Negotiations at the 23rd World Climate Conference over the past two weeks were nothing if not intense. Researchers from the Wuppertal Institute who attended the conference have summarised the key outcomes of the negotiations and will publish an in-depth analysis report in December. Their initial at-a-glance findings show that although COP23 in Bonn fulfilled its diplomatic obligations, it lacked the political leadership that was needed. This puts additional pressure on the agenda for the next, highly important climate change conference in Poland at the end of 2018 – a situation that could make much-needed agreements difficult to reach.
From 6 to 17 November, the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23) was held in Bonn under the presidency of Fiji. Among the key issues addressed at the conference were defining implementation rules for the Paris Agreement, support for countries in the Global South in dealing with the effects of climate change and preparation of the first global review of climate action in time for COP24 in Katowice, Poland, at the end of next year.
COP23 was naturally overshadowed by the announcement that the US intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The Wuppertal Institute research team closely observed the climate change negotiations during the two-week conference and can now present their initial analysis of the conference outcomes.
Key outcomes of COP23
Although some progress was achieved regarding the rulebook for implementation of the Paris Agreement, no real breakthrough was made. Concrete rules are of key importance when it comes to measuring and reporting countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – and thus in raising future ambition. With a reference to the upcoming process, the existing text – a long list of uncoordinated items – was simply added as an attachment. "Bonn failed to set the scene for Katowice. A lot of work will need to be done next year to get the text on the implementation rules to the point where it is ready for adoption," explained Professor Manfred Fischedick, Vice-President of the Wuppertal Institute, adding that although the focus is on adopting the rulebook, implementation should not be neglected. The rulebook is thus only a precursor for the actual work that needs to be done. If the temperature limits contained in the Paris Agreement are to be maintained, the vast majority of countries must first significantly increase their contributions quickly and then implement the activities involved.
A key driver of raised ambition comes in the form of the first global review of mitigation efforts to be conducted next year. Bonn produced a welcome consensus on the review’s design: not only countries, but also sub-national and non-state stakeholders are to be involved in the facilitative dialogue. "Far more ambitious targets are already being pursued and greater investments are being made in implementation activities at many levels compared to those at the respective national levels," says Fischedick. "Making these transparent has a great knock-on effect."
With Fiji as this year’s COP President, expectations with regard to progress in dealing with loss and damage caused by the effects of climate change that can not be adapted to were especially high. "In Bonn, an ongoing five-year working plan was agreed with the aim of intensifying knowledge transfer," explains Hanna Wang-Helmreich, a research fellow in the Wuppertal Institute’s Energy, Transport and Climate Policy Research Group. "However, the question of financing possible insurance cover against climate change-related loss and damage went unanswered." While the conference highlighted the importance of loss and damage, the hoped-for specifics were not forthcoming. It thus remains at the discretion of each and every country to decide the extent of its efforts to prevent and deal with loss and damage caused by the effects of climate change.
US change of administration leaves leadership vacuum
"Overall, there was no sense of urgency regarding during the negotiations. No-one stepped up to fill the void left by the US after its change of administration," says Wolfgang Obergassel, Project Co-ordinator in the Wuppertal Institute’s Energy, Transport and Climate Policy Research Group, in his critique. Although fears were not confirmed that the US could adopt the role of saboteur under the new administration, the US delegation was extremely small and kept low profile, Obergassel believes that "the change of administration in the US has left a leadership vacuum that was not filled by China or the EU."
"What is probably the most important and at least the most visible outcome of the negotiations occurred outside the formal diplomatic talks," says Professor Hermann E. Ott, Senior Advisor at the Wuppertal Institute. Led by the UK and Canada, some 20 countries and a group of states in Canada and the US formed the Powering Past Coal Alliance. The members of the Alliance declared their intention to phase out their use of coal. "The formation of new smaller pioneer alliances is a key instrument in driving the international negotiations, because the global efforts are built on the consensus principle," says Ott. While the Powering Past Coal Alliance is a loose alliance with no legal basis in international law, it is thinkable that other ‘clubs‘ could be formed around the notion of a decarbonisation alliance for which options of firmer legal foundations could be found.
In-depth analysis report to be published in December
The Wuppertal Institute will publish its in-depth analysis of COP23 in December. The report will take a close look at the various issues addressed at the conference and at other related topics.
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Impressions of the COP23 – Experts of the Wuppertal Institute followed the negotiations during the 23rd UN Climate Change Conference and organised the "NRW Climate Lounge" as well as the conference "Deep Decarbonisation of Materials Processing Industries" together with the State of North Rhine-Westphalia and the EnergyAgency.NRW: