Smoke rising from a factory as a truck loaded with cars crosses a bridge in Paris, France, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018.

Smoke rising from a factory as a truck loaded with cars crosses a bridge in Paris, France, Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. AP Photo/Michael Euler

With Stakes Mounting, World’s Governments Meet on Climate Change

The Dec. 2-14 meeting in Poland is the most significant conference since Paris in 2015.

The global summit in Katowice, Poland, early next month will be the most significant gathering on climate change since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015. Delegates from 197 signatory countries will be under tremendous pressure to turn their governments’ pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into verifiable actions. The proceedings—formally known as the Twenty-Fourth Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—come just weeks after a startling UN report warned that the catastrophic effects of climate change are likely to hit much sooner than thought unless governments take extraordinary collective action.

Signatories will be looking to finalize the so-called Paris rule book, which will govern how countries implement the 2015 agreement, including reporting and accounting requirements, mechanisms to promote compliance, and the role of the Adaptation Fund, which was set up in 2001 to finance adaptation projects for developing-nation signatories of the Kyoto Protocol. To do so, delegates must pore through a three-hundred-page document that chronicles the status of negotiations.

Heading into the Katowice talks, few major industrialized nations are on track to fulfill their pledges to cut carbon emissions, according to climate researchers. This fact that does not bode well for the Paris accord’s ambition mechanism, whereby countries would make bolder commitments as 2020 approaches.

Closing the Funding Gap

Another major focus at the conference will be funding. To meet their ambitious goals to reduce emissions and adapt to localized climatic changes, developing countries will need substantial and sustained financing. Negotiators from the world’s least-developed countries met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in October and released a communiqué outlining the unprecedented dual challenge they have of trying to eradicate poverty and nurture low-carbon, climate-resilient economies.

Experts, as well as major states such as India, Brazil, China, and South Africa, have expressed concerns that developed countries are falling short of their promise to raise $100 billion a year, from both public and private sources, by 2020 to help developing countries address climate change. The world’s wealthiest industrial nations delivered about $55 billion in climate finance in 2016, with private capital contributions bringing the total to $70 billion. The Green Climate Fund, one of the prominent UN-sponsored mechanisms that finances decarbonization projects, has received pledges of $16.3 billion, of which $4.6 billion has been paid in. 

Moreover, negotiations are deadlocked on the subject of a post-2025 finance goal, beyond the yearly $100 billion commitment developed nations have already made.

X Factor: The United States

Although President Donald J. Trump is pulling the United States from the Paris Agreement, the White House plans to send envoys to Katowice. Without U.S. leadership, it will be challenging for world powers to create a global framework for delivering adequate financing to fight climate change. Trump has said the United States will no longer pay into the Green Climate Fund, which has been widely criticized for mismanagement. The Obama administration paid in $1 billion of a $3 billion U.S. commitment to the fund.

But not all climate aid to developing nations must flow through this UN vehicle. In an effort to counter China’s geopolitical influence, the Trump administration recently created a new foreign aid agency to bankroll infrastructure projects in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. This agency could potentially help countries with climate resilience. At the same time, China could funnel money from its Belt and Road Initiative to help less-developed countries—although it has often backed construction of coal-fired power plants, which countermands UN efforts to help countries decarbonize.

One of the big challenges at Katowice will be to make these and similar kinds of infrastructure financing efforts more climate-friendly and try to move them inside the UN climate tent.

This piece, first published by the Council on Foreign Relations, is used with permission.