Contributed by Robert Lyman © 2018

Robert Lyman is an Ottawa energy policy consultant, former public servant of 27 years and former diplomat of 10 years.

On December 16, the 24th Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Katowice, Poland concluded with an agreement. The full text of the 133-page Katowice agreement has not been posted on the internet, but it is possible, based on the press release published by the United Nations and various reports from non-governmental organizations that follow climate politics closely, such as Carbon Tracker, to describe the contents of the agreement.


This is a summary, not a critique.


The purposes of the conference were to “operationalize” the implementation of the COP21 Paris Agreement, to promote increased international cooperation in achieving climate-related goals, and to encourage “greater ambition”, meaning the adoption of more stringent goals for greenhouse gas emission reduction.


Its main product was a series of guidelines that will “operationalize the transparency framework”. Specifically, it sets out rules as to how countries will provide information about the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that describe their individual political commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to take early actions to adapt to the effects of global warming. The information to be provided must also include the details of the financial support for climate measures in developing countries.


The COP24 agreement includes three sets of guidelines and an endorsement of the “Talanoa Dialogue”.


The guidelines relate to:


  • The process for establishing new targets on finance from 2025 onwards to follow on from the current target of mobilizing US $100 billion per year from 2020 on to support developing countries;
  • How to conduct the Global Stocktake of the effectiveness of climate action in 2023; and
  • How to assess progress on the development and transfer of technology.


The Talanoa Dialogue refers to the discussions among several countries about how to make emission reduction commitments more stringent. The agreement at COP21 said that each successive pledge (as included in the NDCs) should “represent progression” on the previous one – the so-called ratchet mechanism – and reflect each country’s “highest possible ambition”, while also acknowledging different national circumstances. The COP21 agreement did not say new pledges should be more ambitious. The Paris Agreement only becomes “operational” in 2020, but countries agreed in 2015 to “take stock” in 2018 of the progress on climate action. The Talanoa Dialogue, a series of 21 simultaneous roundtable discussions, plus a closing plenary, led to a “call to action” to all countries for “enhanced ambition”.  The sponsors of the dialogue sought to include an endorsement of this in the final communique of COP24; instead, the COP24 agreement “invited the countries to consider” the results. According to Climate Tracker, the USA, Japan, China, and India among others opposed a stronger endorsement.


It is clear that a great deal of time and discussion was devoted to efforts to resolve disagreements about a few key issues, including Article 4 (what should be included in climate pledges); Article 9 (climate financing); Article 6 (the rules governing voluntary carbon markets and the Clean Development Mechanism); Article 13 (transparency, or how often and which details countries should report back to the UN on their climate efforts); Article 14 (the global “stocktake”); and other matters, such as how compliance with the Paris Agreement pledges is to be monitored. There also was considerable discussion about how to discuss future financial commitments and whether to deal with the reports of the Displacement Monitoring Committee; this committee assesses the number of people “displaced” as migrants because of extreme weather events that the UN attributes to climate change.


The following, in a nutshell, is how COP24 dealt with these issues, based on reports from Carbon Tracker:


  • Article 4: The Katowice text allows countries to use “nationally appropriate methodologies” (i.e. at their discretion) in deciding how to portray emissions of different greenhouse gases in terms of their “global warming potential”;
  • Article 6: The rules governing how countries engaging in “carbon trading” can generate credits for sale, and avoid “double counting”, were debated but not resolved and will be addressed again in the next COP. Similarly, discussions on whether and how to carry forward the offsets and schemes governing carbon offsets under the Clean Development Mechanism were not conclusive and will be continued at the next COP;
  • Article 9: The Katowice text confirms that developed countries “shall” and developing countries “should” report on any climate finance they provide. Countries are free to report loans as climate finance rather than having to define them in terms of “grant equivalent”. This leaves room for some game-playing.
  • Article 13: The transparency provisions cover seven types of information countries should provide to the UN, including emissions reporting, progress towards meeting climate pledges, adaptation, climate impacts and climate finance provided or received. After lengthy debate, it was agreed that a single set of reporting rules will apply to all countries, so (for example) China will henceforth have to follow the same reporting rules as everyone else (although it is not clear how this will be policed). These rules take effect in 2024;
  • Article 14: Starting in 2023, the participating countries will collectively take stock of their progress in meeting the emission reduction goals. The issue discussed at COP24 was whether to add reporting on “loss and damage” caused by climate change. The global stocktake rules now say that it “may take into account, as appropriate …efforts to avert, minimize and address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change”. In other words, this is left up to the discretion of each reporting country.;
  • Other matters: An important issue was how to “monitor compliance” with the Paris agreement (i.e. with the voluntary NDCs). COP24 agreed to set up an expert committee that is “facilitative in nature … non-adversarial and non-punitive”. It will not impose penalties or sanctions.


Finally, the Conference agreed to hold 16 more sub-conferences in 2019 to further develop the rules that will govern the “operationalization” of COP21.