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KATOWICE (Poland): The 24th Conference of the Parties on climate closed here on Sunday without the euphoria that is typically orchestrated at the conclusion of such grand events. Instead of giving a robust rulebook, the negotiators from almost 200 countries could only achieve a watered down work programme on the Paris agreement that doesn’t go far enough.

This COP will be remembered for cobbling together a rulebook that damages and dilutes the Paris agreement signed at COP 21 in 2015.

Special report — Why climate change threats are real and complex: Global climate talks link action to finance

The COP 24 failed on many accounts. It failed to commit finances for implementation of the Paris agre­ement. It went backwards in committing real finances for real action in the most vulnerable countries.

Most importantly, it failed to build on the urgency of action recommended by the Inter-governmental panel on climate change’s (IPCC) Special Report on 1.5 degrees celsius.

The report was released weeks before the COP to provide a pedestal for unified global action by pointing out that the world has barely 12 years to cut the emission of greenhouse gases by 2030 and hold the global temperature increase at 1.5 degrees celsius.

Climate financing: The rulebook is incomplete in that it doesn’t say who will pay for implementation. It is inadequate compared to the scale and climate emergency.

A fair rulebook was needed for implementation of Paris Agreement where developed countries had agreed to a yearly financial commitment of $100 billion by 2020. The idea of ‘new and additional’ financial support from developed to the developing countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change was lost somewhere in the Rulebook.

It has instead created ambiguity on what constitutes climate finance and how to avoid double counting and recycling. Ironically, the Rulebook has opened floodgates to count various types of financial mechanism, including concessional and non-concessional loans, grants and aid from various public or private sources.

The developing countries will have no capacity to hold the developed countries accountable on their commitments. This is how the mechanism of climate finance accountability was buried in Katowice.

Loss and damage

The Rulebook is almost silent on averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage (L & D). If there was any doubt, any reference to L&D is missing in the section on finance. The Warsaw International Mechanism, which deals with L&D associated with adverse effects of climate change, is also fatally wounded, if not dead, in the absence of any financial resources to support vulnerable countries.

Nationally Determined Contributions: The Paris accord was based on countries reporting their progress on NDCs. Under the Rulebook, a new, optional, flexibility has been provided to the developing countries which have limited capacity or intent to collect, analyse and submit information in a timely fashion. Many developing countries will have to provide ‘self-determined’ timeframes for improving the quality and quantity of reporting. Pakistan has committed to submit a revised NDC in 2020.

Carbon market

In Katowice, market mechanism has emerged as the most important element of the Paris agreement, allowing emissions trading markets between two or more countries. It also provides for a non-market mechanism to reduce emissions and enhance sinks.

Several technical issues of the market mechanism are still unresolved and have been moved to 2019 for further deliberations. Carbon markets will be the main avenue through which countries will engage with each other.

The old clean development mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol had major problems ranging from cheap carbon credits, outsourcing of emission credits, and corruption, leaving in doubt the overall emission reductions by the mechanism.

The Paris Agreement had addre­ssed such weaknesses to achieve real reductions. But as the Rulebook has introduced different rules for different markets, making emissions reductions unverifiable and raising doubts about the transparency and gold standards in emissions accounting, new doubts have surfaced.

In all, most of the top-down elements of the Paris Agreement have been stunted in the Rulebook. The critics point out that countries are now on their own to mitigate, to adapt, and to pay the cost of climate impact.

The critics have argued that the UNFCCC has now become merely a platform to serve as a repository of information and a forum to discuss and debate rather than a driver of climate actions around the globe.

No wonder that the negotiators in Katowice did what was needed – agree on a common set of rules for Paris Agreement’s implementation, no matter how skewed and watered-down. Not having an agreement would have been immoral and suicidal. Raising ambition was perhaps not really the agenda. As UN chief Antonio Guterres said, this agreement is “the foundation for a new process in the climate action. Ambition will be at the centre of the climate summit I will convene in September.”

Till then, the world is on a path to inaction, or climate suicide in slow motion.

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2018