A Short Guide to the 2018 UN Climate Change Conference

What's on the agenda in Katowice?


Negotiators meeting in Katowice, Poland from December 2 to 14 have a daunting task ahead. This meeting is the deadline to finish work on the rules and guidelines that will help countries implement the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement is quite short and lacks details in many cases because countries could not reach agreement on such details when they were negotiating the Agreement. For the past two years, countries have tried to elaborate these details, but so far progress has been slow.

These details may seem mundane, but they are crucial. They will help countries report their efforts, submit their plans and count their funding in a similar way. Clear guidelines will help the world know if we are on track to meeting the goal of keeping global temperature rise to safe levels, even to 1.5 degrees as urged by the recent IPCC report.

There are other important events at the meeting. The Talanoa Dialogue will conclude. Inspired by traditional Fijian storytelling, the Dialogue has been a year-long discussion—held virtually and in person—asking: Where are we? Where do we want to go? and How do we get there? This Dialogue, with the IPCC Report on 1.5 degrees, is meant to inspire and inform as countries prepare their national pledges for the Paris Agreement, which are due in 2020.


Remind me – What is the Paris Agreement all about?

In December 2015, 192 countries committed to a climate change agreement that is dynamic, durable and applicable to all countries. Since then, 181 countries ratified the Agreement, although in 2017 the United States expressed its intention to withdraw from the agreement after a three-year notice period.

At the heart of the Paris Agreement is a commitment by countries to submit nationally determined contributions (NDCs), setting out their national targets for reducing greenhouse gases and—in some cases—plans for adapting to the impacts of climate change and providing finance and other support to developing countries. These pledges are the foundation of the Agreement. They are to be resubmitted to the UN every five years, and each must be more ambitious than the last.


Why are more ambitious pledges necessary?

To date, 163 countries have presented their NDCs. Even if countries fully implement their NDCs—and take comparable action afterwards—the global temperature is expected to increase about 3.2°C by 2100 relative to pre-industrial levels, according to a recent UN Environment report.

This lack of ambition matters because the Paris Agreement also has common goals that countries agreed to collectively meet. Virtually all countries have committed to keeping temperatures “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.”

Countries also set the goal of “enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change,” which will become crucial as the world experiences the effects of climate change with increasing intensity. These effects are disproportionately affecting the world’s poorest. To help support their efforts to reduce emissions and build resilience, countries recommitted to the pledge made in 2009 to mobilize USD 100 billion per year to support developing countries, with a new, higher goal to be set after 2025.

Lastly, but still very important, is that the Agreement lays out a framework for reporting and reviewing progress toward these goals. Countries will need to periodically report their greenhouse gas emissions and progress in implementing their NDCs. Every five years, starting in 2023, countries will convene a “global stocktake” to assess their collective progress toward the Agreement’s goals. These mechanisms will help countries know if we’re on the right track and the scale of future efforts required.


What happened in past meetings?

Countries usually meet twice a year, but this September there was an extra session in Bangkok because the negotiators needed more time. At the end of that meeting, the Chairs of the negotiations—and several delegations—characterized progress as “uneven and insufficient.”

The meeting in Poland is called the “Conference of the Parties,” or COP. It happens every year and is when countries make major decisions. The last COP took place in Bonn, Germany, in November 2017. That conference brought together over 16,000 participants, including over 9,200 government officials, 5,500 representatives of UN bodies and agencies, intergovernmental organizations and civil society organizations, and 1,200 members of the media.


What is the history of the UNFCCC?

The international political response to climate change began in 1992 when parties adopted the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This set out a legal framework for stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

The Convention entered into force on March 21, 1994 and has 197 parties. In December 1997, delegates to the third conference of parties (COP 3) in Kyoto, Japan, agreed to a protocol to the UNFCCC that committed industrialized countries and countries in transition to a market economy to achieve emissions reduction targets. These countries, known as Annex I parties under the UNFCCC, agreed to reduce their overall emissions of six greenhouse gases by an average of 5 per cent below 1990 levels in 2008–2012 (the first commitment period), with specific targets varying from country to country. The Kyoto Protocol entered into force on February 16, 2005 and now has 192 parties.

In 2007, countries agreed to the “Bali Action Plan,” which set the agenda for negotiating a new, legally binding climate agreement by 2009. Countries did not make that deadline. The negotiations in 2009 in Copenhagen were difficult, with some countries upset at the lack of transparency and inclusion. Some world leaders crafted “the Copenhagen Accord,” which, after hours of debate among all countries, was not adopted. Countries only “took note” of it, prompting many to view the Copenhagen talks as a failure. Several of the issues that were under negotiation were picked up a year later in Cancun and agreed to in the Cancun agreements.

Still, a legally binding treaty eluded negotiators. In 2011, they adopted the Durban mandate, which set countries on a course to negotiate a new legally binding agreement that would be “applicable to all.” Negotiations under this mandate continued until 2015, when countries adopted the Paris Agreement.

IISD’s Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) has been reporting from the front lines of international environmental negotiations since 1992. From Bali to Marrakech: A decade of international climate negotiations builds on the ENB’s coverage during the decade from 2007-2016.


Where can I find out more?

The official COP 24 website has the latest news about the conference, with more details about conference documents, side events, exhibits and more at the UN Climate Change website.

IISD Reporting Services will have dedicated coverage including daily reports, photos and videos, while IISD’s COP 24 page showcases IISD events, research and commentaries.


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