National negotiators have talked for five days in these rooms, but what have they said?

The Paris Agreement (PA) calls for keeping global temperature rise well below 2˚C, yet we are still on the pathway of above 3˚C with the current set of nationally determined contributions (NDCs). it’s time to ratchet up our collective ambition.

As the Bangkok intersessional climate change negotiations draw to a close with just a day left, Parties are scrambling to the finish line. The mandate is for the Paris Agreement Work Programme (PAWP) to be complete by the end of 2018. In the May session in Bonn, it was recognized that the only way that would be possible was to organize an additional session in Bangkok.

Despite having just over five days of negotiations, many issues may be left on the table in Bangkok without being resolved. If this were to happen, negotiations to prepare draft texts would have to continue at COP24 in Katowice, Poland,  where there will only be five or six days of negotiation.

Even though COP24 will be a two-week conference, it will see an absurd amount of time taken up by high-level ministerial meetings that will eat up into crucial negotiation time. Other issues and  points of discussion regarding COP24 have been deliberated over the past few days in Bangkok, including a new daily badge system, a shift in the date of the first day of COP, along with the expected outcome of the Talanoa Dialogue – which may be downgraded to a Presidential note or high-level ministerial declaration.

While focus in Bangkok is to prepare draft negotiating texts in time for COP24, the talk of ambition has barely been heard

Article 4.3 is clear.

Each Party’s successive nationally determined contribution will represent a progression beyond the Party’s then current nationally determined contribution and reflect its highest possible ambition, reflecting its common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.

It means that Parties need to update their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) over a period of time by including more ambitious climate action goals each time. This provision in the Paris Agreement to continually increase ambition is called the “ratcheting mechanism”.

So how can we increase ambition? There are a number of ways; such as means of implementation led by developed country Parties, feeding in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Special Report on 1.5˚C, and the Talanoa Dialogue outcome. If we are serious about hitting our 1.5 ˚C or even 2 ˚C target, all three methods need to be utilized to the fullest.

Leadership by developed nations and means of implementation

Financial flows, capacity building, technology transfer and development are all pillars of the means of implementation. Trust-building is at the core of building ambition via means of implementation. If developing nations are being called upon to increase their ambitions, they should only do so on the back of increased ambitions by developed country Parties, who do not have conditional contributions in their NDCs.

In addition to leading by example, developed countries also need to fulfil their promises of providing developing nations with the means of implementation. Taking historical emissions into account, it has been reinforced time after time that the equitable way forward is to have nations that developed their economies on fossil fuel-intensive industries must pay up and provide support to developing countries that will be more affected over the coming decades, yet not be able to respond to the climate crisis.

Inherently built into many countries’ NDCs is a mini-ratchet mechanism of sorts – namely conditional contributions. Only upon support from developed nations with means of implementation, will developing nation Parties strive to achieve their more ambitious conditional contribution. With financial flows, technology development and transfer, and capacity-building we will be able to push for overall increased ambition.

Giving space to the Special Report on 1.5˚C (SR1.5) at COP24

Next comes one of the most important reports ever put out by the IPCC, the SR1.5. In decision 1/CP.21, paragraph 21, the COP invited the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to provide a special report in 2018 on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways.

Parties are set to meet in early October to review and agree on the summary for policy makers of the report in Korea. This report has monumental implications should it reveal that global temperature rise will not be kept under either 1.5 ˚C or even 2˚C should we stick to our current NDCs.

While this report is a scientific paper, it will be highly politicized due to how it is meant to inform Parties on the reality of 1.5˚C pathway, by way of the Talanoa Dialogue. Although the report has been finalized, the summary for policymakers (SPM) is still in its draft phase and will be approved at the 48th Session of the IPCC in Korea in the first week of October.

When the SPM is approved and released, Parties must take its findings into consideration when finalizing the PAWP in Katowice and use it to call for stronger ambition in getting the world on the 1.5˚ pathway. While there is no information on plans from the IPCC for the COP24 opening plenary, the COP24 President has already indicated that there will be a dedicated space for the Talanoa Dialogue to consider the SR1.5.

Legitimizing the Talanoa Dialogue

Since launching in January this year, the Talanoa Dialogue (f.k.a. 2018 Facilitative Dialogue), has been lauded for its intent, the storytelling platform it provides, and its nature of being inclusive, participatory and transparent. It is still unclear as to exactly how the Talanoa Dialogue will conclude in COP24, but it should end meaningfully, with the collective input over the course of the year contributing to raising ambition.

The ratcheting mechanism in the Paris Agreement
Pic: Carbon Brief

Is the Global Stocktake (GST) make or break?

The one ambition mechanism built into the Paris Agreement is the GST. Currently, the modalities, inputs, outputs and outcomes are still being negotiated in Bangkok. As the GST draft negotiation text begins to take shape, it’s important for it to be robust as it will inform and improve NDCs to come. Finally, it’s crucial to ensure there is space for inputs from all stakeholders – not just the Parties themselves, but third-parties as well as non-party stakeholders.

What the final draft text from Bangkok will look like remains to be seen and although there is little time left, there are still some avenues to promote ambition in order to better the current set of NDCs. Let’s get finance flowing to countries that need it the most. Once that happens, the rest will follow, and we’ll continue on our fight to 1.5˚.

Written by Mike Campton

Reviewed by Shaqib Shahril