Civil Society analysis of the Poland Climate Outcome

By Fiu Mata’ese Elisara 10 January 2019, 12:00AM

I thought it useful to give a little more detailed analysis of the outcomes of climate talks in Katowice Poland last month, December 2018. 

This complements a call I made in Samoa Observer of 7 December 2018 to “…spare a thought for the Samoa delegation to COP24...” and our more than an hour interview with Ms Sapeer Mayron of Samoa Observer on 28 December. 

The interview assisted Sapeer extrapolate three articles in Samoa Observer of 30 December 2018 titled “Civil Society ‘dismayed’ at COP24 Outcomes”, a second titled “Climate funding could have cultural impact” and third on “Social development concept is out of balance”. 

The last two published in Sunday Samoa Observer of 06 January 2019. I take this opportunity to try and make some sense of COP24 outcomes observing the process from Samoa and benefitting from reports of other civil society colleagues who participated in the Poland climate conference.  

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) held in Katowice Poland was to deliver a balanced outcome on all elements of the Paris Agreement (PA) and respond to the serious climate change challenges highlighted in the IPCC 1.5degrees Celcius Special Report that was to underpin the decisions of COP24. 

All country Parties to UNFCCC were expected to be united in the talks but as anticipated rich countries like USA, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait joined forces to prevent COP24 fully embrace the IPCC 1.5 degC findings. This made the negotiations very problematic for a start. Australia joined the USA celebrating their coal driven economies, Brazil showed climate skepticism withdrawing from hosting COP25 with Chile stepping in to take up host responsibility for COP25 climate talks end of this year 2019 expected to help thrash out the final elements of the Paris Rulebook that COP24 failed to agree on. 

The EU provided some needed climate leadership joining poor vulnerable countries that include Samoa as a small island state to heed the warnings of IPCC science and commit to take actions that will help limit global warming to no more than 1.5deg.C. After all, IPCC findings in its extrapolation warns the world has a little more than a decade to drastically cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 50% to help stabilize climate. Sadly coal and oil continue to be the engine of world economy and despite the clear messages of science to cut use of such fossil fuels Australia and USA publicly demonstrate their flagrant disregard of these clear warnings. Some continue to promote investment in geoengineering projects such as “removing carbon from the atmosphere” despite clear global objections on these kinds of mitigation ‘technological fixes’ to climate.      

For many of the civil society communities around the world, COP24 is a big disappointment with outcomes considered weak, unbalanced and riddled with loopholes. A retreat from the necessary level of ambition needed to combat climate change in line with the IPCC 1.5deg.C findings. COP24 expectation for the Rulebook to transform the PA into a functional and dynamic system to move climate action substantively forward failed. The Rulebook became a highly political and technical exercise ignoring its fundamental purpose - accelerate GHG emission cuts, and secure support for adaptation to climate change. The expectations that the Rulebook will - promote transformational change needed to keep global temperature rise below 1.5degC, to increase ability of countries deal with climate change impacts, and make finance flows consistent with both low emissions and climate resilience – proved too ambitious and substantially failed. 

Like most leaders from poor climate-vulnerable small island countries Samoa Prime Minister (PM) Tuilaepa Sailele’s address in Poland COP24 relayed all the right concerns and powerful messages. Whoever authored it needs commended. I suggest it will be good for anyone interested to read it. 

But let me refer to a few key points in his address. PM rightly laments going to Poland for the 3rd time in the 24 years of UNFCCC yet the quest for solutions to climate change being the most existential threat of our life time has never been more urgent. That IPCC 1.5degC Special Report validates our worst fears that climate change is real with dramatic consequences never experienced before with social, economic, environmental implications that respects no borders or sovereignty. 

He added that IPCC Report calls for immediate bold national actions placing responsibility to address climate change squarely on each individual leader to commit to this collective task but justifiably highlight a respect of the ‘equity’ principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’. 

PM legitimately reiterated a key call made in Poland during COP19 in 2013 by small island states on the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (L&D) adding that it was Poland’s signature contribution to the plight of peoples and countries already facing irreversible climate consequences. IPCC 1.5degC Special Report confirmed L&D as a distinct problem that cannot be subsumed under ‘adaptation’ calling for it to be sufficiently resourced to address needs of victims of climate change. Clearly Samoa and Pacific Island countries were central in the PM’s mind. In closing, PM called all leaders to heed the clear findings of science and let Katowice be a point of hope for generations to come rather than an end due to a legacy of selfishness, denial and ignorance. 

Reading through similar equally pointed addresses by other world leaders in Katowice, one would think these powerful messages with clear science based evidence on the abject urgency of our climate demise would catalyze a sincere, immediate and commensurate global response. Yet a good number of the major polluters of the world in COP24 continue to dictate the rhetorical weak diluted outcomes! They continue to fail us!      

If I may, let me use a few of the same Articles of PA I had referred in my previous write-ups, to support the disillusionment and dissatisfaction of many of us civil society in the weak COP24 outcomes.

