COP24’s last-minute compromise to save Paris Agreement – Victory of multilateral efforts

Crunch negotiations have successfully concluded in Poland, with a consensus reached on steps taken to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. With nearly 200 countries and territories adopting a common agenda for the future of the planet, it’s also seen as a major triumph of international cooperation, especially in the context of multilateralism at risk of weakening against the protectionism trend and extreme nationalism.

COP24 President Michal Kurtyka gives the thumbs up to the agreement finalised by negotiators Saturday night. (Photo: Getty)
COP24 President Michal Kurtyka gives the thumbs up to the agreement finalised by negotiators Saturday night. (Photo: Getty)

After nearly two weeks of tense negotiations under the coordination of the United Nations (UN), representatives from 196 countries and territories, together with international organisations attending the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24 for short) in Katowice, Poland, adopted a set of implementing guidelines for the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement. With specific regulations binding responsibilities of nations in the efforts to stop global warming, the newly reached common agenda has helped clear the deadlock in the actualisation of the commitments made in the global agreement which has already been in effect for almost three years.

The Paris Agreement is aimed at keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, and working to limit it at the level of 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is thought to be safe for the earth. To do this, countries need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, while rich countries should provide financial support to developing countries aiming to achieve emission reduction targets, with commitments worth US$100 billion per year until 2020. However, with three years having passed since the historic agreement was made in Paris, the efforts made by many nations seem to not be adequate for the increasing danger posed by climate change, the main cause of which is “greenhouse gases”. That’s not to mention a series of moves countering the common attempts to protect the planet, such as the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, many countries delaying the enforcement of their commitments to reduce emissions, and rich countries yet to show urgency in implementing commitments on financial support and technology transfer to help poor ones cope with climate change. Meanwhile, since the signing of the Paris Agreement until the occurrence of COP24, the temperature of the earth has been constantly rising, at alarming levels. In fact, the last four years have been the hottest years in history since the figures were recorded in the 19th century. With such a temperature rise momentum, it is predicted that by the end of the 21st century, the surface temperature of the Earth could possibly increase by 3 to 4 degrees Celsius.

It is worrisome that, despite the common goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to curb global warming, each country pursues different comprehensions of the Paris Agreement, as well as having different action plans. Just before the dawn of COP24, there remained controversies over how to measure emissions, transparency in reports, and financial support pledges. In addition, some rich nations which possess modern technologies have been criticised for deliberately ignoring or mitigating their responsibilities. These issues raised concerns that COP24 would not be able to accomplish its goal of adopting a joint programme to bring the commitments in the Paris Agreement to life.

In this context, it is not coincidental that the COP24 President affirmed COP24’s adoption of an agenda on the implementation of the Paris Agreement has marked a “historic milestone” in global efforts to combat climate change. With the great efforts from the UN and the UN Secretary-General’s two important speeches carrying strong messages, the conference lasted one additional day helping to remove knots between the parties. Alongside the specific commitments to implementing the Paris Agreement, developed countries agreed to provide more information and increase financial contributions to assist developing countries in implementing their emission reduction plans, adapting to climate change, and shifting to the use of clean energy. Remarkably, the rich countries agreed to launch discussions on new financial targets from November 2020.

More than a year after the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement threatened to destroy the overwhelming efforts of nearly 200 countries and territories, COP24 in Poland has revitalised the historic agreement with a specific, binding programme. Despite doubts that the agenda is not strong enough, the parties’ successful utilisation of the “golden opportunity” in Katowice has marked a big step forward in the efforts to protect the green planet. It is worth mentioning that, as protectionism and the tendency to exaggerate national interests emerge, this significant step will contributes to the spirit of multilateralism in global cooperation.