COP23 – slow move inside and faster move outside negotiations

A comment of Thomas Hirsch, Founding Director of Climate & Development Advice

Bonn in November 2017 ended as another COP without glory: Finally, negotiators got their job done, not more, not less. This is clearly not enough to adequately respond to the Fijian COP Presidency’s call for urgency of action and for keeping the momentum of Paris. What is apparently missing amongst state parties is ambitious leadership, readiness to forcefully putting into action what was in principal decided in Paris – and what is urgently required. Instead of responsible conduct, we have again become witnesses of continuous haggling.

Meanwhile the climate clock is ticking and time to keep global warming well below 2°Celsius, let alone at 1.5°C, is running out fast. Looking back at Bonn would therefore make me sad and angry – if there hadn’t been very encouraging moves outside negotiations: So many sub-national actors including universities, cities, regions, industries, investors, churches and many more announced bold commitments to implement Paris! They, other than state parties, plan to do more and to decarbonize faster! To be able to contextualize this very positive dynamic it is important to understand that these fast movers take their action not only to protect the climate but also for very good economic reasons: According to numerous scientific studies that have been launched during COP23, it is not only technically possible to shift relatively fast towards 100% renewable energies almost everywhere on earth. There is also a strong business case to divest and phase out fossil energies (at least in the electricity sector) and to get invested in renewable energies. To make that happen soon is good for most people, investors, companies and workers. Never before I attended a COP where fossil industries appeared as so outdated!

Yes, we can: “Phase out coal” has become the mainstream narrative and divestment is on the rise. Very unfortunately, my (German) government is still lagging behind instead of joining the new coalition to free the world from coal. The same is unfortunately true for climate negotiations, that are still much more determined by rearguard action than by those standing at the forefront and determining the future. More than ever it therefore appears to me that negotiations between state parties are not at all keeping pace with transformative changes in the real economy: International climate policies are increasingly losing their role as trendsetter in a fast changing world. So, wake-up policymakers and bureaucrats! Get your stuff together and come back better prepared!

Now, momentum was celebrated outside negotiations, i.e. in the so-called Bonn and its neighborhood: The #WeAreStillIn campaign including the “American Pledge Report” of US governors, mayors, economic leaders and many others proofed that the Paris spirit is alive in the US. At the same time, more than 300 cities and regions launched the “Bonn-Fiji-Commitment” at a climate summit of local and regional leaders. Discussions about a “just transition”, involving trade unions, indigenous communities, faith based organizations and other stakeholders have become more concrete. South-South cooperation on renewable energies is gaining momentum. Many scientific studies on renewable energy potentials, providing exciting cost-benefit analysis, are becoming available for regions and sub-regions. The NDC Partnership as a booming coalition of 64 countries and 13 international institutions is showing how enhanced cooperation can support ambitious national climate action. The same is expected to happen with the InsuResilience Global Partnership for Climate and Disaster Risk Finance and Insurance Solutions, that was launched in Bonn. All this gives reason for optimism and good faith.

Inside negotiations, in the so-called Bula zone, the road was bumpier, and the process more cumbersome. Finally, 31 decisions were adopted, 24 under the COP and seven under the CMP, including:

