Climate change negotiations: what’s at stake at COP24?

Twelve months after the UN Climate Conference in Bonn (COP23), the Polish city of Katowice hosts COP24.

Despite important progress in the intergovernmental negotiations, we have not done enough, we are not doing enough, and we are witnessing the consequences of climate change. Heat waves and drought, rising tides and severe flooding have all reared their heads during 2018.

This may seem similar to the narrative from last year, however one thing is different: this time around the window of opportunity is smaller, the urgency to act is greater, and the momentum to do so is stronger than ever following the publication of the IPCC’s special report on 1.5 degrees of global warming.

One might think that this COP would have a lower-profile than previous editions, however there is still a lot at stake: the Paris Agreement was successfully adopted in 2015 partly because finalising the practical details on how the agreement were postponed until this year. Building on six rounds of negotiations since Paris, negotiators representing signatories to the Agreement will be working day and night over the next two weeks to agree on these practical details: the so called ‘Paris Rulebook’. The rulebook seeks to set out basic obligations for all countries and include long term goals and commitments on topics such as mitigation, finance, cooperation, technology transfer and how to measure and provide accountability on progress.

Industrialised nations have been responsible for around 80 percent of emissions over the last 150 years. But it's those who live in poor countries, mainly in the global South, who are suffering most from climate change. Under the Paris Agreement, industrialised nations agreed to make a total of US$100 billion per year available for climate protection in poorer countries, starting in 2020. These funds are intended for poorer countries to cope with the changing climate and develop their own economies without the intensive use of fossil energy that fuelled the global North's rise to dominance.

Currently, there is a lack of agreement between donors and recipients on the tracking and type of support that will be provided. The Paris Agreement does not require donors to submit information in advance on the amounts or types of support they plan to provide. Developing nations are arguing that without information they will struggle to implement their commitments, much of which are conditional on finance provided.

Hydropower, climate change and sustainable development

The rapid and responsible deployment of clean, renewable energy is crucial to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. Hydropower accounts for almost two-thirds of the world’s renewable generation, and supports the energy transition by supporting wind and solar power through providing dispatchable and flexible power to grids.

Hydropower has a multifaceted relationship with climate change. As a technology, it contributes to the avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions, while offering vital climate adaptation services such as flood and drought management through storing water in its reservoirs. Water availability in certain regions is likely to be affected by changing precipitation patterns, however, so incorporating upstream analytical climate science into downstream planning, design, construction and operation of hydropower assets is a priority for the sector. IHA, in partnership with the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and industry stakeholders, is developing a set of good practice guidelines on climate resilience which will assist companies to consider climate-related risks in project design and operations and address the needs of the wider financial community, policy-makers and local communities.

As with all infrastructure projects, the development of hydropower does not come without some environmental and social impacts. Hydropower schemes alter existing hydrological regimes and the aquatic ecosystems that are dependent on them, requiring integrated systems planning that includes local stakeholders. That is why the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Council, a broad coalition of civil society, industry, governments and financial institutions, has invested in creating objective tools to ensure that hydropower projects can be developed, and assessed, in accordance with international good practice as well as best proven practice across a range of environmental and social criteria.

The Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, which was launched in 2011, provides a scoring framework for assessing a project at all stages of its lifecycle - from planning and preparation, to implementation and operation - on issues such as environmental management, biodiversity, sedimentation, safety, resettlement and indigenous communities. The Protocol was updated in July 2018 to examine a hydropower project’s carbon footprint and resilience to climate change. In addition, a new Hydropower Sustainability ESG Gap Analysis Tool was also launched this year, allowing project proponents and investors to identify and address gaps against good practice. Like the Protocol, it is aligned with IFC Environmental and Social Performance Standards and the World Bank’s Environmental and Social Framework. These tools will soon be complemented by forthcoming Hydropower Sustainability Guidelines on Good International Industry Practice, outlining how sustainability is defined in the sector.

At COP24, IHA will continue to engage with stakeholders about hydropower’s role in renewable energy systems, responsible freshwater management and climate change solutions, and the interlinkages and trade-offs that are at the heart of the global debate on climate change and sustainable development.

IHA at COP24

Visit our event webpage to learn about IHA’s activities at COP24.

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