What happened at COP23? OCS summarises the outcomes of this year’s UN climate conference
Due to finish last Friday, this year’s UN climate conference limped through the night to dawn on Saturday morning. With all of this year’s proceedings closed, OCS reviews what progress was made towards meaningful action on climate change over the past fortnight.
As the Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement, which outline individual countries' climate pledges, will only become active in 2020, the Doha Amendment of the Kyoto Protocol is the mechanism which should determine pre-2020 climate action – in theory. However, with an insufficient number of countries having ratified the Doha Amendment (and the US never having ratified the Kyoto Protocol) it remains inactive. With the pressing need for rapid emission reductions to stay within the temperature limits agreed in the Paris Agreement and finance for developing countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change, a key demand of developing countries at COP23 was to place pre-2020 action on the agenda.
The final decision of the conference appeared to go some way to satisfying this demand, with ‘stocktake’ sessions convened in 2018 and 2019 to evaluate progress made towards emission reductions, particularly in the developed world, and the provision of support for developing countries. At the 15th annual UN climate change conference, in 2009 in Copenhagen, $100 billion per year was promised in climate finance by 2020, predominantly to fund mitigation and adaptation projects in the developing world. With current climate finance pledges falling far short of this target, two assessments of progress towards the $100 billion target will be published in 2018 and 2020. A full report of action on climate change prior to 2020 will be published ahead of next year’s conference (COP24), to be held in Katowice, Poland. Whilst the content of these stocktake sessions are thinly fleshed out in the COP23 decision, they are at least a small step in the right direction to increasing national efforts to tackle climate change in the short term.
Another important question that COP23 sought to answer was how the global stocktake, the process for increasing national policy in line with global ambition, would be designed. A preliminary iteration of this process was set to happen next year at COP24, followed by a stocktake at the annual COP, every five years from 2023. This is the Paris Agreement’s mechanism for enhancing ambition: urgently needed if the world is to limit climate change to 1.5°C. The 2018 stocktake was set to be known as the ‘facilitative dialogue’ – which could hardly have been phrased with any less ambition – and has now been rebranded as the ‘Talanoa dialogue’, a Fijian word emphasising the importance of the process being inclusive, participatory and transparent. This dialogue also advances on Article 14 of the Paris Agreement in accepting inputs from non-party stakeholders, and the provision of an online platform to facilitate this. Key advice will also come from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s upcoming report on global warming of 1.5 degrees, to be published in September 2018.
Three questions that the Talanoa dialogue will seek to answer
1. Where are we?
In Professor Myles Allen’s remarks at a side event at COP23, he emphasised the importance of the answer to this question being given to delegates at each COP. Although knowledge about how far the Earth has warmed and where current policy will get us appears an obvious precondition for effective climate negotiations, the answers to these questions are often unknown to delegates or ambiguously presented. This is counterproductive for achieving the goals of the UNFCCC.
2. Where do we want to go?
3. How do we get there?
Conversations with a number of delegates and observers suggested that it was on increasing transparency in the UNFCCC process that the greatest progress was made during this COP. Yet, despite this progress, the text on transparency remains 46 pages long. In the UNFCCC process in general, the shorter the text, the closer it is to agreement.
Other important progress at COP was made in the Gender Action plan, emphasising the important role of women in climate action and promotes gender equality in the international climate process. Furthermore, the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform will be developed for sharing of best practices on climate mitigation and adaptation and Fiji launched the Ocean Pathway Partnership to further consideration of the role of oceans within the UNFCCC process.
Efforts were also made to soften the impact of US withdrawal of funding of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The UK has pledged to double its funding to the organisation, and the EU, led by France has promised to cover any funding shortfall, announced by President Macron in the opening of the high-level segment.
However, despite these positive steps forward, a key sticking point was finance for the Adaptation Fund, a fund for small-scale adaptation projects, which kept negotiators up through much of Friday night. After extensive haggling, it was agreed that the fund ‘shall’ rather than ‘should’ serve under the Paris Agreement, an increase in the strength of the language and a win for the developing countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and who have the least financial ability to adapt to its impacts.
Further to this, insufficient progress was made on the ‘rulebook’ for processes required to fulfil the terms of the Paris Agreement, and an additional negotiating period is likely to be needed in mid-2018 to finalise this before the deadline of COP24, next December.
‘Loss and damage’ including financial compensation for losses resulting from events attributed to climate change is considered by many developing countries to be essential. The principle of loss and damage is that countries which have contributed most to past greenhouse gas emissions should be liable for financial losses in those countries feeling its impacts the most intensely, but which have very small emissions. However, this process does not have a formal position on the agenda in the preparation of the Paris rulebook. Whilst a separate process called the Warsaw International Mechanism has been agreed to contain discussion on loss and damage, discussion of finance for loss and damage remains an impasse for much of the developed world – as the head of the UK delegation told me in no uncertain terms.
Key sources and further reading:
COP23: Key outcomes agreed at the UN climate talks in Bonn: Jocelyn Timperley, Carbon Brief
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