The UN’s 24th Climate Change Conference (COP24) was held in Katowice, Poland from December 2 to 14.
But at the stroke of midnight on the last day, it was still unclear whether the conference would deliver on what it promised––approved guidelines for the implementation of the Paris Agreement, a deal Vietnam signed onto at COP21 three years ago.
Delegates representing more than 200 countries had assembled for what was widely dubbed “the most important climate talk since Paris.”
It was hoped the conference would finalize the implementation rulebook as the end-of-year deadline drew close.
Only two months before, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had released the special report on 1.5 degrees, forecasting the world’s demise due to temperature increase unless countries acted to reduce emissions before 2050.
However, throughout the second week of high-level talks, negotiations seemed to be deadlocked. Major issues of interest to Vietnam such as climate financing, loss and damage mitigation and reporting frameworks for Nationally Developed Contributions (NDCs) remained in limbo. Fundamental disagreements between the US, oil-producing Arab countries and the developing world stalled discussions, prompting the conference’s extension by one day.
Meena Raman, legal adviser of the international research organisation Third World Network said: “It’s hard to make anything understandable in this process because nobody really knows where we are heading in the talks.”
The rulebook, officially titled the Paris Agreement Work Programme, was eventually finalised on the morning of December 15 after a night-long negotiation session, and officially approved at 10pm - taking the deal deep into overtime.
“Last night was a long night,” COP24 President Michal Kurtyka remarked at the closing plenary. “Let me remind you once again that our efforts here are not just about producing texts or going home with the maximum gains to our national interests. We are driven by our sense of humanity and commitment to the well-being of the earth.”
Phạm Văn Tấn, Deputy Director General of the Climate Change Department, Việt Nam’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE), added: “I can only say these are the best possible results we can expect from this conference. We cannot make all parties happy. Everyone will always have something to complain about.”
COP24 was not the first UN conference where this issue was discussed; negotiators have been working on the Work Programme since the signing of the Paris Agreement itself three years ago, at COP21 Paris.
As Phạm Văn Tấn hinted, not everyone was happy with the outcome. Egypt, representing G77+China, the negotiating group of which Vietnam is a member, voiced disappointment at “the level of balance” in the text between adaptation and emissions mitigation. Adaptation has always been a big issue for developing countries––some of the worst hit by climate change.
However, no country formally raised any objections.
Negotiators walked away pleased that at least one elephant in the room – funding - was addressed. Developed countries, led by Germany and Norway, pledged financial support for the second replenishment of the Green Climate Fund, currently depleted. The Adaptation Fund received an additional $129 million, while The World Bank promised $200 billion in climate action loans for the period 2021-2025.
At the end of the session, Kurtyka said: “With approximately 200 countries in the room, it is not easy to find agreements on details that are so specific and so technical.” Therefore, every single step forward is a big achievement.
“Through this package, we’ve made a thousand little steps together,” he concluded.