As I reflect on the path moving forward now that the COP 23 has concluded, one thing I’ve been mulling over is the challenge with developing a Paris Rulebook.  On the Thursday before we left, we were lucky enough to meet with Sue Biniaz and Dan Bodansky.  Sue Biniaz is the former principle State Department lawyer on climate change negotiations, and Dan Bodansky is a professor at Arizona State University and an expert on global climate change.   It was a wide-ranging discussion, but one of the topics we covered was, as Sue referred to it  the “incredible shrinking” Paris Rulebook.

Since all the pledges countries have made to reduce their emissions are voluntary, the Paris Rulebook is crucial, because it will allow the UNFCCC to measure if countries are actually making progress on reducing their emissions. “The only way to know we’re making progress is our ability to understand what other parties are doing,” so transparency is a key component.

The U.S. still co-chairs the committee on transparency with China.  The issue is that with the U.S. signaling its intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement in 2020, this has severely limited its negotiating stance.

During our discussion with Sue and Dan, one of us asked if member countries would want the U.S. to join again, perhaps under a different administration. Both Sue and Dan emphatically said that countries want the U.S. to remain a party and would avoid taking any action that would make it difficult for the U.S. in the future to join.

Thus, I was a bit surprised reading the wrap-up of this COP to see that Brazil, South Africa, India and China submitted drafts that were “full of language that split the world into rich and poor.”

I wondered if this was a way to lay the groundwork for compromise long-term between the developed and developing countries (to avoid giving up too much ground early in the game, as there is a whole year of negotiations ahead) or if they were really seeking to put differentiation at the forefront again. Thus, this leads me back to Sue’s original point—as countries struggle to agree on the exact guidelines of the Paris Rulebook, regulations will be thrown out, as compromise, to ensure that both developed and developing countries remain under the tent. Although short term, some countries might benefit from a vague rulebook, I wondered—as I’m sure all negotiators do—long-term, how this will harm the effectiveness of the agreement. It will be interesting to see if the prediction of the “shrinking rulebook” does come to pass, as right now, the “preliminary material” is….179 pages.