First - On nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – Article 4 of PA:

• The ‘bifurcation’ discourse continues as rich countries push to trash the clear differentiation between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries as a ploy to claim that every country is ‘equally’ responsible for climate change thus avoid their historical responsibility for the global climate demise and related promises for new additional finances and technology transfers as means of implementation to mitigate climate impacts and assist developing countries adapt, build capacity, lift them out of poverty, and ultimately enable them achieve sustainable development.

• The scope of NDCs to include both ‘mitigation’ and ‘adaptation’ was another point of contention where developed countries fiercely argue that only ‘mitigation’ be part of the NDCs. But ‘developing’ countries rightly argue that both ‘mitigation’ and ‘adaptation’ as well as means of implementation (MoI) in finances, technology transfer and capacity building are inherently part of the scope of NDCs and  comply with PA requirement for all Parties to provide information clarity, transparency and understanding (CTU) in ‘communicating’ and ‘accounting’ of NDCs. Other issues include registry and ‘common time frames’ where developing countries insists on differentiated reporting times respecting the cbdr principle 

• Sadly, the deliberate ambiguous COP24 decision on NDCs support much of developed country argument with scope steeped in a ‘mitigation’ focus but with references to ‘other’ components in NDCs which whilst many interpret to include finance, technology transfer, capacity building, etc. is nevertheless unclear and subjected to CTUs detailed in an Annex1 - information on mitigation contributions, base year, how NDCs are informed by the global stock take (GST), how Parties views NDCs in terms of fairness and in reference to the ‘equity’ common but differentiated principle, etc.  

• As civil society, we are concerned that the current level of NDCs is causing global temperatures to reach more than 3degC warming and despite the IPCC1.5degC clear findings and urgent warning of only a decade to raise ambitions on GHG emission cuts, the weak COP24 outcomes is already failing future generations and Planet Earth.


Second – Article 6 on Cooperative Approaches

• A comprehensive and balanced outcome should have included cross-cutting principles on rights and a central tenet for ‘equity’ that acknowledges differing country capacity and responsibility including a ‘differentiated’ enhanced transparency framework (ETF)

• Brazil walked out of its promise to host COP25 end of this year 2019 refusing to embrace a greater ambition for a sincere and effective cooperative approach. It therefore held up a decision on this Article on market and non-market based response to combat climate change that would have addressed the important issue of ‘double counting’ of GHG emissions taking advantage of its expansive Amazon Forests in its proposed emission trading of credit system.

• Parties thus failed to agree on a decision to this Article tantamount to forgetting the critical importance of adopting safeguards on environment, social, and governance imperatives in relation to human rights, need for independent grievance mechanism, and indeed the pre-requisite requirement for meaningful stakeholder consultation.

• As civil society, we are disappointed that after 3 years of negotiations since the PA in 2015, Poland COP24 in 2018 failed to reach a decision on this specific Article which in effect downgrade the importance of the PA preamble guarantee pertaining to human rights, food security, ecosystem integrity, and biodiversity conservation


Three -   Article 7 on Adaptation

• The key issues here are again dissenting views between developed and developing countries on whether the Adaptation Fund (AF) currently serving the Kyoto Protocol will also serve PA. Equally difficult was a decision on how the AF is resourced.

• The decision was again dictated by developed countries that the AF will exclusively serve the PA as of January this year 2019 with funding from a variety of ‘voluntary’ public and private sources with additional resources from Article 6.4 on mechanism of PA Mitigation and sustainable development. This ‘voluntary’ language continues to be problematic for developing countries given the inherent nature of developed countries historic responsibility for climate change and envisage this issue will again resurface in future COPs.

• Both developed and developing country Parties to the PA are eligible for membership in the AF Board where the Subsidiary Body for Implementation is to consider and give advice in its June 2019 meeting.


Four – Finance – Article 9 of PA     

• The usual fights and key battles between developed and developing countries continues on the issue of finances. Developing Parties insist on there be no back sliding on promises made on resources by developed countries, compliance of developed countries with the ‘equity’ cbdr and historical responsibility principle, be faithful to both UNFCCC and PA in terms of accepted language, predictability and clarity of finances based on ‘ex-ante’ future forecasts based in ‘ex-post’ past information, etc.

• Ironically, developed countries forces COP24 to spend much time discussing ‘procedural’ aspects on information needed to be provided on finances and ignored a key need to discuss any ‘breakthrough’ on status and future of finances.

• In relation to the Strategic Committee on Finance (SCF) responsible for monitoring reporting and verification (MRV) to COP and carrying out of Biennial Assessment of climate finance flows (BA), USA influenced the very diluted decision in relation to its ‘bifurcation’ concerns suggesting unhelpful language in relation to ‘South-South’ partnership and ‘climate finance providers’. Both rejected by developing countries.

