COP24: Urgency, Opportunity and Ambition

Damian Ryan, Director, Strategy and Impact
Reading time: 3 minutes
26 November 2018

In a week’s time government negotiators and ministers, along with leaders from civil society, business and subnational governments will gather in Katowice, Poland, for the 24th annual UN climate conference, otherwise known as COP24.

Three years after securing the historic Paris Agreement, negotiators have two key tasks in Poland. First, they must agree the so-called ‘Paris Rulebook’, which is essential to giving full effect to the agreement, and second, they need to deliver a clear political signal and work plan for ratcheting up collective climate ambition in 2020.

The two tasks are interconnected. Without agreement on key issues such as the monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) framework to track progress against commitments, or the rules for accounting of emissions, countries will lack both the means and the necessary political trust to commit to greater action in 2020.

To complicate matters, this year’s COP takes place against the backdrop of an uncertain international political landscape and the stark and alarming findings from the recent IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C of global warming.

The challenge for negotiators is that while the urgency of their work is now clearer than ever, the political conditions needed for success have arguably deteriorated as populist politics and economic rivalries have come to increasingly shape the current state of international affairs.

It would be wrong, however, to equate the challenges facing UN climate talks as a proxy for the health of climate action in general. The good news is that in 2018 we have continued to see climate leadership from a range of political and economic actors, which provides a path for those in Poland to follow.

The Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) in California in September, for example, brought together state, city, business and investor leaders, as well as many civil society groups to demonstrate the scale of non-state actor climate action. The summit resulted in over 500 new commitments, including such announcements as $6 trillion of institutional funds already divested from fossil fuels.

The messages and commitments from GCAS were no accident, but part of a deliberate strategy by many non-state actors to ‘StepUp’ climate action in 2018 and, in doing so, send an unequivocal signal of support to national governments ahead of COP24 for greater climate action.

There is much from these efforts for negotiators and ministers to draw inspiration from. For one, the collective potential of non-state actors in supporting national efforts is vast: according to a key report prepared for GCAS, global emissions could be cut by a third if international initiatives, such as RE100 and the Under2 Coalition, met their goals and carried on their current growth trajectories. The total economic benefit of such efforts is estimated at $26 trillion in 2030, including the creation of 65 million jobs.

Katowice is an appropriate setting for turning this potential into reality. As capital of Silesia – one of Poland’s key coal regions – it needs to find a pathway that moves it from a high to low carbon economy over the coming decades. It is perhaps with this imperative in mind that the Polish government has chosen to focus the non-negotiating agenda at COP on three key areas:  the ‘Just Transition’, electric vehicles, and forestry. 

High-level dialogues on these issues, and other more specific conversations on ambition (e.g. as part of the Talanoa Dialogue) will provide a forum for ministers to engage with the business and subnational government leaders driving climate action in the real economy. It will also provide these non-state actors with the opportunity to demonstrate the groundswell of support that exists for greater climate action by national governments.

While these dialogues could be seen as a side show to the formal negotiations, the reality is that these interactions provide a vital opportunity for igniting ‘ambition loops’: re-enforcing cycles of ambition where the actions of policy makers drive business efforts that in turn lay the basis for greater policy ambition. Such mechanisms of ambition are needed more than ever, which is why the We Mean Business Coalition, along with partners WRI and the UN Global Compact, are releasing a report on the topic later this week.

Also out this week is the Annual Disclosure Report from state and regional governments. The year-on-year growth in the number of sub-national governments disclosing their greenhouse emissions and climate policies is indicative of the opportunities that these governments see from accelerating climate action.

As negotiators and ministers prepare for COP it is more important than ever that their work is informed and driven by the efforts of increasing numbers of business, state, regional and city leaders. In Katowice, national governments have the opportunity – and responsibility – to join these leaders to ensure that 2018 truly is the year of stepping up.

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