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Bonn climate talks tread a fine line

The Bonn climate talks end after two weeks of preparation for the crucial round next year to agree more stringent action.

LONDON, 18 November, 2017 – The Bonn climate talks, this year’s UN climate summit, are over, and delegates are now heading home, most of them probably with a strong sense of relief.   

For the media who had sat through the two weeks of negotiation, Bonn proved the sort of job journalists dislike more than most: a story without a headline, process without event, plenty of detail but very few hard-nosed facts. And if you listen to the pundits, the verdict on COP 23, as the talks were known by the UN, probably lies somewhere between “could have been worse” and, looking to 2018, “needs to do better.”

That is the outcome many observers had predicted anyway. The real job for COP 23 was to prepare for next year’s COP 24, when the hope is that countries will raise their ambitions significantly.

The targets the world accepted in the Paris Agreement, concluded in the closing minutes of the 2015 UN talks, are aimed at preventing global average temperatures rising more than 2°C above their pre-industrial levels – or, if possible, 1.5°C. Better forget both figures: the commitments made then look likely, on present trends, to mean the world is well above 3°C warmer by the end of this century

So next year’s talks, in the Polish city of Katowice, are above all designed to raise countries’ targets for cutting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. To give that the best chance of happening, COP 24 will need a clearly agreed way of working, a rulebook. That was another of Bonn’s priorities.

“While the White House sleepwalks on climate change, states, cities and communities across the US are wide awake

A third was a further bout of the interminable wrangling over money (whether richer countries should pay to compensate poorer ones for the loss and damage climate change is already causing them, and how they should be helped to pay to protect themselves through adapting to the inevitable).

The conference ended with at least some progress under its belt on most of these conundrums. Andrew Deutz, of the US Nature Conservancy, said: “The conference gets a grade of ‘meets expectations’. The negotiators got down to the orderly business of working out the rules to implement, assess, and advance the Paris Agreement. 

“The processes did not get overly distracted by the US government’s announced withdrawal from the accord. Nevertheless, the absence of national US leadership was evident within the negotiating process this week and for driving more ambitious climate action in the future.”

Other observers say the US delegation played a largely constructive role during the talks, despite President Trump’s statement that he intends to pull out of the Paris accord. Elliot Diringer, of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, said one group of experienced US negotiators had been a positive factor in Bonn: “From all accounts they have been playing a constructive role in the room, advancing largely the same positions as before.”

This leaves Donald Trump rather in the position of the dog that didn’t bark. Some COP participants believe in fact he’s missed a significant trick. “Having already abandoned its leadership role on climate, the Trump administration appears to be living in an alternate universe with its focus on fossil fuels”, said Paula Caballero of the World Resources Institute.

Completely isolated

“Now that the US is the only nation that is not on board with the Paris Agreement, the Trump administration should carefully consider whether being completely isolated on the climate issue really benefits the American people.”

Professor Dave Reay, chair in carbon management at the University of Edinburgh, UK, said: “High profile representations from California Governor Jerry Brown and others showed that, while the White House sleepwalks on climate change, states, cities and communities across the US are wide awake.

“Likewise, the expanding coalition of nations, led by the UK and Canada and aimed at phasing out coal power, shows just how blinkered the Trump administration’s pro-coal stance really is.”

So COP 23 was necessary and did make some progress. In the world outside the walls of the conference venue, though, there were headlines, not all of them likely to encourage the participants: science says climate change is about to worsen significantly; carbon emissions are likely to rise this year; 2017 is itself one of the three warmest years on record

As one experienced British climate expert said on the eve of the Bonn talks: “The science shows a real growth in our knowledge, and we’re on the right track – just not yet fast enough or far enough.” – Climate News Network