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COP24 Wraps Up With Last-Minute Compromise to Save Paris Agreement, But Is It Enough?

Climate
COP24 President Michal Kurtyka gives the thumbs up to the agreement finalized by negotiators Saturday night. Monika Skolimowska / picture alliance via Getty Images

Negotiators from more than 190 countries reached an 11th-hour deal at COP24 in Katowice, Poland Saturday to keep the Paris agreement alive, but scientists and negotiators say it does not go far enough to put climate change on hold, CNN reported Sunday.

However, participants celebrated the fact that they had reached an agreement at all after a tense two weeks of negotiations.


"We have worked on this package for three years. With 200 countries in the room it is not easy to find agreement on a deal so specific and technical. But in these circumstances every single step forward is a big achievement," COP24 President Michal Kurtyka of Poland tweeted.

The deal reached Saturday codifies a rulebook for the implementation of the Paris agreement. What it doesn't address is how countries will further reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, since the talks were focused more on how pledges would be reported than what they would actually contain. As of now, countries' current pledges would put the world on track for three degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels, which would have devastating consequences for agriculture and coastal communities. Countries must show how they have met their current pledges and agree to tougher ones by 2020, The Guardian explained.

"The real test is what happens when countries go home," Union of Concerned Scientists director of policy and strategy Alden Meyer told The New York Times. "All the decision text in the world doesn't cut a molecule of carbon. You need action on the ground."

Here are the broad-strokes of what was and wasn't agreed over the past two weeks, as outlined by Carbon Brief.

  1. Climate Pledges: The countries agreed that they would use the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) most recent guidelines for accounting for their emissions and make their pledges available on a public registry.
  2. Equal Rules: Going in to COP24, one major question was whether developed and developing countries should follow different or the same rules for how often they should report their progress and what they should report. The negotiators ultimately agreed on a fixed set of rules for all countries, with a caveat that countries who claim they need flexibility with following these rules can make use of it, as long as they explain why they need it and for how long. All countries must begin reporting their progress according to the new rules by 2024, and every two years thereafter.
  3. Climate Funding: One of the promises of the Paris agreement was that developed countries would help provide developing countries with the funds to both reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. To this end, they were supposed to provide $100 billion by 2020, but ActionAid USA director of policy and campaigns Brandon Wu said the rules agreed to in Poland undermined this goal. That is because they allow countries to count loans in addition to grants when they report climate financing. Negotiators did agree that developed countries "shall" and developing countries "should" report all money they put towards climate change adaptation and mitigation.
  4. Trading Mechanisms: One place where negotiators failed to reach an accord was when it came to the question of how countries could trade overshoots of their pledges or sell carbon credits from special projects. Brazil held up talks on this issue, as other countries tried to write stricter rules against the "double counting" of emissions cuts by the countries buying and selling credits. The question has been postponed to talks in 2019.
  5. The Special IPCC Report: Halfway through the talks in Poland, four countries including the U.S. prevented the meeting from "welcoming" the special report released by the IPCC in October, which warned that countries have 12 years to nearly-halve emissions in order to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In a final compromise, the COP24 expressed its "appreciation and gratitude" for the report, welcomed its "timely completion" and "invited" countries to make use of it.

For Simon Stiell, Grenada's minister for climate resilience and environment, and other representatives of low-lying or island countries especially threatened by climate change, the compromised language on the IPCC report did not adequately reflect the urgency of the moment, but it did at least allow negotiators to reach an agreement, paving the way for future progress.

"We understand the need to consensus-build," he told CNN. "And for small island developing states we have achieved our minimum—minimum—asks with regard to key issues."

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