The United States’ intended withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is the ghost at the feast at COP23, with its formal notice of withdrawal submitted to the UN in August 2017 and resulting fears that this heralds the abdication of American leadership on global climate change efforts. For more on the Paris Agreement, see our previous post: “Between zero and sum” — The Paris Agreement opens for signature.
However, the sense of political urgency ignited during the Paris Agreement talks has not diminished.
COP23 launches amidst a raft of sobering climate change headlines. On the same day as the talks begin, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) announced that 2017 is ‘very likely’ to be one of the three hottest years on record, with many of the high-impact extreme weather events over recent months ‘bear[ing] the tell-tale sign of climate change caused by increased greenhouse gas concentrations from human activities.’ Another WMO report detailing a ‘record-breaking’ surge in atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions was published at the end of last month, the day before the UN stated in its annual Emissions Gap report for 2017 that that the gap between the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and the reductions needed to meet the Paris Agreement pledges were ‘alarmingly high’.
It is clear that COP23 will have to ensure that gap is closed as much as possible.
The role of small island states
The Fijian Prime Minister stated in his opening remarks to COP23 that he brings a ‘collective plea for the world to maintain the course we set in Paris’.
Although being held in Bonn, COP23 is being chaired by Fiji, on behalf of small island states. It is also the first time that a small island state has held this post. Bearing in mind that it was the leaders of small island states during the COP 21 negotiations who urged strongly for a 1.5°C limit to world temperature increases to give their vulnerable lands a chance of survival from warming oceans and rising sea levels, this leadership role is particularly significant.
An agenda of ambition and inclusivity
In his opening remarks, the Fijian Prime Minister was direct about his hopes for COP23:
“We must not fail our people. That means using the next two weeks and the year ahead to do everything we can to make the Paris Agreement work and to advance ambition and support for climate action before 2020.
To meet our commitments in full, not back away from them. And to commit ourselves to the most ambitious target of the Paris Agreement. To cap the global average temperature at 1.5 degrees Celsius over that of the pre-industrial age.”
In order to do so, the agenda for COP 23 is wide-ranging. Time is dedicated for discussion of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts, climate-finance, and capacity building. Mitigation and adaptation remain, again, pressing topics for dialogue and co-operation.
However, money and technology are not the only matters on the table. Gender and climate change is also an official issue for conversation, highlighting the societal impacts of climate change as well as the physical effects.
There will also be a progress check on the Climate Finance Roadmap agreed under the Paris Agreement (the delivery of $100 billion of support by developed countries for developing countries by 2020), and the bringing into force of the Doha Amendment (which establishes the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol).
Uniting for the climate
The mood and focus at COP23 is one of getting heads down and getting the job done. The EU has stated that it expects COP23 to demonstrate ‘clear progress on the development of the technical rules and guidelines for implementing the provisions of the Paris Agreement’, echoing the sentiments of the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA). Additionally, the conference itself is leading by example such as taking steps, including by offsetting carbon emissions, to make the conference fully climate neutral.
The potential loss of the United States has spurred Nicaragua, who had previously criticised the Paris Agreement for not going far enough, to formally accede. Although President’s Trump decision was disappointing, it has clearly not fractured the multilateral resolve and momentum that emerged from COP21 to take decisive action against the fundamental causes of climate change, in tandem with respecting climate science. It demonstrates the recognition of the wider international community that climate change is a universal threat, and the importance of putting differences aside in order to uphold and advance the Paris Agreement’s goals.
It also demonstrates one of the key values of COP23: unity for the climate. There needs to be a unity of actors from cities, regions, businesses, investors, the scientific community, and governments. Uniting these groups is necessary to work faster, more closely and more ambitiously to tackle the ever increasing impacts of climate change upon our lands, oceans, ecosystems, planet, and people.