• In relation to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), whilst the Ministerial Dialogue on Climate Finance in COP24 welcomed the replenishment process it was from a civil society optic rather dismissive when only USD$33billion was secured for 2015 and USD$38billion in 2016, resources falling far short of promised USD$100billion per year. The issue of GCF Board procedural decision was viewed by many of us as an injustice to targeted beneficiaries when GCF decisions are held up just because Board members cannot agree on a voting mechanism! The Ministerial High Level Dialogue underscored developing countries need for clarity and predictability of climate finance for decision makers and to ensure mainstreaming into national development plans and policies.  

• In respect of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the intervention of USA on the late evening closing of COP24 on 15 December 2018 is perhaps a welcoming one for many vulnerable poor countries such as Samoa as it means some ‘rich’ yet still recognized as ‘developing’ countries will not be eligible to access GEF funds. Concern was also registered in relation to the net ‘decrease’ of the 7th replenishment of GEF (GEF7) under the climate change focal area compared to GEF6 where out of the total USD$4.1billion pledged for GEF7 only USD$3.3billion is new funding calculated at around 37% decrease from GEF6, reason being donors have already made their climate contribution to both GCF and Climate Investment Fund (CIF).

• On long term finance (LTF) COP24 agreed to continue efforts to channel substantial public climate funds to Adaptation and strive for balance between both Adaptation and Mitigation recognizing the importance of Adaptation financing and need to secure public and grant climate funds for vulnerable countries. Workshops scheduled for 2019 and 2020 on LTF to focus on results and impacts as well as providing financing and technological support to developing countries for both adaptation and mitigation in order to hold temperature increase to 1.5degC. The 2020 4th Biennium High Level Ministerial dialogue is to be informed by the outcomes of the two LTF workshops


Five – Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF) Article 13 of PA

• The ETF was to build mutual trust and confidence amongst Parties in promoting effective implementation of PA taking into account the different capacities of countries in relation to their respective modalities, procedures and guidelines (MPG) to reflect concerns of developing countries for ‘flexibility’ arguing that it is up to them to ‘nationally determine’ flexibilities needed without top-down imposition.

• Another contention issue here was the discourse on MPGs and ETF superseding the existing transparency system under UNFCCC with COP24 adopting the MPGs 8 Chapters (I to VIII) requiring Parties to submit their national reports on 1st Biennium Transparency and National Inventory in accordance with the MPGs by 31 December 2024. The availability of resources and capacity constraints to meet these obligations from COP24 outcomes by small countries such as Samoa will indeed be an immense challenge! Whilst MPG Chapters requires developed countries to help, the reneging experience of the past with developed countries walking out of these kinds of promised obligations without legal accountability or liability makes it hard to build the anticipated confidence or mutual trust.


Six – Global Stock Take (GST) Article 14   

• GST was designed to enable assessment of collective progress of Parties towards achieving PA and its long tem goals and developing countries understood this to be carried out fully respecting the ‘equity’ principle and to take place by the year 2023. Developing countries agreed that guidance to operationalize ‘equity’ needs to be designed in the modalities of GST, called for ‘equity’ to be captured not just in overarching decisions but also as cross-cutting in all elements of GST. As well, developing countries proposed that ‘equity’ be measured using indicators of historical responsibility, equitable access to sustainable development and carbon space.

• However, developed countries led by USA opposed this approach. US wanted reference to ‘equity’ to only be in the preamble of the decision on GST and be subjected to information collection and preparation, technological assessment, and consideration of outputs with the view of achieving GST outcomes to update and enhance the focus on it being ‘nationally determined’.

• Whilst the final GST decision support USA objection to ‘equity’, its appearance in several parts of the GST decision suggest that this fight will continue in future COPs as there is full inherent understanding of ‘equity’ in both the GST process and outcomes. COP24 President Michal Kurtyka reflected his own disappointment in the GST decision referring to it as “…being a decision in fragile balance…”. 


There are more Articles of the PA discussed in COP24 but this is already too long and not enticing for people to read it. 

But for those who will take up the challenge to dip into this I hope it will serve to understand and justify civil society disappointment and dismal view of the Katowice COP24 climate process and outcomes. 

While some political leaders and elites have been adamant in the Katowice process that there is no ‘equity’ nor ‘differentiation’ in the UNFCCC Parties, I pray that this analysis will prove to be fertile economic ground to be clear about the continuing xenophobic rhetoric, inward looking policies, and a beggar-thy-neighbor stance that is fundamental in the failure of countries to be united on the climate change imperative. Austerity measures adopted in the wake of global financial crisis have compounded the state of affairs on the climate discourse hitting the poorest and climate vulnerable communities the hardest, leading to further polarization evidenced in Poland and heightening anxiety about what the future might hold for Planet Earth and its peoples. 

Sadly, as Thomas Jefferson cautioned - those in power will in time pervert it into tyranny. 

It is my hope that what we are seeing in the lack of climate accountable leadership in the world today will serve as a reminder that we indeed desire selfless leaders that can incentivize the Talanoa Dialogue to commit all Parties, especially the rich polluting countries, respecting the ‘equity’ and ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ principle to scale-up ambition and climate actions across all sectors in line with IPCC1.5degC Special Report.

By Fiu Mata’ese Elisara 10 January 2019, 12:00AM

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