Skip navigation

COP24 recap: what did it deliver?

The aim of this year’s UN climate conference was to “breathe life” into the 2015 Paris Agreement. While the agreement set in place long-term goals and the mechanisms to achieve them, it left important details to be decided about how these mechanisms should function in practice. For more than two weeks, negotiators in Katowice worked to thrash out those rules, requiring them to bridge contentious divides that had been “papered over” in Paris. Here, SEI Research Fellow Cleo Verkuijl and SEI Associate Harro van Asselt assess the key outcomes – and continuing challenges.

Cleo Verkuijl, Harro van Asselt / Published on 20 December 2018

COP24 President Michał Kurtyka following the adoption of the “Katowice Climate Package”. While this outcome is an important step for the Paris Agreement’s operationalisation, countries will need to take much bolder leaps to achieve the Agreement’s goals. Photo: Kiara Worth, IISD/ENB.

The legacy of COP24: a functioning rulebook…

Overall, countries managed to deliver strengthened top-down guidance to help ensure a proper functioning of the Paris Agreement – a noteworthy achievement when accounting for the conference’s very difficult multilateral context.  While not perfect, the results of their efforts are captured in a hefty compilation of new international rules and guidance. They include:

Common guidelines for countries to report on their climate action in a more robust manner, starting from 2024. For some aspects, developing countries can retain (on a self-determined basis, though with an explanation) some flexibility in their reporting and the review of those reports, and additional discretion is granted to Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS). However, the move towards a common reporting and review framework is an important step towards improved transparency.

Agreement to begin a process in 2020 to set a new finance goal that goes beyond USD 100 billion a year after 2025. Starting from 2020, developed countries are also required to biennially report information on projected future finance “as available.” However, the guidance adopted in Katowice on how to account for funding to support climate action in developing countries remains weak. Problematically, commercial loans can be counted as climate finance.

Agreement to take into account “as appropriate” efforts to address loss and damage as part of the five-yearly Global Stocktake of progress. There is also room for countries to reflect this issue in their adaptation communication, and in transparency reporting. This is important for the most vulnerable countries, who are already experiencing climate impacts that are impossible to adapt to.

Agreement that investigative work of the Committee to promote compliance with the Paris Agreement can be triggered by the Committee itself, for instance when countries fails to communicate an NDC, or to submit mandatory reports on their climate action and support. This is significant, as certain other multilateral environmental agreements rely solely on parties’ willingness to “self-trigger”, and otherwise these legally binding obligations from the Paris Agreement would escape any review.

Language that enables participation of non-state actors into the Global Stocktake, including through written submissions. Although the phrasing is weaker than in earlier drafts, its presence is crucial to allow the international climate process to benefit from the research findings and on-the-ground experience of civil society.

Not all elements of the Paris rulebook were secured in Katowice. A substantive decision to ensure the environmental integrity of international carbon markets that held up the talks until the end was eventually punted to COP25 in Chile. In addition, while countries agreed that their climate pledges (dubbed nationally determined contributions, or NDCs) should cover a “common timeframe” starting in 2031, discussions on whether this shared timeframe should consist of five or 10 years will continue in 2019.

… tempered by wavering ambition

Although COP24 delivered on core elements of the Paris rulebook, this is just one prerequisite for achieving the Paris Agreement’s longer-term goals. As the recent special IPCC report on 1.5°C temperature rise underscored, this will ultimately require many countries to substantially ramp up their climate ambition.

However, the Katowice conference did not provide unequivocal assurances that major emitters are ready to take their responsibility in this regard.

In the first week of the meeting, four fossil fuel-producing nations refused to “welcome” the IPCC’s vital report; preferring instead to “note” it. The final text only “welcomes the timely completion” of this work: a decidedly underwhelming response to what has been characterised as a “global alarm bell” from the scientific community.

In addition, while COP24 saw the culmination of a year-long process to increase ambition known as the “Talanoa Dialogue,” the final decision text only invites countries to “consider” the Dialogue’s outcomes in increasing their ambition.

As delegations return to their capitals, efforts to bring national climate plans in line with the IPCC’s latest findings need to be taken much more seriously. As SEI highlighted during the Dialogue, many of the transformative policy tools needed to do so are already available.

 Held in the heart of one of Europe’s biggest coal-producing regions, and in parallel with France’s gilets jaunes protests, COP24 moreover demonstrated the need for the transition to a low-carbon economy to be a just one, in which the future and livelihoods of affected workers and communities are secured.

What are the next steps?

To truly keep Paris alive, governments will need to submit strengthened NDCs and long-term climate strategies, and to provide significantly enhanced support before the deadline of 2020. The UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit in September 2019 is the next big opportunity to take a leap forward on climate action.

Written by

Cleo Verkuijl
Cleo Verkuijl



Profile picture of Harro van Asselt
Harro van Asselt

SEI Affiliated Researcher


Design and development by Soapbox.