  • A decision for the Talanoa Dialogue, a year-long facilitative dialogue (staring on January 1st and ending at COP24 in December 2018 in Katowice/Poland) to take stoke on climate action (mainly post-2020, but also pre-2020) with a view to assess and to close, as much as possible, the widening emission and climate risk gaps by increasing ambition, in particular of NDCs but also pre-2020 action. The IPCC 1.5°C Special Report will inform the dialogue, and state- and non-state actors can contribute with information, leading to a synthesis report, to be prepared by the UNFCCC secretariat. The political part of the dialogue will take part during COP24, co-shared by the then outgoing Fijian and the incoming Polish COP presidencies. Parties expect from the Talanoa Dialogue greater confidence, courage and enhanced ambition.
  • The work program under the Paris Agreement, which should deliver a rule book or implementation guidelines for the Paris Agreement by COP24, led to draft texts in the end of COP23, that reflect uneven progress, comparing the outcome achieved on the various articles of the Paris Agreement. In view of the large amount of remaining work and the slow progress made so far, the COP recognized that an additional negotiation session may be needed between the forty-eight sessions of the subsidiary bodies (April/May 2018, Bonn) and COP24 (December 2018, Katowice).
  • A number of developing countries made a strong call to also take stoke of pre-2020 implementation and ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance, finally resulting in a set of COP decisions, which should spur enhanced action and transparency. Enhanced pre-2020 action is clearly needed to close the widening emission gap, and to maintain a chance to achieve the Paris Agreement’s long-term objectives and temperature goals. The sharpened focus on pre-2020 action, in particular of industrialized countries, shall at the same time not distract attention from the important post-2020 facilitative Talanoa Dialogue and the much-needed NDC review and ratchet-up in all countries, to become Paris-compatible.
  • With a view on the new financial architecture under the Paris Agreement, the overdue decision was finally taken that the Adaptation Fund (still legally anchored in the Kyoto Protocol) “shall” serve the Pairs Agreement in future. This important decision could have been taken in a much smoother way: The length of the debate, provoked by some industrialized countries, was a waste of time and led to mistrust.
  • Loss and Damage associated with climate change was expected by many to again become an important issue at a COP hosted for the first time by a small island developing state, and in a year of unprecedented hurricanes with massive destruction. However, the climate summit’s respective results are falling short of expectations: The “Suva expert dialogue” on loss and damage, to take place in May 2018 as a one-off exchange of experts does not fulfil the expectation of G77 and China to either permanently anchor the loss and damage topic on the agenda of the inter-sessions, or to establish an annual forum on loss and damage. Even more meagre ended the important discussion on financing related to loss and damage: While bold action outside negotiations is taken, as for instance with regard to risk finance and risk insurance, negotiators from industrialized countries even rejected the formation of an expert group working on finance under the Warsaw International Mechanism. It is striking, and a finally pitiful outcome, that the Warsaw International Mechanism implements its work-plan without having even an expert group on finance in the context of loss and damage. This shows a clear strategy of some parties to keep the WIM small, by denying adequate modalities of work.
  • More positive outcomes could be achieved with regard to improved multi-stakeholder participation, another priority of the Fijian COP presidency, and an important enabler for a just and ambitious implementation of climate action: A Gender Action Plan was adopted and a Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform.
Apart from these deliverables, the Fijian COP presidency will use the time until the next COP to create a lasting legacy of the first “Pacific COP” ever. A successful Talanoa Dialogue – leading to enhanced action and ambition – and a robust Rule Book – providing trust in the Paris Agreement by ensuring transparency of action, a sound science-base, and compliance – are the single most important deliverables to look at. Both are key for next year’s climate negotiation agenda. The devil will be in the technical details and parties as well as other stakeholders need to come well prepared and highly committed. If not, an insufficient outcome is likely, leaving too many loopholes in the Paris Agreement, that will then be used by free-riders and spoilers.

What could NGOs and faith-based organizations do to contribute to enhanced climate action, more ambitious climate policies, and a just transition towards a resilient and decarbonized world? I recommend to shift the focus to the national level, and to again map the national landscape for climate action and transformation. Building on the results of this stakeholder mapping and a screening of the policy agendas for 2018, I propose to develop a strategic and result-oriented plan of action, and to identify up to three big points that can be achieved in the short term, plus two medium or longer-term points to be made. Measurable targets, as for instance with regard to the national share of renewables or phasing out coal, or improving resilience, should be part of the package, as well as a strong element of self-commitment (i.e. the pledge of my own organization to achieve Paris), and finally a target in terms of further shifting the mainstream opinion on climate and energy policies, to make change faster and deeper. The expected IPCC 1.5°C report, as well as exciting success stories being published nearly every week, will provide possible elements in this regard.

What’s up next? The Climate Finance Day 2017, taking place back to back with President Macron’s One Planet Summit in Paris on December 11th – 12th both provide opportunities to build trust and to show leadership. Thes are followed by the World Future Energy Summit 2018 in Abu Dhabi, January 15th – 18th and the 47th session of the IPCC in Paris, January 30th – February 3rd (tbc). The next NAP Expo will be hold at the UNFCC secretariat in Bonn, on April 10th. The Bonn inter-sessional will take place from April 30th – May 10th, probably followed by another session of the Subsidiary Bodies later in the year (tbc). The 1.5°C Special IPCC Report will be launched end of September (tbc). COP24 will take place from 3rd – 14th December in Katowice, Poland.