London — Negotiators from nearly 200 countries are preparing to meet in Katowice, Poland to try to agree rules and guidelines for a new global climate regime and update a decade-old trading system that some say is not helping cut greenhouse gas emissions.
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The two-week meeting, known as COP24 -- the 24th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, running December 2 to 14 -- has the task of writing the rules that will implement the Paris Agreement of 2015.
This task has become all the more pressing since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a new report in October which concluded that to keep temperature increases to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius would require global net emissions of CO2 "to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching 'net zero' around 2050."
Pressure is increasing, particularly on developed nations, to speed up the transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable and other zero-carbon forms of energy.
"Every day we are getting more evidence, more analysis that says we can move from today's high-carbon, low-efficiency world to tomorrow's high-efficiency, low-carbon world," Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, told reporters November 20. "And we can do it smartly."
The so-called "Paris Rulebook" will govern issues enabling this transition, ranging from financial and technical assistance to developing and vulnerable countries, to building a transparent and verifiable system to monitor and account for each country's emissions.
In particular, negotiators have to agree a set of guidelines and principles that will set out how countries can trade emission reductions. A clear set of guidelines will help trigger private sector investment and pave the way for a new global emissions market to succeed the Kyoto Protocol.
"Clarity on [trading] is particularly important as this will be a key channel for private sector action," said Stefano De Clara, International Policy Director at the International Emissions Trading Association.
"Investors need assurance that there will be strong safeguards in place to ensure robust accounting and a transparent mechanism for countries to generate carbon reductions that can be transferred internationally," he said in a statement November 19.
One key element of these talks will focus on robust accounting methods dealing with transfers of carbon reductions between nations. Stakeholders are keen to ensure that national carbon accounts are transparently adjusted to take account of sales of reductions, and that "double-counting" of reductions is avoided.
Another stream of the negotiations must decide whether to transfer the market mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol -- known as the Clean Development Mechanism, and Joint Implementation -- into the Paris regime.
There are diverging opinions on whether these carbon-credit systems should be carried over; opponents criticize the CDM as not safeguarding indigenous peoples' rights or generating real cuts in emissions.
Carbon Market Watch, a Brussels-based environmental group, has called for UN negotiators to put an end to the CDM.
"An overwhelming majority of CDM projects essentially issue 'junk' credits that do not lead to real-world emission reductions," Carbon Market Watch said in an open letter to COP24 delegates. "Only 2% of CDM projects are likely to have environmental integrity."
But Dirk Forrister, IETA's CEO, believes the CDM model, and the many projects approved by it, have key roles to play in the future.
"The CDM and JI have been extremely successful in leveraging billions of dollars of private investment, attracting new financiers into the climate effort," Forrister said.
"Many projects were registered, but never issued credits due to the market collapse. These projects -- including a large number from Africa -- shouldn't be discarded, but should get a chance to re-qualify for the new Article 6 mechanism," he said.
Article 6 of the Paris Agreement sets out a broad framework allowing governments to transfer emissions reduction credits in order to increase flexibility in meeting their voluntary emissions reduction targets.
Observers don't expect these UN talks to develop detailed procedures and rules for all aspects of international emissions trading, but rather to agree guidelines and principles that will be turned into a detailed set of regulations at later UN meetings.
The issue of US participation in the Paris Agreement continues to cloud the negotiation process. President Donald Trump has pledged to withdraw the US from the accord in 2020, and many observers had expressed concern that the departure of the world's number two emitter would rob the Paris deal of much of its impact.
However, observers suggest that the impact of the US' intended withdrawal is starting to wane while other countries, China in particular, are ready to assume a leadership role.
Xie Zhenhua, China's lead climate negotiator, was quoted this week as saying "our targets and our resolution will not change," while the country takes the next steps towards a full implementation of its nationwide carbon market.
Nevertheless, US negotiators will participate in the talks, since America remains a signatory to the Paris Agreement until it can give notice in 2019 of its intention to leave.
--Alessandro Vitelli, firstname.lastname@example.org
--Edited by Maurice Geller, email@example.com