Outlining Essential Elements of the Paris ‘Rulebook’

The most critical moment in the international climate effort since the Paris summit three years ago comes at COP 24 next month in Katowice, Poland, where governments are set to adopt the operational details of the landmark Paris Agreement.

In a report we are releasing today, C2ES outlines essential elements of this Paris “rulebook,” drawing on a series of in-depth workshops we organized bringing together senior climate negotiators from around the world.

The Paris Agreement is a decisive turning point in the global effort. Through its innovative hybrid of “top-down” and “bottom-up” elements, it has achieved near-universal participation, and holds the promise of rising global ambition. Its success hinges in part on getting the rules right.

Paris is a complex agreement, and spelling out its details presents both technical and political challenges. Over the course of 12 workshops since Paris – six just since February – C2ES provided negotiators from key countries an informal space to dig into those challenges with an eye toward common ground. Today’s report represents C2ES’s distillation of the points of convergence we saw emerge.

The negotiators who participated were from countries in all the major negotiating groups – including the European Union, the Umbrella Group, the Group of 77 (G77), BASIC, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), the Africa Group, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDCs), the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), the Arab Group and the Environmental Integrity Group (EIG).

(It is important to note that, given the delicacies of an ongoing negotiation, we are not identifying the individual participants, and the report is presented by C2ES on its own behalf, not on behalf of the group. Not all participants agree on all aspects of the report.)

These discussions were an extension of the Toward 2015 Dialogue we organized in 2014-15, which brought together a similar group of negotiators, and produced a report outlining the essential elements of the historic agreement reached five months later in Paris.

As then, our post-Paris discussions were extraordinarily candid, helping the participants better understand one another’s core concerns. Though they brought very different perspectives, and positions, both the tenor and substance of our discussions were quite different from those often seen in the formal negotiations. Some of the issues that have dominated there barely surfaced.

The fundamental challenge running through the rulebook negotiations is how to translate the broad strokes, delicate balances, and hybrid structure of the Paris Agreement into clear guidance to parties on how to implement it.

Paris is a hybrid in the sense that it combines a strong bottom-up element (countries’ individual contributions are nationally determined) with a set of top-down features (long-term goals, binding procedural commitments, and ongoing reviews). The former encourages broad participation, while the latter are meant to ensure rising ambition.

Another essential feature of Paris is its more nuanced approach to differentiating responsibilities among parties. It largely transcends the bifurcation between developed and developing countries reflected in the Kyoto Protocol, instead establishing common commitments binding all countries, while, in the area of transparency, allowing a degree of “flexibility” for those developing countries “that need it in light of their capacities.”

Our discussions this year focused primarily on core issues along the “pipeline” that starts with a country’s presentation of its nationally determined contribution (NDC); runs through the Agreement’s central transparency system, where parties report, and are reviewed, on their emissions and efforts; to later processes designed to facilitate compliance, and to periodically take stock of collective progress (informing the next round of NDCs). Other issues included how parties account for their NDCs (and use of market mechanisms) and report on adaptation and finance.

Through all of these issues, major cross-cutting themes included honoring both the spirit and letter of the Paris Agreement, and striking the right balance between national discretion and international direction.

For those not following the negotiations, our report may be, well, a bit weedy. But for those gathering soon in Katowice, it will hopefully serve as a useful guide to a set of outcomes that can turn the promises of Paris into a functioning, durable international regime.

In the end, the Paris rulebook is not just about rules – it’s about ambition. The right decisions in Katowice will help instill confidence that progress is being made – and will continue to be made – toward achieving all the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement. And strengthening that confidence will, in turn, make it easier for all of us to keep doing more.