Almost 200 nations adopted a rulebook for the Paris Agreement that sets out how nations must report their carbon emissions and pay for climate action.
After two weeks of U.N.-brokered talks in the Polish city of Katowice, negotiators overcame a deadlock on a crucial element about how nations should be required to report their greenhouse gas emissions.
The talks wrapped up over the weekend, a day longer than planned, resulting in an important step forward towards fulfilling the historic 2015 treaty.
"We are driven by a sense of responsibility for present generations and future generations that will succeed us," said Poland’s environment minister, Michal Kurtyka, who presided over the talks.
Only moments before the final vote he had cautioned that "this deal hangs in fragile balance. We will all have to give in order to gain."
Summit leaders agreed to adopt a complex and lengthy rulebook for accomplishing the Paris deal's goal of preventing average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, or 1.5 degrees C. if possible.
They had haggled over the standards for reporting emissions of industrial gases, mainly from fossil fuel burning, that trap heat in the atmosphere like a greenhouse. They also disputed what each country must do to cut back. Financial support for developing countries was a key part of the negotiations.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said the rulebook provides a new "foundation" for climate action. "It's time to show strengthened ambition to defeat climate change," he said.
But the talks had apparently also deadlocked over the monitoring and accounting rules for carbon credits to reduce emissions, which has been a longstanding point of contention. Also known as “cap-and trade," such systems have been mainly put to use regionally.
Their aim is to create market value — giving nations added incentive to use clean energy — by making industrial carbon emissions an artificially scarce commodity. Europe's carbon market is worth US$38 billion a year, after 13 years of effort.
Governments set the caps for carbon emissions across an industry, or an entire economy, and establish penalties for violations. The caps are then split into allowances, which are distributed by governments to companies. These can be bought and sold on the carbon marketplace. As a cap declines over time, industries have a growing incentive to use energy more cleanly and efficiently.
"We are confident a consensus based solution can be found here in Katowice," said Catherine McKenna, Canada's environment and climate change minister.
No time to waste
Recent, alarming reports on global warming underscored the high stakes for the summit. The world’s average temperatures already increased 1 degree since pre-industrial levels, so the real choice for the world under the Paris accord is whether to let the planet heat up by a half-degree or 1 degree more.
But the gap between nations’ goals and what they are doing to address the problem is wider than ever, U.N. Environment, or UNEP, said in its ninth annual assessment of nations cutting CO2 emissions.
Nations must triple efforts to succeed in limiting warming to no more than a half-degree or make a fivefold effort to limit it to 1 degree more, the U.N. agency said. Global emissions would need to peak by 2020, then start quickly subsiding. However, UNEP found the United States and six other major countries are lagging far behind on pledges they made in Paris.
The world’s greenhouse gas emissions, rather than decreasing, rose in 2017 by 0.7 gigatons to 53.5 gigatons, after three years of decreases. To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced 55% by 2030. To limit global warming to 2 degrees, they must be reduced 25%.
But current policies will produce a temperature rise of 3.2 degrees by the end of this century, UNEP concluded.
The U.N.’s Nobel Prize-winning panel on climate change reported last month that no hope remained for holding off all of the most dangerous projections. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, said that even the most optimistic scenarios for halting the rise in average global temperatures will mean serious repercussions for the planet and future generations.