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Negotiators face daunting task working out fine print to fulfil pledge to limit global warming at well under 2 deg C

PARIS • Front-line negotiators from more than 190 nations gathering for climate talks in Bonn tomorrow face a daunting task: bring the 2015 Paris Agreement to life The world's only climate treaty pledges to cap global warming at "well under" 2 deg C and prevent man-made CO2 from leeching into the atmosphere by century's end. However, it left a mountain of critical rules and procedures to be worked out.

"This may sound like a technical exercise, but it matters," Mr Todd Stern, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC and the top climate diplomat under president Barack Obama, said in a recent speech.

"Guidelines have a lot to do with how strong the regime becomes."

The deadline for completing this "rule book" is the November climate summit in Katowice, Poland. The agreement itself goes live in 2020.

MR TODD STERN, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC and the top climate diplomat under president Barack Obama. NO MORE DELAYING

The scale and pace of climate action must increase dramatically, and immediately so. Negotiators have had more than two years to hammer out the fine print but have procrastinated.

"It's no secret that things have not been going swimmingly so far," said Mr Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington-based advocacy and research group.

How quickly the world weans itself from fossil fuels, improves energy efficiency and learns how to suck CO2 out of the air will determine whether climate change remains manageable or unleashes a maelstrom of human misery.

The window of opportunity for holding the rise in temperature at 2 deg C - much less the 1.5 deg C ceiling the Paris pact vows to consider - has grown perilously narrow.

A single deg C of warming so far has already accelerated species extinctions, deadly droughts and flooding as well as superstorms engorged by rising seas.

But trend lines are moving the wrong way: after remaining flat for three years, global CO2 emissions last year rose by 1.4 per cent, dashing hopes that they had peaked.

US President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of Paris pact - along with US efforts to boost fossil fuel technologies - have not helped, even as China, France, Germany and Canada have stepped in to fill the breach in climate leadership.

Voluntary national pledges made under the treaty to cut carbon pollution, if fulfilled, would yield no better than a 3 deg C world. Once-every-five-year reviews of these commitments do not kick in until 2023.

Negotiators know this is too late. "The scale and pace of climate action must increase dramatically, and immediately so," reads a UN summary of written submissions to the Fiji-inspired Talanoa Dialogue, designed to inspire more ambitious CO2-slashing pledges. Still, negotiations have been bogged down.

Under pressure, the rift between rich and developing countries that stymied climate talks for more than two decades before the 2015 accord put all nations on the same page has reemerged. For the rulebook, "transparency" has emerged as a hot-button issue. Rich nations, for example, favour a standardised yardstick for the measurement, reporting and verification of carbon-cutting pledges, with limited exceptions for the poorest countries. Developing nations have pushed back, calling for greater "flexibility".

When it comes, however, to the rich-nation promise of US$100 billion (S$132 billion) per year in climate finance from 2020, the issue cuts the other way.

A key complaint by recipient nations is that rich ones have failed to map how and when money promised will be delivered.

Working out a coherent "user's manual" for the Paris agreement is also crucial for the signals it sends to the private sector, which must take the lead in the shift to a low-carbon global economy, Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said.

 

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 29, 2018, with the headline 'Mission to bring Paris climate pact to life'. Print Edition | Subscribe

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