OPINION: COP23 – ‘Island COP’ highlights the need to accelerate global efforts
Sam Bickersteth, Kiran Sura and Mairi Dupar anticipate the detailed and difficult issues in front of negotiators at the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany (6-17 November 2017).
Next week, thousands of officials from government, non-government organisations, business and civil society will descend on Bonn, Germany for the annual climate negotiations. Here, we look forward to the coming two weeks of COP23: the 23rd Conference of Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). We consider the issues that will preoccupy the minds of climate negotiators – and particularly those negotiators from the poorest and most climate vulnerable countries.
An island perspective
As ever, global politics and global events influence which issues emerge as key priorities for the climate change negotiations. COP23 is the first COP to be presided over by an island state: Fiji. As the ‘island COP’ it has a special poignancy, in the aftermath of a devastating and exceptional hurricane season in the Caribbean. Protecting people on the front line of climate change, and protecting those who are powerless, will be at the heart of Fiji’s COP Presidency.
The big picture
Recent extreme weather events such as the hurricanes in the Caribbean, flooding in Asia and wildfires across the US and Europe offer a grave warning of what we can expect from runaway climate change and reinforce the need for urgent action. As a consequence, finance, adaptation and loss and damage have emerged as key priorities for the poorest and most climate vulnerable countries at COP23. A United Nations report issued this week noted, alarmingly, that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached levels not witnessed for 3 million years.
The UN’s Emissions Gap Report 2017 reminds us that countries’ emission reduction pledges, enshrined in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), only get us one third of the way to avoiding the worst effects of climate change. On current policies, total greenhouse gas emissions will rise to 59 Gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) by 2030. The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) will make a small dent but still, they will collectively total 53-55 GtCO2e of emissions. Simon Maxwell has remarked how this year’s report shifts up a gear in its call for action to cut emissions drastically.
This sobering picture is supported by recent analysis from PwC’s Low Carbon Economy Index. Its authors find that the UK economy’s carbon intensity fell by 7.7% in 2016; China’s fell by 6.5 %. However, the average global rate of decarbonisation is still far too low: “Our report warns that the Paris Agreement will only be possible if [countries] are serious about accelerating action” says co-author Jonathan Grant. “Global carbon intensity fell by 2.6% in 2016. Countries need to make average reductions of 6.3% each year to achieve the Paris Agreement temperature goal.”
The decision by the US to withdraw from the Paris Agreement looms over the talks. Many negotiators are waiting with bated breath to see if the US will engage constructively or become a disruptor. In the meantime, there is a question of how far China will be able to step in and fill the climate leadership void that the US has created. If China truly seeks to lead, and its NDC planning and implementation reflect its moral leadership, then this could be a game changer for keeping the world on a lower-emissions trajectory.
A ‘rulebook’ for delivering the Paris Agreement
COP23 has been referred to as a ‘transitional’ or ‘process’ COP. It is true that few decisions are likely to emerge from this round of talks. However, it is imperative that governments leave Bonn on 17 November with a clear plan for finalising the Paris Agreement ‘rulebook’. This includes agreeing how the negotiations will move from ‘talk’ to detailed ‘text’, and who will be given the mandate for drafting the text.
Gebru Jember Endalew, Chair of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group, said: “COP23 is a vital step on our journey to setting out a clear rulebook that will fully implement the vision laid out at Paris. This is the last COP before the work programme of the Paris Agreement is to be finalised, so we hope to leave Bonn with a draft negotiating text, that can be fleshed out over the coming year.”
A key output expected from COP23 is the launch of preparations for the Facilitative Dialogue 2018, or as it has now come to be called: the Talanoa Dialogue. The Talanoa Dialogue will bring Parties together throughout 2018 to take stock of global efforts towards meeting the long term goal of limiting warming to well below 2C. The Governments of Morocco and Fiji, who hold the previous and present COP Presidencies, will report during the next two weeks on their consultations with Parties on the intended form of the technical and political phases and intended outcomes of the Talanoa Dialogue. Their high-level aspiration is to use the Dialogue to enhance the ambition of countries’ NDCs. (See this Chairs’ note on how the Dialogue will work.)
There are also a number of other issues that must be progressed, which to date have flown under the radar, such as boosting the replenishments of the Least Developed Countries Fund, the Global Environment Facility and the Adaptation Fund. Announcements from donor governments are expected.
Climate finance realities
Developing country hopes are likely to be high, both for greater flows of finance (particularly for adaptation) and for progress on mechanisms to compensate them for climate-related loss and damage. Endlew, the LDC Group Chair, has called for COP23 to be the COP of ‘finance and support’. He added:“At COP23 the LDC Group will call on developed countries to rapidly accelerate the delivery of climate finance.”
Many governments will be considering the role of the Green Climate Fund as it seeks to increase its share of funding to adaptation projects (now at 31%) and its substantial allocations to least developed countries such as Ethiopia. There is still a mountain to climb: the latest assessment of total climate finance by CPI – Global Climate Finance Landscape 2017 – shows a reduction in global climate finance flows in 2016. The US has cancelled $2 billion-worth in pledges to the Green Climate Fund.
Meanwhile, there are a growing number of initiatives seeking to accelerate the flow of private finance to NDCs such as the Climate Finance Accelerator. New financing instruments such as green and climate bonds are multiplying. Fiji recently issued a $50m climate bond. A recent CDKN paper tracks the potential for this sector to grow exponentially, in global markets.
Stepping up ambition before 2020
Over the course of the two weeks in Bonn, we can expect several new initiatives to be announced aimed at enhancing pre-2020 ambition. New initiatives for phasing out coal, as well as resistance to doing so, will be significant globally and across many countries. As Simon Maxwell notes in his recent blog, “many vested interests will need to be confronted if coal is to be phased out, as it must be, and …many economic and social adjustment problems will need to be solved.”
Momentum is also growing at the sub-national level and among non-state actors – states, cities, industry and businesses have come out in force to pledge their commitment to reducing emissions. In the past week, the Carbon Disclosure Project’s analysis of corporate climate action found that across the thousand companies they monitor which “represent the most significant in terms of market capitalisation and environmental impact”, 89% now have emission reduction plans; more than two-thirds of these reduction targets run to 2020.
As usual, it is shaping up to be a busy two weeks of negotiation and side events. CDKN will be in Bonn continuing to support developing country negotiators to engage in the process. We will showcase climate action and share insights from our experience across Asia, Africa and Latin America. COP23 has the potential to lay the technical and political foundation needed to deliver the Paris Agreement rulebook in 2018…will we see this potential realised?