COP23-Critical analysis

 12/6/2017  357

Climate change is an issue determining our destiny as mankind. As the world increasingly looks to be on track for a catastrophic 3°C of global warming, world leaders and diplomats gathered in Bonn, Germany to turn the Paris agreement into a set of rules. In that sense the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23), accomplished its goal of keeping the process alive by setting up the rules that will be finalized next year in Poland. But the conference also kicked a number of issues down the road. The round of climate talks heard repeated calls for a more ambitious approach to slashing carbon emissions but did not initiate any conclusive solutions, though it should be noted that no major decisions were expected.

Under the Paris agreement, nearly 200 nations submitted pledges to slow their greenhouse-gas emissions to keep the planet well below 2°C. Greenhouse gases are likely going to rise again, in part due to the rebound of coal in China. But coal's persistence also took a hit—more than 20 countries led by the UK and Canada launched the Powering Past Coal Alliance. Each country involved pledged to end its use of coal by 2030, while the UK pledged to cease burning coal by 2025. It should be noted that coal use has been declining in all of these countries. The U.S., for its part, promoted "clean coal" at the only side event it hosted at the summit.

Despite playing the role of obstructionist in the coal arena, observers noted that overall, the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement had little effect on the proceeding of negotiations. The U.S. didn't block anything, insiders stated, and remained neutral, while China and India didn't use the vacuum left by the U.S. to gain advantage. By the conclusion of COP23, very few countries announced any new initiatives to cut emissions. A hoped-for announcement from China on a cap-and-trade program was delayed and Germany announced that it would hold "tough discussions" on coal in the future.

The Summit failed to deliver a major breakthrough, but instead made solid progress towards delivering a new rulebook for the Paris Agreement and introduced a new process, known asthe Talanoa Dialogue, for reviewing and strengthening pre-2020 climate action. Though many environmentalists said Bonn was a step in the right direction, major issues remain to be solved. Current pledges keep the world on track for 3°C of warming, if not more. And the road to making the necessary changes to stay below 2°C seems increasingly difficult to reach. To remain below the Paris agreement's 2°C, nearly all coal plants will need to be taken out of commission or fitted with carbon technology. The transportation sector would need to transition to largely electric-powered vehicles. World carbon emissions would likely have to peak in the next few years and then fall by half every decade all the way down to zero by midcentury. It remains to be seen whether enough political will can be drummed up for such a transition.

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Harmanjot Singh COP23, the second “conference of the parties” since the Paris Agreement was struck in 2015, promised to be a somewhat technical affair as countries continued to negotiate the finer details of how the agreement will work from 2020 onwards. However, it was also the first set of negotiations since the US, under the presidency of Donald Trump, announced its intention earlier this year to withdraw from the Paris deal. And it was the first COP to be hosted by a small-island developing state with Fiji taking up the presidency, even though it was being held in Bonn. Carbon Brief covers all the summit’s key outcomes and talking points. Two US delegations Stronger China? Coal phase-out Pre-2020 action Fiji’s COP Talanoa dialogue Paris ‘rulebook’ Fights over finance Loss and damage Agriculture The ‘gateway’ Road ahead in 2018 Two US delegations After Trump’s decision in June that he wanted to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement, all eyes were on the US official delegation to see how they would navigate the negotiations. During the first week of the talks, a civil society group known as the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance called for the US delegation to be barred from attending the negotiations, due to its decision to leave the Paris deal. Meanwhile, a seemingly pointed message was sent on day two of the COP, when Syria announced it would sign the Paris Agreement. This now leaves the US as the only country in the world stating it doesn’t intend to honour the landmark deal. However, the delegation itself kept a relatively low profile – bar a now infamous “cleaner fossil fuels” side event which anti-Trump protesters disrupted for seven minutes, singing: “We proudly stand up until you keep it in the ground…”). The US delegation co-chaired a working group with China on Nationally Determined Contributions (country pledges, often known by the acronym NDCs) with reportedly high success. It’s worth noting, though, that many of the US negotiators are the same officials who have been representing the US at COPs for years. They seemingly continued their negotiations with little change in attitude, albeit possibly taking harder stances on issues such as “loss and damage” and finance. There was a further chaotic appearance in the media centre by Trump adviser George David Banks, who vowed that his priority at COP23 was to fight “differentiation” (sometimes called “bifurcation”), namely, the division of countries into industrialised “annex one” countries and the rest in the UN climate arena. However, beyond this, the behaviour of the US delegation did not differ significantly from previous years. Importantly, though, the official US delegation were not the only group from the US drawing attention at the COP. An alternative “We Are Still In” delegation set up a large pavilion at their US Climate Action Centre just outside the main venue for the talks. This group included major sub-national actors, such as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and California governor Jerry Brown, keen to prove there are many US voices against Trump’s anti-climate policies. Their “America’s Pledge” report outlined how their coalition of cities, states and businesses represented over half the US economy. At the report’s packed launch event, Bloomberg even argued the group should should be given a seat at the climate negotiating table.

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