17 December 2018

Climate researcher Mathias Fridahl from the Department of Thematic Studies – Environmental Change awards top marks to the negotiators at COP24. At the last minute, and in the face of low expectations, a rulebook was adopted for the global work towards achieving the climate objectives set in the Paris Agreement, 2015.

Utdrag ur förhandlingstext“It was easier than I had expected – getting 196 countries to agree on rules for how national climate undertakings are to be measured, accounted, reported and audited, in order eventually to be reported to the UN panel on climate change. The panel will then verify the results and collect the knowledge in its reports”, says Mathias Fridahl, who followed the initial phases of the negotiations in Katowice.

He summarises the conditions laid out by the rulebook in one word: transparency.
“Not everyone appreciates transparency. And there are differing opinions on how, for example, different climate mitigation measures are to be valued. And, to be honest, this is not simple. How can you weigh the amount of solar-powered energy installed in one country against reduced emissions of carbon dioxide in another, when they are measured in different units?”

There is a built-in risk of inflation, possibly even cheating. Countries might try to use double books, if they include in the bookkeeping such measures that they consider to be climate mitigation. Or they might enter the costs of their initiatives in the bookkeeping.
The new rules, however, make it easier to assess whether countries truly live up to their climate undertakings.

Stora sessionssalen på COP24“It’s quite a robust rulebook, and we have got more than expected into it. It will be possible to fill the gaps that exist, and the rulebook contains statements that the requirements for reporting will be successively increased”, says Mathias Fridahl, who gives the delegates at COP24 top marks for their work during the negotiations.

Some chapters in the rulebook, however, remain blank.
“There are some tricky problems that it hasn’t been possible to solve.” The most obvious problem concerns international cooperation using market-based instruments, such as emissions trading.
The financing is another difficult problem, and this can be linked to issues of international fairness. Countries who historically have been responsible for major emissions are questioning what responsibility they have today. Small, vulnerable island states that have already been hit by the effects of climate change risk being left without finance for large portions of their work with climate mitigation.”

The US has previously stood for a large fraction of the contributions to the IPCC, and to the green climate fund. And Barack Obama played an important role in the Paris Agreement. The approach of the US to climate has radically changed with the election of Donald Trump.
How did this affect the conference in Katowice?

“It was obvious that the American delegates had received clear instructions this year to be more active. What was emphasised was that all countries should be subject to the same rules with respect to reporting requirements.
The question of whether the IPCC climate report should be welcomed or simply noted was also a contentious point. This was the USA’s way of making it clear that it does not accept all the conclusions of the report. In this way, it undermines the authority of climate scientists, and throws doubt on the level of knowledge.”

COP24 konferenskomplexet med deltagarländernas nationsflaggor.The US has become an unpredictable actor in work with climate, and put quite a few spanners in the works. Does this affect the general atmosphere?
“The political wind is certainly blowing against us. This may lead to several countries taking a step backward. Politicians don’t dare to take the decisive steps required, and progress lacks the urgency it has previously had”, says Mathias Fridahl.

Your research deals with climate policy, and you are engaged as expert in the Swedish government enquiry into the way ahead for climate policy.
What are you working on now?
“I have decided to focus on policy relating to the technology of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Even if we bring emissions down to zero, this will not be sufficient to stop global warming: further measures are needed. This is a huge political field, and I would like to continue cultivating it. Very little research has been done here.”

Translated by George Farrants

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