Did COP23 keep the canoe on course?

Did COP23 keep the canoe on course?

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Date: 21st November 2017
Type: Feature
Tags: Conference of Parties, Nationally Determined Contributions, specific financing mechanisms

The CDKN team reports on what climate negotiators achieved on the latest round of talks in Bonn, Germany: COP23. By Sam Bickersteth, Marisa Donnelly, Toby Morris and Kiran Sura.

The annual meeting of climate negotiators - the UNFCCC 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23) - concluded in the early hours of the morning on Saturday 18 November in Bonn, Germany. In addition to climate negotiators, the annual meeting brought together a wave of NGOs, businesses, academics and civil society. But it was distinctly a COP of two halves. In the official negotiating zone - the Bula Zone - negotiators worked tirelessly but made slow progress in developing the Paris Agreement ‘rulebook’. The ‘rulebook’ refers to the rules by which countries will measure and monitor their achievement. A mile away in the Bonn Zone, there was a hubbub of activity from all sections of society showcasing action and new technologies, and a strong sense that the era of coal is coming to an end.

While the annual meeting took place in Germany, it was presided over by the Government of Fiji. As the first ‘island COP’, the ‘island way’ permeated different aspects of the meeting. COP President and Fijian Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, opened the conference with his symbolic mantra: “We are all in the same canoe”. He encouraged negotiators to adopt the Talanoa spirit - a traditional Fijian and Pacific process of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue. Elsewhere in the Bonn Zone, Fijian singing, dancing and traditions brought the island feel to a decidedly wintry Germany.

With a Pacific island presiding over COP23, developing countries and small island states expected the negotiations to deliver progress on adaptation, loss and damage and finance. And few expected, but all hoped for, significant progress on the Paris Agreement rulebook. What transpired was modest progress on all fronts and questions on whether the Fijian COP Presidency is going to be able to effectively steer the canoe to its destination. Here we take stock of what COP23 achieved and issues that will focus minds in 2018.

Where are we? In troubled waters...

All signs pointed to the need for progress on the rulebook as COP23 kicked off, and urgent action to implement existing commitments and increase the ambition of the national climate plans: the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Recent extreme weather events served as a reminder of the destruction, devastation and death that climate change can bring. The UN launched a report announcing CO2 emissions in the atmosphere had reached record levels not seen before, and that action pledged will only limit warming to 3.4degC – all while countries such as Australia, India, Indonesia, Turkey, Vietnam and the U.S.A. are considering significant investments in coal.


Given this, one would expect negotiators to arrive in Germany, roll up their sleeves and work hard to find common ground to develop a robust, equitable and effective set of rules to deliver the Paris Agreement and action. But this is not what happened. Instead old issues reemerged - most notably that of differentiation on action and finance between developed and developing countries - referred to as ‘bifurcation’. This idea has been a polarising issue in negotiations for two decades. The US’s lead climate adviser, George David Banks stated “We want to make sure that we do what we can to avoid bifurcation… that’s probably the number one priority.” Questions around bifurcation and broader issues related to equity slowed progress on a number of elements of the Paris Agreement rulebook given their cross-cutting nature.

Loss and damage

Climate vulnerable nations hoped to secure concessions on loss and damage, and specifically finance for the damage and destruction caused by climate change, driven by historic emissions. While loss and damage permeated various negotiations in Germany, very little in the way of finance or other concrete action was secured. The Fijian presidency championed insurance as a solution to the loss and damage agenda and accordingly launched the "InsuResilience Global Partnership". This partnership is a private sector initiative which is aimed at extending insurance to 400 million climate-vulnerable people by 2020. However, it is clear that insurance is only part of the solution, with some raising the question of who will be responsible for paying the premiums. The Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) remains the key mechanisms for loss and damage under the Paris Agreement, however Parties agreed to a one-off “expert dialogue” at the May 2018 intersessional meeting to inform the review of the WIM work programme in 2019.

Climate finance

Discussion on finance were as expected fraught and tense. Going in to COP23 developing countries were calling for a decision to be taken on whether the Adaptation Fund should serve the Paris Agreement. The Adaptation Fund is a relatively small fund that focuses on small-scale adaptation projects in developing countries. It was decided at COP23 that the Adaptation Fund would serve the Paris Agreement but the details of how this will happen are to be finalised.

Pledges were made by some developed countries at COP23 to the Adaptation Fund and the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF). Most notably, Germany pledged €50 million to each fund, Sweden pledged €186 million to each, and Belgium pledged €10.25 million to the LDCF.

Elsewhere, another finance issue was raised in the closing session of the negotiations on the Paris Agreement rule book. Article 9.5 of the Paris Agreement is intended to make climate financing flows more predictable for developing countries. However, developed countries argued during the COP that reporting demands were going beyond what was originally agreed in the Paris Agreement. Negotiators settled on revisiting discussions on this issue at the May 2018 Intersessional -leaving another unresolved issue from COP23.

