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Mixed expectations as nations begin global climate talks

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Chilean Environment Minister, Carolina Schmidt (left); Spanish Minister for Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera and UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa ed a symbolic ceremony in which the venue and its various installations where handed over for the COP25 proceedings in Spain.

Signatories to a global pact to curb rising temperatures will today kick-start a two weeks talk in Madrid, Spain central capital to raise overall ambition by completing several key aspects with respect to the full operationalisation of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

The meeting, the 25th session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, will have at top of its agenda, to take the next crucial steps in the process on issues such as adaptation, loss and damage, transparency, finance, capacity-building, Indigenous issues, oceans, forestry, gender and more.
 
Notably, the provision of finance and technology is crucial for developing countries to green their economies and build resilience.

 
Last year at COP24 in Poland, the bulk of the implementation guidelines of the Paris Agreement were agreed, with the exception of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.
 
Article six is to provide guidelines for how international climate markets will work, as a key component of the world’s economic toolbox for addressing climate change.
 
In 2020, nations are to submit new or updated national climate action plans, referred to as Nationally-Determined Contributions (NDCs).
 
According to the UN Environment Programme’s 2019 Emission Gap Report published last week, unless global greenhouse gas emissions fall by 7.6 per cent each year between 2020 and 2030, the world will miss the opportunity to get on track towards the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.
 
This means collective ambition would need to increase more than five fold over current levels to deliver the cuts needed over the next decade for the 1.5°C goal. “Current NDCs remain inadequate,” said Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa.

“If we stay on our current trajectory, it’s estimated that global temperatures could more than double by the end of this century. This will have enormous negative consequences for humanity and threaten our existence on this planet. We need an immediate and urgent change in trajectory.
 
“It’s achievable, but to stabilize global temperature rise by 1.5 Celsius by the end of this century, we need to reduce emissions 45 per cent by 2030 and achieve climate neutrality by 2050. It’s an extremely difficult challenge, but meeting it is absolutely necessary to the health, safety and security of everyone on this planet—both in the short- and long-term.”

Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change said: “The world’s small window of opportunity to address climate change is closing rapidly. We must urgently deploy all the tools of multilateral cooperation to make COP25 the launchpad for more climate ambition to put the world on a transformational path towards low carbon and resilience.”

According to World Resources Institute four priorities for the COP25 . One, Step up ambition: the Chilean presidency defined COP25 as an Ambition COP. At COP21 in Paris in 2015, countries were asked to bring forward updated national climate commitments by 2020 (known in the UN as nationally determined contributions, or NDCs). And at the September 2019 UN Climate Action Summit in New York, many small and medium-sized countries sent a clear signal that they will strengthen their commitments next year. As of now, 68 countries have indicated that they intend to enhance their NDCs. As we move toward 2020, the world will be watching to see whether large emitters will follow that example. COP25 will be a moment to highlight those who are clearly ready to enhance their commitments and shine a spotlight on what’s needed from others next year.

While the Trump administration has rejected the Paris Agreement and established the United States as a climate loner, this is no excuse for other countries to dial back their climate efforts. The U.S. states, cities and businesses that remain committed to the Paris Agreement now represent nearly 70 per cent of U.S. GDP and nearly two-thirds of the country’s population; if they were a country, they’d be the second-largest economy in the world, second only to the full United States and larger than China.

At COP25, high-level events are expected to bring ministers of energy, finance and environment together to align policies that will accelerate and scale up action and investments toward a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy. Countries should leave the summit with a good sense of key milestones for next year, with an indication of when the next round of national climate commitments are expected to be submitted, and when the UNFCCC Secretariat will produce a synthesis report of these NDCs that can help assess collective progress toward the Paris Agreement goals.
 
Two, Make progress on outstanding rules: while the big deliverable of last year’s COP in Katowice, Poland was the adoption of a 300-page set of guidelines to facilitate the implementation of the Paris Agreement, two issues could not be resolved: the use of international carbon markets — covered in Article six of the climate accord — and the length of the implementing period for countries’ NDCs, also referred to as the common time frame.

Three, Carbon Markets: Establishing rules for carbon markets will be a priority for COP25. Fifty-one percent of all NDCs include markets as one of the means to achieve countries’ emissions-reduction goals. These approaches have the potential to drive cheaper emissions reductions while generating financing to transition to renewable energy and bolster resilience to climate impacts. But those rules must be designed so that they protect the environmental integrity of countries’ national climate commitments.

Without proper oversight and robust rules, Article 6 could severely undercut climate action. One way this could happen is through double-counting, in which both the buyer and seller of carbon credits would claim the same emissions reduction in their national emissions records, and thus paint a false picture of overall carbon cuts. Another concern is that pre-2020 emissions reductions under the Kyoto Protocol could be allowed to be carried forward and counted toward countries’ climate commitments after 2020, weakening efforts to reduce emissions further.

Parties will also discuss the scope and amount of proceeds from carbon trading that will be set aside to assist vulnerable developing countries to help them adapt to a changing climate. Negotiators should ensure that the new system provides a reliable flow of finance to the Adaptation Fund.

