which for the first time would gather country negotiators, business leaders and civil society groups in a face to face meeting to discuss what is a fair and adequate but scaled up contribution from the different countries to reduce emissions.

The Talanoa Dialogue will take place on May 6 and is organized around three questions: 1) where are we; 2) where do we want to go; and 3) how do we get there?

Aside from the face-to-face meeting, Parties and civil society members can also submit their inputs to the Talanoa via an online portal, which the UNFCCC secretariat will compile into materials to be used in the intersessional.

Pharthasarathy cautions that the dialogue should not only be a talking-shop, but should encourage the countries to revise their NDCs by 2020, defined as the year emissions must peak and then start to decline.

“It really needs to serve that purpose because otherwise it’s just a sharing of ideas. Countries will need to look at which sector of the economy they can start looking to reduce emissions and put those in their NDCs,” she said.

Mark Lutes, senior global climate policy advisor for climate and energy at Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), said that current climate talks in Bonn must pave the way to the Paris Agreement outcomes at COP24 at the end of the year.

“Even the best rules in the world won’t save us if countries aren’t willing to commit to stronger action,” he said.

Ping Mangongdo is attending the Bonn talks as a representative of Climate Tracker. She is a correspondent for Eco-Business