COP23: Getting down to business

By Brendan Bateman

13 Nov 2017

While progress at these conferences is always difficult to assess, based on the evidence of the first week, the parties appear to have so far avoided potential land mines and gotten on with the work needed to implement the Paris Agreement.  

After the first week of negotiations at COP23, the parties to the Paris Agreement have gotten down to the hard task of writing the rule book for the Paris Agreement.

The task facing COP23 is a significant one.  Two years after the signing of the Paris Agreement there has not been much progress on one of the key tasks due to be completed by next year -drafting the rule book for the Paris Agreement which is to come into effect in 2020.  Concerns had been expressed leading into the conference in Bonn regarding the lack of progress, with only broad outlines of what the contents of the rule book might be, but with disagreements expressed even over that. 

At the end of the first week of negotiations there is evidence that the world is getting down to the business of negotiating the rules for the most significant climate change agreement to date.  Potential threats which could have derailed the negotiations early in the week, including attempts to include new items on the conference’s agenda, were avoided working groups charged with responsibility for progressing draft text to press on with this work.  The work, both informal and formal under the various conference and advisory group streams, has moved ahead, albeit with varying degrees of success.

By the end of the first week, draft text for parts of the rule book and other aspects of the Agreement have emerged.  While in some cases the text is simply a compilation of all parties’ submissions and much hard work remains to be done to reach agreed positions on many critical issues, the text has been seen as a basis to move forward and reflects in many respects the approach which was ultimately successful in concluding the Paris Agreement itself.  Work has focused on rules for mitigation, adaptation communication, transparency and the proposed Global Stocktake of NDCs.

Other notable events occurred during the first week which have given the international community cause for optimism that the parties are up to the task:

  • symbolically, the only country which had not signed up to the Paris Agreement before COP23, Syria, announced its intention to ratify it. This leaves the USA, although still a party to the agreement at least for the time being, increasingly isolated following President Trump’s announcement earlier this year to pull out of the agreement;
  • notwithstanding the current US Administration’s policy, the US delegation present at the conference continues to  play a constructive role in the negotiations, supported by the representatives from various US states, cities and corporations;
  • Following on from Paris, China continues to demonstrate its increasing leadership of the international mitigation effort ahead of its own emissions trading scheme coming into effect next year, the largest in the world;
  • the decision to allow non-party observers to attend discussions in relation to Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.  This article is important as it contemplates the establishment of market-based mechanisms to enable transfer of mitigation outcomes between countries to contribute to meeting a party’s NDC.   Many business and industry groups not only have a significant interest in ensuring those markets work efficiently, but also have valuable experience which could aid in the development of those mechanisms;
  • The EU’s announcement of reforms to its own emissions trading scheme to increase the rate of removal of surplus emission allowances from the market and also to address carbon leakage through the assistance provided to emissions intensive and trade exposed industries.

While the first week has given justification for a degree of cautious optimism about the progress of the rule book and other items on the COP23 agenda, there remain many controversial issues, the most intractable of which remains climate finance which dominated discussions on the last day of the first week.  The Paris Agreement called for a significant scaling up of commitments to finance climate mitigation and adaptation in less developed countries, with a target of US$100bn by 2020.  The old world divide between developing and developed countries continues to plague negotiations in relation to the timing and allocation of financial contributions.  

The second week traditionally sees a ramping up of intensity and activity as Ministerial representatives from the parties begin to arrive.  The Australian Minister for Environment and Energy, Josh Frydenberg, is scheduled to join the Australian delegation this week. 

While progress at these conferences is always difficult to assess, based on the evidence of the first week, the parties appear to have so far avoided potential land mines and gotten on with the work needed to implement the Paris Agreement.  What is required by the end of the second and final week is a clear demonstration that there is a general consensus around the key issues and how the rule book and other decisions needed to implement the Agreement will be finalised.

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