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Watch now: Video launch of Guide to the Paris Agreement

On Tuesday 26 May, the European Capacity Building Initiative (ecbi), supported by the Climate Ambition Support Alliance (CASA) held a live web launch of ecbi’s brand new ‘Guide to the Paris Agreement’. The event was chaired by Kiran Sura, an Assistant Director at PwC and Programme Lead of the Climate Ambition Support Alliance (CASA). A video of the event has now been released and is available to view here:

Key points on implementing the Paris Agreement

In 160 pages, the ‘Guide to the Paris Agreement’ describes the scope, structure and content of the Paris Agreement in easily accessible language.

Speakers at the event described how the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement stands as an important commitment to climate action. Its reliance on mitigation action by all countries (not just industrialised ones) and its bottom-up approach to national target-setting addresses many of the weaknesses of the Kyoto Protocol that came before it.

However, despite this, the Paris Agreement has room for improvement, said Christoph Schwarte of LRI. “In order to understand the Paris Agreement, it’s not enough to just read the provisions,” he said. “It is a living document and the parties [have] already used the last [few] years to add to the original text and in some places expand, go beyond it. Whether it’s loss and damage, finance, distinctions between Parties, there are lots of issues that are still pending.”

“We try to flag those [in the Guide] and explain how law and policy makers on the ground need to integrate that into their rules and regulations.”

“In places we flag where some important issues like the removal of fossil fuel subsidies and redirecting global investment from the global North to the South could be integrated under the current provisions of the Paris Agreement.”

Other outstanding elements of the Paris Agreement ‘rulebook’ that are yet to be fine-tuned and agreed by Parties are: how carbon markets will work, the transparency framework by which Parties will report on their climate actions (individually, and in collective blocs such as the European Union) and common timeframes for NDC implementation and review.

The rules for implementing the Paris Agreement were discussed intensively in the Conferences of the Parties in Katowice, Poland (2018) and Madrid, Spain (2019), but the details still remain to be ironed out on these outstanding issues when Parties will finally reconvene in the United Kingdom for COP26 (expected November 2021).

Kishan Kumarsingh, of the Government and Trinidad and Tobago, added: “The guide by ecbi is timely and critical and it will inspire mutual trust and confidence which is something that has waned in the [UNFCCC] process.”

“This new understanding will inform the evolving rule-making by giving a better grasp of the articles, what they mean and what they intended, and even more importantly, it [provides an] identification of the subtle nuances between the issues and the articles, which suffer and can be very difficult in the negotiations.” Mr Kumarsingh was Co-Chair in 2013-14 of the UNFCCC negotiating track that ultimately resulted in the Paris Agreement.

Boosting capacity of developing country negotiators

The ‘Guide to the Paris Agreement’ is written in neutral, non-partisan language, said Anju Sharma, its editor, who has been involved in tracking the climate change negotiations since 1997. “The guide is an effort to make the negotiations more accessible for developing countries,” she said.

The Guide does not explicitly discuss the history of distrust between developed and developing countries over the course of the climate negotiations – which still live on, today – she added. But it is a response to an unlevel playing field among countries’ delegations.

There are striking differences in capacity among delegations. Some wealthy, industrialised countries send hundreds-strong delegations to the climate talks, complete with lawyers and other specialists – explained Ms Sharma.

Meanwhile, small and low-income developing countries make do with a handful of delegates – many of whom have other day jobs.

Publications such as the ‘Guide to the Paris Agreement’ and the broader work programmes of ecbi and the Climate Ambition Support Alliance are intended to right some of these imbalances and create a more level playing field, with greater voice and influence, for under-resourced nations.

“The guide is very useful, in particular to negotiators [who] are new and young,” concurred Selam K Abebe, an Ethiopian climate negotiator and legal advisor to the African Group of Negotiators in the climate talks.

Climate talks in the pandemic era

Reflecting on where countries find themselves today, with the postponement of COP26 to late 2021, Ms Abebe said: “This year was considered a very important year under the Paris Agreement, as the expectation was that we would be completing the rules that would be supporting the implementation of the Paris Agreement. That is the challenge…The discussion of trust, the means of implementation and the $100 billion [of climate finance pledged by developed to developing countries by 2020] – this is what COP26 with its finance agenda will be exploring.”

We will also see how countries have been cooperating in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms Abebe added – such as the cooperation models which saw Cuban doctors side-step normal entry requirements to come quickly to Italy’s aid.

“We have seen how approval processes have been expedited for vaccinations,” she said. “We could bring this [expediency] to climate processes,. It could be a year in which we learn lessons from resilience building, and how countries prepare.”  

These pandemic conditions have not stalled thinking and discussion about the climate emergency, stressed Mr Kumarsingh. Although the formal meetings process has been pushed back due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions, discussions have gone online: “That momentum is there and is gathering more and more as we speak. A lot of the brainstorming is happening.”

“[The COVID-19 pandemic] has given us a real life laboratory experiment in how the world can function in a crisis, in a lockdown,” said Mr Kumarsingh. “Those lessons can now be translated into addressing the climate emergency. We can quarantine from COVID-19 but we cannot quarantine from climate change.”  

Image: Closing of COP25 in Madrid, courtesy UNFCCC.

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