Paris Agreement rulebook

Negotiations on the various elements of the Paris Agreement rulebook progressed at different rates. Such elements include the communication of country pledges (known as nationally determined contributions, or NDCs), reporting on adaptation efforts, the modality of the global stocktake in 2023, and how to monitor compliance with the Paris Agreement. Consultations on each element were presided over by UNFCCC appointed co-facilitators who worked with Parties to capture their thoughts on what the rulebook should contain. These discussions have culminated in a series of informal notes totalling some 266 pages. The task ahead now is to streamline and craft this in to negotiating text by the end of 2018. The final COP23 decision recognises that an additional negotiating session may be needed in 2018 between the May Intersessional and COP24 in December to ensure the Paris rulebook is finished on time.

Where do we want to be? Charting the course for 2018, 2020 and beyond...

Pre-2020 commitments

A charge of developing countries, led by China and India called on developed countries to make good on their pre-2020 commitments and for this to be a substantive COP23 agenda item. Two issues were at the forefront of developing countries’ minds. First, developed countries had not yet delivered the promised $100bn per year in climate finance by 2020. Second, the Doha Amendment, a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol for the years leading up to 2020, had still not been ratified by enough countries to bring it into force. Many developed countries were opposed to adding this to the COP23 agenda. This issue overshadowed the negotiations for a number of days and was in danger of deadlocking the talks.

Headway was finally made on pre-2020 standoff in week two of the negotiations. Developed countries acquiesced to a number of measures to ensure they were making progress on meeting their pre-2020 commitments. These included additional stocktaking sessions in 2018 and 2019 to review progress on reducing emissions, and two assessments of climate finance to be published in 2018 and 2020. These assessment will be integrated into a synthesis report on pre-2020 ambition for COP24. Indeed several countries, including the UK, ratified the Doha Agreement in Paris.

Is the end nigh for the coal era?

Over 20 countries and other sub-national actors joined the “Powering Past Coal Alliance”. This alliance, led by the UK and Canada, recognises the need to phase out coal in the OECD and EU28 by 2030, and globally by 2050. Members of the new alliance also included Denmark, Finland, Italy, New Zealand, Ethiopia, Mexico and the Marshall Islands. Members of the alliance are not making formal commitments, and their share of global coal consumption is relatively small; however, symbolically, this is an important statement of intent. US, Germany, Poland, India and China were all notable exceptions.

How do we get there? Action by all and increasing ambition over time

Non-state actors have a crucial role to play in helping push the world on a trajectory to limit dangerous levels of warming. This group was very active at COP23. In some instances, notably the US, sub-national authorities and businesses are now leading rather than following their government in raising ambition. This was apparent in the presence of several US State Governors and business who were emerging as climate champions alongside sub-national leaders from other countries. The launch of the Under 2 Coalition at COP23 provided an additional accelerator for non-state action. At the negotiations, NGOs continued to push for as many meetings to be kept open to observers as possible. Side events and country pavilions highlighted that substantive climate action is underway and provided a generally more colourful and encouraging perspective than the slow, slog of the negotiations. Outside the official COP venue events such as the Development and Climate Days brought large numbers of practitioners together to share, learn and maintain momentum for grassroots change.

The Talanoa Dialogue

The Facilitative Dialogue 2018 - now rebranded as ‘The Talanoa Dialogue’ - is an opportunity to take stock on climate action. This information will then be used to inform the next round of NDCs and ratchet up ambition.

The Fijian COP Presidency and outgoing Moroccan COP Presidency held a series of consultations with Parties in advance of and during COP to inform the design of the Talanoa Dialogue. The final plan for the Talanoa Dialogue was presented at the end of COP23, as follows: calls for inputs (up to 2nd April 2018), technical discussions (May), more inputs (through to late October; this includes the IPCC Special Report on 1.5०C) and political discussion (at COP24 in Poland in late 2018). It was also decided that non-party stakeholders should input to the Talanoa Dialogue, and that there would be specific consideration of pre-2020 commitments.

Maintaining political momentum

COP23 has confirmed there is still strong political will to deliver the ambition of the Paris Agreement, but it cannot be taken for granted. Next stop is President Macron’s ‘One Planet’ Summit in December 2017, where governments are expected to come with pledges of finance and action. This is quickly followed by the Japan-Brazil informal meeting of climate negotiators in March 2018, and then the Global Climate Action Summit in September 2018. These events offer critical moments to strengthen political momentum around the cause, in what is shaping up to be another busy year of climate negotiations.

See also: Statements from High Ambition Coalition members on the Bonn talks and Kigali Agreement on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).


Image: credit Bjarni Thorbjornsson



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