COP24: The biggest immediate opportunity for countries to step up climate action

The recent IPCC report was a wake-up call to accelerate climate action, and COP 24 in Poland this year will be the first test to see if global leaders have been listening.

A speedboat cruises down a waterway in the Marshall Islands
A speedboat cruises down a waterway in the Marshall Islands. The country is one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and is leading a drive for more climate action among international leaders. Image: Rick Obst, CC BY 2.0

The alarming report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) earlier this month made it crystal clear that every country, business and person in the world will need to step up climate action if the world is to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C (2.7°F). Breaching this temperature threshold would bring catastrophic impacts the world has never seen—from even more extreme weather events to coral reef die-off to food insecurity. The upcoming climate change conference in Katowice, Poland in December (COP24) is the single-biggest immediate opportunity for countries to show they’re taking the 1.5°C report seriously.

What countries say and do in Poland will determine climate efforts for years to come. It will either bring the world closer to meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5°-2°C or push action further down the road—making it harder and more expensive to respond to climate change. It is critical for COP24 to set us on path to enhance collective ambition and close the emissions gap over the coming two years—namely through the submission of revised national climate plans, or “Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs),” in 2020.

Below, are four elements needed to show that countries are serious about limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C.

1. COP decision

The decision of the peak governing body (the “Conference of the Parties,” or “COP”) represents the culmination of every international climate conference. A lot of important declarations, statements and announcements are made during any climate conference, but COP decisions are the only statement that comes from all countries (or “Parties”) through consensus. It is one of the most durable elements of a COP, guiding action of all Parties for years to come.

To demonstrate a commitment to stepping up climate action, Parties should include the following core elements in the final COP decision at Katowice:

  • Respond directly to recent reports and developments. This would include the IPCC report on 1.5°C; the purpose, mandate and outcomes of the Talanoa Dialogue (the year-long process to identify opportunities to enhance ambition); and the upcoming 2019 UN Secretary General Climate Summit, where Parties can announce their enhanced NDCs.

  • Recommit to the Paris Agreement’s “ambition mechanism” by re-affirming the process for countries to review and revise their NDCs by 2020. The Paris outcome called on countries to strengthen their NDCs every five years and requested that they communicate them by 2020. The COP24 decision could re-iterate this call by requesting all Parties to reflect on their level of ambition in 2019 (through open and inclusive national dialogues), with a goal of communicating a more ambitious NDC by 2020. The Decision should also request that Parties communicate long-term low-carbon strategies, ensuring that revised NDCs align with 2050 plans for decarbonisation. 

Key groups of Parties have already begun calling for the above elements. Least Development CountriesLatin America, the Caribbean, Mexico, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Monaco, South Korea and the Alliance of Small Island States have all made formal submissions to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) asking for a COP decision that helps inform Parties in enhancing the ambition of NDCs in 2020. Other countries should start doing the same.

2. Ambition declaration

One of the major political forces behind the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015 was the formation of the High Ambition Coalition, a diverse group of more than 100 countries led by the Marshall Islands and including the EU that raised the expectations of what an international agreement could offer. COP24 needs a similar watershed moment if countries are to follow through on what they committed to in Paris in 2015.

A strong political declaration from a group of countries responding to the 1.5°C report and committing to greater ambition in 2020 would complement the above COP decision. Led by the Marshall Islands, more than 30 countries have already joined a declaration that commits signatories to step up ambition in 2020 and galvanise global political momentum. Getting more countries on board could create momentum ahead of the Katowice summit. 

3. Individual country commitments

In addition to a political declaration from a group of Parties, individual countries ready to commit to enhance the ambition of their NDCs by 2020 should announce these intentions at COP24. They could follow the lead of the Marshall Islands and Fiji, which have said they will submit enhanced NDCs at the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in 2019, ahead of the 2020 deadline laid out in Paris Agreement. This will require ministers to come to COP24 prepared to outline their process for NDC review and revision by 2020.

The signals that come out of Katowice in December will be crucial in driving the political commitment needed for countries to enhance their ambition through new or updated NDCs in 2020.

4. Presidential call to action from the Talanoa Dialogue

The Talanoa Dialogue has been a year-long process, convened by the COP presidencies (Fiji and Poland), to collectively assess progress towards the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement to limit warming to 1.5°C-2°C and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Over the past year, everyone from businesses to cities, states to civil society groups have collaborated to address three questions: where we are, where do we want to go and how do we get there?

The Dialogue will officially conclude at COP24 with government ministers and CEOs from business and civil society responding to that final question. An official call to action from the COP presidencies that outlines key sectoral actions governments can take over the coming years, including in their NDCs—such as eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, committing to phase-out fossil fuels, incentivising electric vehicles, ending deforestation and more—would represent a powerful and lasting output from the Talanoa Dialogue process.  The UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in 2019 could provide an opportunity to reflect on early progress towards such actions.

Such a call to action should be in addition to a more detailed technical summary compiled by the secretariat of the UNFCCC.

 5. Enabling conditions

None of the above will be possible without renewed commitments to provide finance and support for implementing the Paris Agreement, including the process for review and revision of NDCs ahead of 2020. Adequate and accessible finance is a pre-condition to enable all countries to go further, faster–together. In addition, the adoption of the Paris implementation guidelines (aka “the rulebook”) at COP24, will facilitate the preparation of the next round of NDCs, enhance confidence and create the enabling environment that would attract funding.

Ministers who met in Krakow last week to discuss outcomes for COP24 shared diverging views on what an outcome on ambition could look like, including the best way of sending a signal to enhance NDCs in 2020. They must remember that the outcomes at COP24, together with what countries do in the next two years, will be the real test of the Paris Agreement. The signals that come out of Katowice in December will be crucial in driving the political commitment needed for countries to enhance their ambition through new or updated NDCs in 2020.

Eliza Northrop is an Associate in the International Climate Action Initiative. This post is republished from the WRI blog with permission. 

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