At COP25 negotiators should make significant progress on rules for Article 6, but the top priority should be to ensure that they are environmentally sound, not to finalize them at all costs. Agreeing to weak or bad rules to meet an artificial deadline could do more damage in undermining climate ambition than delaying the rules another year.
 
The negotiators also should aim to reach agreement on how long the implementation period of NDCs should be. The initial NDCs submitted in 2015 covered different time frames, with some running from 2020 until 2025 and others from 2020 through 2030. Last year, countries agreed to have a common time frame for the next round of climate commitments (to be submitted in 2025 for an implementation period starting in 2031), but they could not agree on the length of the implementation period. As we face a climate emergency, we need to set a rapid pace with tight deadlines to prompt countries to ratchet up their efforts more frequently and facilitate the effective implementation of other provisions of the Paris Agreement.

In Madrid, negotiators should agree to a common time frame that requires all countries to execute their new NDCs during an implementation period of 2031 to 2035. This aligns with the five-year ambition cycle set in the Paris Agreement and will provide greater predictability going forward. In addition, countries should be allowed to indicate plans requiring a longer (e.g., 10-year) time frame.
 
Three, Assess Loss and Damage: Another sensitive issue that negotiators will grapple with in Madrid is the review of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM), which was established in 2013 to address loss and damage associated with impacts of climate change in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. This includes losses and damages that go beyond what countries and communities can adapt to or recover from, such as loss of cultural heritage, land, lives, and livelihoods.  

At COP25, Parties will review the WIM’s performance: what lessons have been learned, what are the gaps and opportunities, is the WIM effective and efficient, is it useful and responsive to developing countries, is it catalyzing collaboration and partnership, and is it properly resourced? They will also review the long-term vision for the WIM, which has implications for ways in which it may be enhanced and strengthened. Parties will no doubt pay particular attention to how the WIM has, over the past six years, enhanced action and support for averting, reducing and addressing loss and damage associated with the impacts of climate change — and what can be done to strengthen this particular function of the WIM, including through the possible establishment of a taskforce on loss and damage finance.

Five, advance finance and capacity-building: Developing countries — particularly those most vulnerable to climate change — cannot step up climate action without financial support from developed ones. So far, 28 countries have confirmed $9.7 billion in pledges to the Green Climate Fund’s replenishment; 12 of those countries have at least doubled their contributions compared to 2014. This is a positive step, but many more countries should contribute, including Australia, the United States, and wealthy oil-producing states. Developed countries that have not yet doubled their contributions should do so. Additional financial commitments at COP25 would build trust and empower more countries to strengthen their climate commitments in 2020.

Decisions on capacity-building are also expected at COP25. In 2015, countries established the Paris Committee on Capacity-building to enable countries to fulfill their more ambitious and stringent commitments and foster their transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy.

This year, countries will need to decide whether and how the Paris Committee and other UNFCCC bodies will continue to help countries close the gap between potential and reality.

Addressing the intersection of climate action and social equity may draw much greater attention at these UN climate talks than in the past. This is partly the result of the social unrest in Chile (and increasingly many other countries, too), but also an outgrowth of rising attention to these issues more broadly in climate discussions, including the focus on just transitions, health impacts, and gender at the recent UN Climate Action Summit. Too often, countries have not considered how their climate actions could affect equity in their societies. If designed well, climate policies can improve equity — but they must be designed with that in mind, or they risk exacerbating inequities rather than reducing them. As countries progress toward ever more ambitious climate commitments, the importance of ensuring that no one is left behind in the transition will be even more essential. 

In recent years, rising temperatures have wreaked havoc with weather patterns, leading to suffocating heat and devastating storms. In Africa, the climate has exacerbated food shortages and destroyed infrastructure.

African countries know all too well the risks posed by climate change, said Wale Shonibare, the Bank’s Acting Vice President for Power, Energy, Climate Change and Green Growth. He cited the devastating impact of Cyclones Idai and Kenneth in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, and Comoros earlier this year.

“However, Africa also offers climate-smart investment opportunities – from country-led innovation centers to transformative renewable energy initiatives. For example, this year, the Bank approved financing for the first on-grid solar power public-private partnership in Chad, under the Desert to Power initiative,” Shonibare said.

Projects like Desert to Power will be highlighted at COP 25, which will from 2 to 13 December bring together leaders and institutions from 196 nations plus the European Union, who have signed up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

At the heart of the matter is the Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, which form part of the landmark Paris Agreement, signed in 2015 during COP21 in the French capital. The NDCs are specific climate change targets that each country must set.

The Paris Agreement has been ratified by 51 out of 54 African countries. It binds countries to cut carbon emissions to ensure that global temperatures do not rise by more than 2°C by the end of this century while attempting to contain it within 1.5°C.

Climate finance is another issue that will top the agenda at COP25 in Madrid. “2020 is a critical year in securing adequate resources for African countries to meet their Paris Agreement commitments, clarity and transparency on global climate finance access is essential to deliver climate action faster and at scale,” said Anthony Nyong, Director Climate Change and Green Growth Department at the African Development Bank.

 


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