Governments must move to formal negotiations in Bangkok and start shaping the final rulebook

Achala Abeysinghe says this week’s UN climate talks need to make progress on agreeing the operational guidelines or ‘rulebook’ for the Paris Agreement – a vital step towards putting the climate deal into practice.

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4 September 2018

Achala Abeysinghe is principal researcher in IIED's Climate Change research group 

Fiji Prime Minister Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama addressing the opening session of this week’s UN climate talks in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo: UNclimatechange, Creative Commons via Flickr)

The extraordinary session on climate change that opens in Bangkok, Thailand this week (4-9 September) is one of the last opportunities to negotiate the comprehensive package of complex rules needed to put the Paris Agreement on track for its effective implementation. 

Allocating sufficient time to address crucial linkages and genuinely address developing countries’ needs for flexibility is key. There is no time to repeat the delays and business-as-usual mentality that stalled the discussions at the last session in Bonn, Germany. 

For the countries that are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, adopting a robust and comprehensive rulebook by the end of this year is essential. The success of the Paris Agreement depends on it.  

During the six days, negotiators need to progress their work in developing the rules for Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), guidelines for adaptation actions, reporting on actions and support and international review of those reports, the global stocktake process, facilitating implementation and promoting compliance as well as the rules on using market mechanisms for achieving NDCs. 

It is vital that the negotiators focus on developing the rulebook as a comprehensive package, which once adopted will enable governments to quickly assume their roles and responsibilities for implementing their commitments. Much more remains to be done to lay the groundwork for adopting a final rulebook that is fair and ambitious and will address developing countries’ needs, especially those of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). 

Dealing with the differences

Because not all of its elements have matured at the same rate and to the same level of detail or completeness, it is key that at this session these differences are taken into account. More time needs to be allocated for negotiations on issues that are more complex in nature than others, such as for the guidelines for future NDCs and for transparency. 

To be effective, the session also needs to elaborate the interlinkages and work out how to address them both substantively and procedurally. It is important, for example, for Parties to develop guidelines on how the Enhanced Transparency Framework and the Global Stocktake of the Paris Agreement will be linked in practice. 

Negotiators also need to agree on accounting modalities to consider the support provided and mobilised by developed countries to facilitate actions by developing countries, agree on how these details will be taken into account in the enhanced transparency framework and ways in which they can be matched with the financial support that is needed and received by developing countries. 

A failure to do this properly will undermine the Paris Agreement’s implementation and efforts to increase global climate ambition. Yesterday’s day-long meeting on linkages elaborated some of the complex connections and some parties presented solutions for the way forward. These suggestions need to be incorporated in the negotiations from the outset. 

The Bangkok session will also be a test of how the ongoing negotiations take the Paris Agreement formula on differentiation forward ― a formula that transcends long-standing divisions between developed and developing nations. Significantly, the rulebook should give greater confidence to developing countries that they will get the support they need, while simultaneously promoting accountability and setting the pathway to progressively increase ambition. 

Flexibility and differentiation may be specific to each thematic area of negotiations such as accounting for NDC implementation and the level of information provided on activities on the ground. But it is also important to address what is needed overall for implementation, such as finance, technology and capacity development by developing countries. 

LDCs in particular, will need the guarantee that their special circumstances, including lack of capacity and severe vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, are fully considered and addressed in the rulebook negotiations. 

The time is now

We are now at a point where the urgency of moving to the next phase of negotiations is palpable. The conceptual basis of the rulebook has been continuously discussed over the past two and half years. Now governments need to move into formal negotiations with the view to shaping the final decisions for COP24.

To do this, negotiators would benefit from using the initial days of the Bangkok session to convert the documents produced as a result of the last negotiations session in Bonn into a formal negotiating text, and then work to further clarify the structure and scope of the final rulebook.

Building in enough time to negotiate the complex rules as a comprehensive package, address linkages and the need for flexibility are critical to be able to achieve the rigour, ambition and fairness that nations such as the LDCs expect.

A last-minute deal is not only unlikely to represent the breadth of interests on the table, leaving small delegations such as the LDCs marginalised from the final deal in Katowice, Poland, but also risks governments racing to the bottom and agreeing on the lowest common denominator.

About the author

Achala Abeysinghe (achala.abeysinghe@iied.org) is principal researcher in IIED's Climate Change research group and is currently legal and technical adviser to the chair of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) group for the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

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