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Less business-as-usual at UN climate talks

Businesslike, yes – but this year’s climate summit in Bonn is not quite so focussed on business-as-usual as these occasions usually are.

BONN, 9 November, 2017 – Business-as-usual it certainly isnt. What was supposed to be a quiet, technical UN climate change conference here (COP 23) has got under way with a surprising amount of momentum and a few bits of controversy, with negotiators getting down to work on the rules and details that will transform the Paris Agreement from a soaring statement of intent to a solid plan of action.

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The tall order for this year’s conference: to move beyond section headings into details of the Paris “rulebook”, in areas as varied as climate finance, capacity-building for developing countries, technology assessment and access, agriculture, and the “ambition mechanism” for quickly ramping up countries’ commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The goal is to complete the rulebook in time for next year’s conference, COP 24 – a much accelerated timeline, after the Paris deal was ratified and gained legal force in just a year, a modern record for international treaty-making.

The momentum so far has been good. Fiji, presiding over this year’s COP, will remain president until a day or so before next year’s conference begins in Poland, a country widely seen as a staunch defender of fossil-fuelled electricity.

Funding boost

Fiji will therefore have significant influence over the next 12 months of negotiations and the issues under discussion at COP 24.

A highlight of the opening sessions on Monday was Germany’s commitment of €50 million (£44m) in new funding to the UN Adaptation Fund, set up to help developing countries build resilience and adapt to climate change. The pledge gets the Fund nearly three-quarters of the way to its US$80m financial goal for this year’s COP.

In its daily conference newsletter, ECO, CAN International welcomed the announcement, but warned that Germany has also slowed down its renewable energy development and failed to adopt a coal phase-out plan.

“Germany is going to miss its domestic 2020 reduction target of 40% compared to 1990 levels by a wide margin if the new government does not act decisively,” ECO noted.

Provoking resistance

“During the election campaign, Chancellor Merkel made a public promise that her next government will meet the target. The only way to achieve that will be to shut down the oldest and dirtiest coal power stations,” a move that “would both be technically possible and economically feasible – but of course meets resistance from the big coal power utilities.”

One of the most notable studies released this week: analysis by the World Resources Institute suggesting that greenhouse gas production has already peaked in 49 countries, representing about 36% of current global emissions. Another eight countries, responsible for another 23% of total emissions, are expected to peak in the next decade or so.

The news “is a sign that the world is moving away from a business-as-usual scenario where global average temperatures reach 4.0°C or more above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century,” Carbon Brief says.

“Global CO2 emissions from energy were largely unchanged in 2016 relative to 2015, raising hopes that a global peak in emissions may be possible in the near future.”

“Don’t wake the bear”

The problem is that, with no additional reductions, emissions would stay more or less flat through 2100 and the Earth would warm by about 3.0°C, which means that “to have a good chance of avoiding 2.0°C warming, global emissions need to peak some time in the next few years and decline very rapidly thereafter.”

“Don’t wake the bear” was the headline on a post on Climate Home News, reporting on COP delegates’ worries about the US position at Bonn in the wake of Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement.

“The fragility of the political compromise of Paris has sometimes not been emphasised because we are all nervous,” one senior negotiator said in London last week. “There’s a lot of nervousness that the package can unravel very quickly.”

“The Trump regime really needs to walk away and not hold the rest of the world hostage to the President’s ineptitude,” said Tuvalu negotiator Ian Fry. But Fiji’s chief negotiator, Nazhat Shameem Khan, said the US had sent “positive signals…that this will not be a destructive COP.” – Climate News Network

Republished by permission from The Energy Mix, a thrice-weekly e-digest on climate, energy and post-carbon solutions.