Taking the Paris Agreement forward: what to expect in Bonn?

As discussions get under way in Bonn on the next steps for the Paris Agreement on climate change, Achala Abeysinghe looks at what needs to be achieved.

An image of the world showing global surface temperatures: April 2016 was the hottest April on record, the seventh month in a row to break temperature records. You can watch a video progression of changing global temperatures below (Image: NASA)

Climate negotiations recommence in Bonn, Germany, this week with discussions on the next steps under the Paris Agreement, agreed at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in December.

The agreement was a shared global accomplishment and important step to addressing the growing problems caused by climate change, but its long-term success will depend on the foundations that are established over the next two weeks.

The 26 articles that make up the Paris Agreement (PDF) contain promising and encouraging provisions that will enable effective global solutions to the problems caused by climate change. However, the agreement and the accompanying decisions outline a number of specific tasks that governments must undertake to ensure full and timely implementation of the agreement.

For example, some of the provisions require strong and multifaceted rules, procedures, modalities and guidelines to be agreed to ensure that all aspects necessary to bring it into operation are ready for when it enters into force.

The importance of the Bonn session

The Bonn session marks the first formal milestone under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) since COP21. The newly established interim body of the Paris Agreement – the Ad-hoc Working Group of the Paris Agreement (APA) – meets for the first time with the emphasis of preparing the Paris Agreement for implementation.

To initiate negotiations, the UNFCCC secretariat has proposed a draft agenda outlining the essential tasks and providing specific recommendations for achieving significant progress on a number of key elements of the Paris Agreement.

Five issues on the proposed agenda are of a procedural nature (e.g. electing officers to the APA and adopting its agenda) and there are four broad substantive issues. These aim to initiate negotiations on producing:

  • Further guidance for countries on the commitments they must make on emissions reductions as part of the nationally determined contributions (NDCs)
  • Modalities, procedures and guidelines to ensure transparency of action and support under the Paris Agreement
  • Matters relating to the five-yearly global stocktake to assess the collective progress towards achieving the purpose and long-term goals of the agreement, and
  • Modalities and procedures to facilitate implementation and promote compliance under the Paris Agreement.

Ahead of the session, France, as the current COP president, and Morocco, as the incoming COP president, outlined their views (PDF) on how they prepare for the Bonn negotiating sessions, and on how they intend to continue working together to promote the successful implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Addressing potential challenges

There are a number of challenges for negotiators, and these must be successfully addressed to establish strong foundations going forward:

  • Procedural uncertainties: One of the key procedural issues that negotiators face is over entry into force of the Paris Agreement. The exact date of the entry into force of the agreement is uncertain as it will enter into force when it has been ratified by 55 parties (i.e. countries/EU signed up to the UNFCCC) representing 55 per cent of total global emissions. However, there is a high possibility of this happening soon.

    Once this has happened, the first Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA) will take place and will adopt many of the draft rules and procedures prepared by the APA. This creates a time pressure as these must be ready for when the agreement enters into force.
     
  • Substantive coherence: The Paris Agreement does not stand alone. Matters related to mitigation, adaptation, means of implementation and support to developing country parties, transparency of action and support, compliance, and others are established under the existing UNFCCC system.  

    Negotiations on the Paris Agreement need to consider this. It is essential to establish a comprehensive overview of substantial issues that needs to be addressed and the gaps that need to be filled at the beginning of the session.
     
  • Cross-body complementarity: Taking the work of the Paris Agreement forward requires a plethora of UNFCCC bodies to operate effectively in line with their mandates and to coordinate between themselves. To ensure that work is undertaken in a comprehensive, coherent and balanced manner across all bodies and issues, parties need to work in close collaboration with the Chairs and leaders of the various UNFCCC bodies, as well as the UNFCCC secretariat and the COP Presidencies.

    Regular reporting by all the relevant bodies on their work in preparation for the entry into force of the Paris Agreement is essential. A table prepared by the UNFCCC secretariat (PDF) outlining the respective bodies/actors, tasks to be completed and the timelines for delivery provides a good starting point.

    The COP presidencies, with the help of the secretariat, will develop a tool to track progress made in relation to all the proposed agenda items of the APA, and the secretariat will provide regular information to Parties on progress made.
     
  • Support to developing countries: The Paris Agreement requires efforts and concrete contributions by all countries. This includes providing climate finance, technology and support for capacity building for poor and less capable countries.

    These will continue to act as catalysts for enhanced action and ambition. Further negotiations must also focus on putting these enablers in place urgently and progressively. 
     
  • Ensuring inclusiveness: The vast number of issues to be addressed requires unrelenting effort in the UNFCCC negotiations. The relevant bodies must meet in parallel to be effective with the limited time available. However, it is important that all meetings consider the full participation of small delegations, including those from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).  

    This means continuing the UNFCCC practice of limiting the parallel formal sessions to no more than two and ensuring sufficient coordination timing for negotiating groups such as the LDC Group. 

The video below was was issued by NASA to show the progression of changing global surface temperature anomalies from 1880 through 2015. Higher than normal temperatures are shown in red and lower than normal termperatures are shown in blue. You can also watch the film on YouTube.


Moving forward

The Paris Agreement was successfully adopted, and 177 parties (176 countries plus the European Union) have now signed it and pledged to implement it as soon as possible. As of Friday 13 May, 16 countries had ratified the Paris Agreement. However, a complex workload awaits them.

A swift start to the Bonn session will require promptly electing the officers for the APA (for example, co-chairs to lead the negotiations), and adopting its agenda. It is important to ensure that any discussions on the proposed agenda is only to safeguard a coherent structure for future negotiations and will not delay the start of substantive negotiations.

The outcomes of the Bonn session must set the tone and the direction of travel for further negotiating the essential rules, procedures, modalities and guidelines in order to make the Paris Agreement fully and timely operational. Ideally, the end of the session will see parties agreeing on a set of concrete actions to take between now and COP22 in November, and beyond. 

Dr Achala Abeysinghe (achala.abeysinghe@iied.org) is principal researcher in IIED's Climate Change Group, and an expert on legal issues in international climate change negotiations. She is currently legal and technical adviser to the chair of the Least Developed Countries Group for the UNFCCC.