Progress and problems as UN climate change talks end with a deal
17 December 2018 | Mitigation
The UN climate change talks ended late on Saturday night in Poland with a deal agreed on how to put the 2015 Paris agreement into action, but with other contentious problems left to be resolved next year.
Countries thrashed out the complex details of how to account for and record their greenhouse gas emissions, which will form the basis of a “rulebook” on putting the Paris goals into action. But difficult questions such as how to scale up existing commitments on cutting emissions, in line with stark scientific advice, and how to provide finance for poor countries to do the same, were put off for future years.
In the final hours, agreement was held up by a debate over the market in carbon credits, awarded to countries for their emissions-cutting efforts and for their carbon sinks, such as forests, which absorb carbon dioxide.
Brazil wanted an amendment that would benefit the country for its large rainforest cover, but this was opposed by others as it could allow the double-counting of carbon credits, undermining the integrity of the system.
This question has now been pushed back to next year’s annual conference. Brazil’s stance, however, under incoming president Jair Bolsonaro, who also rescinded the country’s offer to host next year’s talks, presages troubles to come.
Brazil has been a reliable supporter of the annual talks in the past, and has worked to broker deals between the developed and developing world. Without that support in future, the talks are only likely to grow more fractious.
Even when Brazil’s carbon-credits issue was postponed, a further obstacle was opened up by Turkey, which wants to be counted as a developing country rather than a developed one. Weary delegates finally filed into the closing session at nearly 10pm to hail the compromise agreement.
Despite these hitches, the two-week conference – the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as COP24 – finally ended in clarity, at least on some of the key building blocks for putting the Paris agreement into action.
David Waskow, of the World Resources Institute, said the final deal was “a good foundation for countries to go about implementing the Paris agreement”. He added: “It sets the direction of travel and will spur countries to take action. Now countries need to go home and do their homework, by increasing their commitments [on emissions].”
But the key question of whether countries are doing enough to cut their emissions, in the light of the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that predicted dire consequences if temperatures were allowed to rise more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, was left out.
The IPCC’s report in October showed that the world must change course drastically in the next decade to avoid the consequences of a 1.5C rise, including the die-off of coral reefs, droughts and floods, and a decline in agricultural productivity over many areas.
This year has seen extreme weather across many parts of the globe, and the fourth highest global average temperatures on record, while the IPCC warning is the starkest yet to come from scientists.
António Guterres, secretary-general of the UN, praised countries for coming to an agreement, but demanded more. “The approval of the Paris agreement work programme is the basis for a transformative process which will require strengthened ambition from the international community,” he said.
“Science has clearly shown that we need enhanced ambition to defeat climate change. From now on, my five priorities will be: ambition, ambition, ambition, ambition and ambition.” He cited the need for countries to toughen their emissions-cutting targets and to adapt their infrastructure to cope with the effects of climate change.
Source: The Guardian