13 december 2018

Polish presidency is forced to move beyond rulebook

Jean Chemnick, E&E News reporter, Published: Thursday, December 13, 2018

The High Ambition Coalition, with members including the European Union,
Canada and the Marshall Islands, demands that talks go beyond the
rulebook to include an acknowledgment of climate science, a call for new
emissions pledges and support for poor countries.

KATOWICE, Poland — U.N. climate talks here are no longer just about writing a rulebook for the Paris Agreement.

Negotiations scheduled to end in Poland's coal capital in the next two days have moved beyond technical issues that Poland's deputy energy minister and the Conference of the Parties' president, Michal Kurtyka, tried to focus on.

Countries large and small are insisting the talks address mounting scientific evidence that climate change is accelerating and time to address it is limited.

"Thanks to developing countries collectively putting pressure on the Polish, the Polish have now created the political space that the developing countries — particularly the vulnerable ones — have been calling for," said Mohamed Adow, international climate lead with Christian Aid.

"The pressure that they've been exacting on Poland is to actually expand the objectives for this COP beyond the rulebook."

Since his appointment as president of COP, Kurtyka has sought to steer all attention to the Paris rulebook — technical guidelines on issues ranging from how countries will communicate emission pledges to rules for global emission markets set up under the 3-year-old climate deal.

But parties as diverse as the European Union, small island states, the African countries and Latin American countries say that while the rulebook is vital, 2018 must also be the year the world starts to close the gap between emissions pledges and the level of reductions that science demands to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.

They want Katowice to end with a COP decision encouraging countries to make pledges consistent with this year's landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report.

Kurtyka has been resistant but bowed to pressure yesterday. He tapped Swedish and Costa Rican ministers to lead discussions on the "ambition" package that parties have been clamoring for. A new negotiating text is expected this afternoon.

"I think [the Poles] have moved incrementally, but they're still not on board as champions of ambition, obviously," said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "It's been grudging every step of the way."

Poland draws 80 percent of its power from coal, and its president angered many by opening the talks with a pledge to continue using it centuries into the future.

Kurtyka told the Swedish and Costa Rican ministers to focus on two issues: how the COP will recognize the IPCC's findings on the need to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and how it will acknowledge the Talanoa Dialogue that concluded here this week. The dialogue offered countries a forum for sharing how they are coping with warming.

But many parties here say that if the report and the dialogue don't inform future rounds of nationally determined contributions to Paris, or NDCs, they were pointless exercises. They want new, tighter commitments by 2020.

A large coalition including the European Union, Canada, the Marshall Islands, the world's 47 poorest countries and others released a declaration late yesterday demanding that the talks move beyond the rulebook.

Miguel Arias Cañete, European commissioner for climate action and energy, said a COP result without language for the IPCC report would be a no-go.

"This process is guided by the best available science, and we can't understand why some countries are trying to change that," he said.

High Ambition Coalition

Forty-four countries, including the European Union, backed the Maldives' attempt in Saturday night's plenary to add language to "welcome" the findings of the report, which warns that 1.5 C is the safe limit for warming. It failed when the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait objected.

The High Ambition Coalition also called on countries to do more by 2020 to — among other things — revise and tighten their commitments to Paris and release short- and long-term strategies to decarbonize their economies.

"The idea of this coalition I think was to rally the largest number of countries that are all getting worried that this COP is not going to be able to deliver and answer the expectations of their constituents," said David Levaï of French group IDDRI.

Island states and developing countries released even stronger declarations today, doubling down on demands for finance to help poor countries implement Paris and recover from warming-related losses. The global South is struggling to add language referencing loss and damage to as many parts of the Paris rulebook as it can, hoping to open the door for future assistance with impacts that are now inevitable.

"The majority sees this, particularly the vulnerable countries see this, not just as a negotiation for the rules," Fijian climate ambassador Luke Daunivalu told E&E News. "It's a negotiation that really is tied directly to the impacts on the ground. We need to have rules in place that accommodate the work that needs to be done to help us adapt, increase our mitigation ambition, and also allow for the finance and the support."

But it's not clear that even the high-ambition group is all on the same page.

The European Commission has not committed to begin the process of updating its current Paris commitment to cut emissions 40 percent by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. Arias Cañete dodged questions at yesterday's coalition announcement about whether that would happen by 2020. Instead, he touted, as he has many times before, a set of efficiency and renewable energy laws that should let the 28-nation compact exceed its commitment by 2030 and a recently introduced plan to zero out emissions by midcentury.

A European Commission official characterized the High Ambition Coalition's declaration calling for more progress by 2020 as something the European Union's existing policies could satisfy.

But Wendel Trio, director of Climate Action Network Europe, called the European Union's intention "very clear."

"We are expecting the E.U. to now come up with a proposal on the process through which they will revise their NDC," he said.

Arias Cañete is preparing to step down next year after European Commission elections.

Canada is also looking ahead to national elections next year and has also not promised a new 2030 commitment. But Energy and Climate Minister Catherine McKenna, who is in Katowice, has said Canada is "open" to increasing the ambition of its NDC.

McKenna tweeted earlier this week, "Canada welcomes the [IPCC] report on climate science, and thanks the scientists for their work."

>>> Back to list