On his return from COP24 in Katowice, Jonathan Shopley, our lead on external affairs, shares some reflections on progress made at the negotiations and why private sector leadership on climate change remains of the utmost importance.

An Update From COP24 In Katowice

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) concluded on 15th December in Katowice, Poland. It was billed as the round of climate negotiations that would agree the detailed operating manual for the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, due to enter into force in 2021. The Polish government hosted the Summit in its coal mining heartland and used that back-drop to highlight the importance of a ‘just transition’: how to deliver a low-carbon economy without losing the jobs and cheap energy which its coal industry provides. 

There was sound progress at COP24, chiefly agreement on clear and transparent ways of calculating Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). This means that for the first time in climate negotiations all countries have agreed to the same reporting rules. This sets a solid foundation for the review and ratchet mechanism: the process agreed to in the Paris Agreement by which countries publish and then increase their emission reduction efforts.

With a backdrop of riots against a carbon tax in France and a political climate that since 2015 has turned to nationalism, most recently in Brazil, it was unsurprising that the talks also saw national interests trump global co-operation in some areas. One aspect of the rulebook that could not be agreed was Article 6: the rules by which countries will use internationally transferred mitigation outcomes (ITMOs) to deliver lower cost emissions reductions in other jurisdictions as part of the post-2021 process. This was pushed out for agreement at COP25, scheduled to take place in Chile in late-2019.

But there are reasons for seeing this in a positive light. Firstly, businesses and countries can continue taking action to reduce emissions across borders. Article 6 is explicit that countries may use ITMOs “consistent with guidance”: meaning that if guidance exists it must be followed, but meaningful action does not depend on the existence of guidance. Secondly, the delay leaves the door open for the future rules to follow the proven good practice that will develop further in the meantime. A number of countries, taking a lead from New Zealand, pledged to join EU countries and the sub-national states of California and Quebec to continue their work on building collaborative carbon trading systems across the global economy. Thirdly, nothing was agreed that undermines the environmental integrity of future multinational carbon market linkages.

In summary, businesses can continue to demonstrate climate leadership while policy makers catch-up with the International Panel on Climate Change’s recent update on climate science, which made the case that urgent and immediate action is required to stabilise climate change. And COP24 saw signs of this trend continuing with two giant fossil-fuel-dependent companies – Maersk and Shell – committing to achieve net zero carbon emissions. 

COP24 also saw the conclusion of the Talanoa Dialogue, the UNFCCC initiative to gather private sector and civil society views on how to accelerate progress towards net zero emissions. Through our round-table discussions this year we made a unique contribution to this process. We gathered 61 corporates with collective revenues of $1.3 trillion across Europe and the U.S to uncover 10 recommendations for what the UNFCCC and negotiating countries can do to unlock the full potential of private sector action. 

We submitted these to the UNFCCC and at COP24 I spoke about our Talanoa findings to audiences of multilateral development banks, UK government and the sustainability industry. I also saw the UNFCCC officially conclude the Talanoa Dialogues by acknowledging the breadth and depth of submissions, and it was gratifying to see many of our recommendations mentioned in the UNFCCC's summary of Talanoa inputs. We will publish a more detailed update on progress on the 10 recommendations our Dialogues made to the UNFCCC in January. 

For now our priority is to continue to serve businesses and demonstrate that climate action is not a ‘nice to have’ but integral to their business strategies: whether it’s building resilience in supply chains, meeting the expectations of employees and investors for climate action, or driving efficiencies throughout operations. One way we'll be continuing to help companies understand these strategic opportunities is through the Imprinting Net Zero model – seven ways businesses are achieving net zero emissions and extending their climate impact and commercial opportunities – which we also uncovered during our Talanoa Dialogues. We’ll be doing this is the New Year through a webinar in February with Betty’s & Taylors Group, ING, LinkedIn and PwC, and through presentations at conferences such as GreenBiz 19 in February and the Climate Leadership Conference in March.

We hope you can join us.