As delegates from around the world gathered in Bangkok this week for a second round of “intersessional” negotiations, aimed at making real progress on Paris Agreement implementation ahead of this year’s UN climate conference, they faced three severe warnings: That their countries are not on track to meet the carbon reduction targets in the Paris deal, aren’t ready to complete the Paris implementation rules three months from now in Katowice, Poland, and are far short of raising the US$100 billion the world’s richest countries promised to help developing nations tackle the climate crisis.
The annual UN climate conference is scheduled over 12 days each year in November or December, and COP 24 in Katowice is intended as a COP “moment”: three years after the Paris conference, this is the year when countries are supposed to finalize the all-important “rulebook” that will guide Paris implementation.
The negotiations are a massive, politically fraught task, and no one expects negotiators to get the job done with just one marathon meeting per year. So a smaller group of delegates usually gathers in Bonn, Germany in May for a mid-year intersessional meeting, to hash out issues and prepare agenda items for the main event. This week’s session in Bangkok was scheduled earlier this year, after the May meeting fell far short of completing a draft negotiating text for delegates to finalize at COP 24.
The first edition of Climate Action Network-International’s daily COP newsletter, ECO, captured the frustrations of the last set of meetings in Bonn and set the expectation for Bangkok as sessions got under way. Since May, “we have not stopped asking ourselves how to go through all the confusion of co-facilitator notes, intertwined and interlinked between politics and technicalities. Admittedly, to escape negotiation purgatory as soon as possible, we were hoping to see a clean text with clear options,” ECO told delegates. “This hope was not fulfilled by the Co-Chairs, and a lot of the heavy lifting still lies ahead of you.”
ECO urged negotiators to look beyond the technicalities of their work, noting that the implementation plan they develop will have “direct implications for future heat waves, droughts, storms, losses of lives and livelihoods, and the destabilization of societies.” While the written rules “will be an important cornerstone of the COP24 outcome, to ensure real success, a collective ambition is crucial,” ECO stressed. “Bangkok is not that far from Katowice, and we all know that failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
The same sense of urgency came through in the news coverage leading up to the conference launch, with UN Climate Secretary Patricia Espinosa pointing to the shortfall in countries’ greenhouse gas reduction targets, COP 23 President and Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama warning about the slow progress on Paris implementation, and former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon and key climate campaigners shining a light on the climate finance gap.
Against the backdrop of the summer’s heat waves and extreme weather, Espinosa said governments’ climate targets aren’t sufficient to hit the Paris goal of limiting average global warming to 2.0° above pre-industrial levels, much less the stretch goal of 1.5°C that has since emerged as the only realistic threshold to avert the worst effects of climate change.
“1.5°C is the goal that is needed for many islands and many countries that are particularly vulnerable to avoid catastrophic effects. In many cases, it means the survival of those countries,” Espinosa told Reuters. “With the pledges we have on the table now, we are not on track to achieve those goals.”
Bainimarama pointed to the failure of the Bonn meeting last May to make sufficient progress and stressed the high stakes attached to the Bangkok talks. “This is not just an additional session. It is an urgent session,” he said. “Would any of us like to return to our people and tell them that we had the chance to do something truly great and truly necessary for the world we will pass to our children, but that we lacked the will to get it done?”
Ban said the Green Climate Fund, established in 2009 with the goal of mobilizing $100 billion for international climate finance by 2020, had been placed in severe jeopardy by Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw his country from the Paris Agreement. “I am deeply concerned that the GCF—while it has been really trying to work—has not been fully funded,” he said. Beyond that, “it should be more effective; it should be more agile,” he added. “If you have to wait many months or years to get the funding, by that time we will miss the opportunity to mitigate and adapt” to climate change.
Last October, Ian Callaghan of NDCi concluded that the GCF was operating like a car without a dashboard. Following the fund’s last meeting in July, Executive Director Howard Bamsey quit after what he described as a “very difficult and disappointing” session.
Coming into Bangkok, campaigners are focusing on the billions in GCF contributions promised by industrialized countries that have yet to materialize.
“Rich nations are attempting to escape full accountability for their role in causing and exacerbating climate change, and their obligation to deliver climate finance,” Lidy Nacpil of the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development told Thomson Reuters. “Every year, the impacts of climate change are getting worse. This means that the poorest and most vulnerable, who have contributed almost nothing to the problem, suffer more.”
“The big fight is that while developed nations are focused on mitigation, developing countries need help with adaptation and loss and damage from floods, storms, and drought,” said Harjeet Singh of ActionAid. “People are losing lives. We should not be focusing on trade agreements for solar panels and wind farms.”