The annual United Nations climate change conference (COP 23) wound up in Bonn Saturdaymorning, with solid progress on the detailed rules for implementing the Paris agreement and an agreed format for a powerful dialogue next year, where countries will be expected to come forward with plans to push farther, faster in their response to climate change.
It was an incremental, largely administrative conclusion for a conference that was never expected to deliver transformative results, but was still an essential step on the road to a more decisive “moment” at next year’s conference in Katowice, Poland.
On the surface, the official process was frustratingly slow and antiseptic, compared to the fast-moving global crisis it’s intended to solve. But delegates spent the time finding common ground on the detailed provisions that will bring the 2015 Paris deal to life, and building mutual trust around an agreement that depends on coordinated action from the bottom up, with every country doing its part.
Participants confirmed their intention to tie up the implementation “rulebook” for the Paris deal by December 2018—two years earlier than they envisioned when the agreement was signed in 2015. Despite steady progress on the rulebook during COP 23, they agreed to schedule extra negotiating time in the months leading up to next year’s conference, in a bid to hit the 2018 deadline.
COP 24 will also be the setting for a high-stakes dialogue where countries are expected to review their action to date on climate change and commit to pushing farther, faster on greenhouse gas reductions and climate adaptation efforts. The Bonn conference confirmed Fiji’s and Morocco’s proposal for a Talanoa Dialogue that sets the stage for “greater confidence, courage, and enhanced ambition” on climate. The final concept note for the dialogue lays out a year-long plan for advance discussion and reporting, calls for roundtable discussions on Paris implementation during next year’s COP, includes a focus on stepped-up climate action in the crucial years remaining before 2020, and identifies an upcoming report on a 1.5°C global warming limit as one of the cornerstones for the dialogue.
“[The] decision to formally anchor pre-2020 discussions in the next climate talks puts immediate pressure on developed countries to do more on increasing ambition in the run up to 2020 and thereafter,” Climate Action Network stated in its assessment of the final outcome.
That matters in part because, “in order for governments to have confidence in strengthening their climate targets in 2020, they need to see that exceeding their current targets is urgent, achievable, and desirable,” said CAN Executive Director Wael Hmaidan. “And this is where we see the Talanoa Dialogue playing a role. It will allow countries to better understand that businesses, cities, and communities around the world are stepping up ahead of them. They will understand that their national climate plans have been surpassed by the real economy, and it’s time to catch up.”
“We have entered a decisive window to rapidly bend the emissions curve downward to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” added World Resources Institute CEO Andrew Steer. “Encouragingly, the evidence shows that smart climate policies will promote greater resource efficiency, new technology, more investment, and better jobs. Leaders need to learn from this success and step up their climate efforts.”
“The 1.5°C limit which governments agreed on in the Paris agreement is the promise for a world in which people and countries can survive and thrive because major climate change impacts can be avoided,” said Sven Harmeling of CARE International. “The Talanoa Dialogue must guide governments towards stepping up their climate efforts between 2018 and 2020, as time is running out to shift the world to a low-emission pathway” in time to keep that limit within reach.
The conference largely postponed decisions on financing for future climate action, including developed countries’ financial commitments for climate change adaptation in the poorest, most vulnerable parts of the world. One major disappointment, at the first COP ever chaired by a Pacific island nation, was the lack of action on financing for loss and damage, the unforeseeable, uncontrollable impacts of climate change to which no country will be able to adapt. Toward the end of the conference, a group of more than 50 civil society organizations issued a call for a climate damages tax on the fossil industry to pay for the impacts and suffering already caused by climate disasters.
There was also a definite sense that the Bonn meeting dodged a bullet when the official United States delegation showed up ready to work and engage, in spite of Donald Trump’s stated intention to withdraw the country from Paris in 2020.
“From all accounts, they have been playing a constructive role in the room, advancing largely the same positions as before,” said Elliot Diringer of the U.S. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
So on one hand, COP 23 participants spent 12 days talking about what they’ll want to talk about when they meet again next year. On the other, they set an agenda that could trigger the level and pace of action that is needed to avert the worst effects of climate change. In the end, “the conference gets a grade of ‘meets expectations,’” said Andrew Deutz of the U.S. Nature Conservancy. “The negotiators got down to the orderly business of working out the rules to implement, assess, and advance the Paris Agreement,” and “the processes did not get overly distracted by the U.S. government’s announced withdrawal from the accord.”
The conference did reach a breakthrough agreement on a package of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate impacts. It served as a backdrop for Canada and the United Kingdom to unveil a new 20-country, 27-jurisdiction coalition to move the global economy off coal, and for U.S. states, cities, businesses, and civil society to declare their continuing commitment to their country’s Paris targets. And the Under2 Coalition announced it had grown from 15 founding members at the 2015 Paris conference to 205 committed parties from 43 countries, representing 1.3 billion people and nearly 40% of global GDP.
“COP is not a gathering of idealists with their heads in the clouds,” said E3G CEO Nick Mabey. “It is a gathering of practical individuals who are determined to get things done. Countries must now step up and make good on what they promised to do when the Paris agreement was drawn up and get us to annual global temperature increases of well below 2.0°C.”