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Counting on a good COP

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Katowice, Poland, site of the upcoming UN climate talks (COP24).

This year has brought many reasons for pessimism when it comes to climate change. Ever more stark warnings from climate scientists. Wildfires across California. And 2018 on course to be the fourth warmest year on record.

But, as the latest round of the UN climate change talks begin in Katowice, Poland, it is worth remembering that we have, in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the framework we need to build a common response to this global challenge.

Paris set the scene

Paris was built on four important elements: a robust scientific basis, namely the 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in 2013; a broad coalition of non-state actors, including business, local government and non-profits, mobilised through the Lima-Paris Action Agenda; effective financial support, primarily but not exclusively through the Green Climate Fund; and bottom-up plans put forward by both developed and developing country governments.

These Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), as they are known, gave governments the confidence to propose emissions targets and actions without taking on legally binding commitments. The process has focused minds, uncovered opportunities, and set a process in motion to translate the global goals of Paris to the national level.

But these first NDCs are not, collectively, equal to the task: if they are implemented as written, they would lead to 3.4°C of warming by the end of the century, more than double the limit of 1.5°C Parties agreed to strive to stay below in the Paris Agreement, and also far more than the well below 2°C backstop goal.

What Katowice must deliver

Crucial to success of the talks in Poland, then, is a robust set of rules governing how these NDCs – which were prepared back in 2014-15 – are updated. Rules are needed on transparency around NDCs, governments’ accountability for them and, ultimately, how they can be made more ambitious in line with the climate science.

Again, the groundwork has been laid. The Talanoa Dialogue has allowed parties to share experiences and, hopefully, will give them confidence to enhance their targets. The IPCC’s 1.5°C report has vividly set out the scale of the problem, and provides the scientific basis for decisive action.

Finance, as always, will have an important part to play in Katowice. The most climate-vulnerable countries are also the poorest: they need to see solidarity and financial support as they adapt to climate change while seeking to develop in a low-carbon manner. The Paris Agreement enshrined the goal, set in 2009, of mobilizing $100 billion each year in climate finance by 2020, and maintaining at least this level until 2025. However, there is no clarity as to what happens after that date.

More ambition necessary

It will also be crucial to increase ambition regarding emissions reductions before 2020, when the NDCs come into effect, and further accelerate the needed transformations in our energy, transport and industrial systems, and protect and restore forests and other natural systems. Those countries that haven’t yet done so must ratify the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, which establishes a second commitment period (covering 2013-20); while 120 parties have done so, it remains 24 signatures short of entering into force.

If these outcomes can be secured in Katowice, negotiators will have laid the foundations for continued multilateral progress in tackling climate change. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that there is a fifth element that underpins the Paris Agreement: strong popular support for taking action on greenhouse gas emissions.

In the face of such worrying scientific evidence, and despite the best efforts of those who seek to profit from the status quo, we must mobilise ever-greater public support to ensure that negotiators at Katowice and at climate talks yet to come have a clear mandate for aggressive, ambitious climate action.

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal is the leader of WWF’s global climate and energy programme. He is based in Lima, Peru.

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