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Climate Change Conference

The COP23 has ended. From promises it was time to move to action, for now we’re stuck at “dialogue”

Everything you need to know about the outcome of the COP23 summit in Bonn. The plenary ended in the early hours of Saturday 18 November after a long night of negotiations. Now we’ve moved onto “dialogue”.

by Andrea Barolini and Tommaso Perrone

The objective was to simply move from words to action. Non-governmental organisations from around the world, developing countries’ governments and international organisations arrived in Germany with this request. The expectation was that the COP23 in Bonn would simply lead to the approval of the decrees needed to implement the Paris Agreement. However, on the morning of Saturday the 18th of November, after two weeks and a night-full of negotiations, it emerges that only small steps were taken.

What was achieved and what is missing from the COP23

Some (timid) ones were made: on the actions to take from now until 2020 (without waiting for the Paris Agreement to become operational), on reforming the agricultural system and on a renewed commitment towards CO2 emissions reduction. However, on other key points in the fight against climate change the progress made was little and the postponements many.

Next year the promises made in 2015 by governments the world over for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (Nationally Determined Contributions, NDCs) should be reviewed. At the COP23 it was recognised that these commitments aren’t sufficient to meet the principle objective set in Paris, that is to limit the rise in global average temperatures to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. The Talanoa Dialogue was launched with the aim of “straightening” this trajectory (which today is set to be in the region of 3 degrees) – even though over the course of the closing negotiations that took place between Friday and Saturday night a number of interruptions and closed-door meetings prolonged the reaching of an agreement on the Talanoa Dialogue.

The condition being that there is the political will to do so, of course. “Over the course of 2017 we’ve witnessed hurricanes that have devastated the Caribbean, storms and flooding that have destroyed thousands of homes and schools in southern Asia, extraordinary waves of drought in eastern Africa. These catastrophes are already a daily reality for many communities. Therefore, the COP23 should have made tangible steps forward to help these populations. Instead, except for rare exceptions, rich countries came to Bonn empty-handed,” Armelle Le Comte, Advocacy Manager at Oxfam France, observed.

coal protest germany cop23
A German NGO holds a protest in a coal mine in the Rhineland before the start of the COP23 in Bonn © Sean Gallup/Getty Images

What we’ll remember this COP for

Climate conferences, however, aren’t just made of statements, numbers and promises. For example, we’ll remember the COP23 for the time spent at security checks and the kilometres covered – on foot, cycling and in electric vehicles – to move from one zone to the other. On one side there was the Bula Zone dedicated to the official negotiations and teams of delegates in suits. One of the strongest feelings was that most of the delegates were from the African continent. Exemplifying the fact that every conference is crucial for those who experience the effects of global warming firsthand. Only those who don’t suffer the effects directly can afford to buy time, at least temporarily.

Read more: Greenpeace’s Jennifer Morgan. We need to hold politicians who put fossil fuels before people accountable

Bonn VS Bula 1-0

On the other side there was the Bonn Zone dedicated to civil society, non-governmental organisations and start-ups that captured the attention of the few journalists presents thanks to a good dose of enthusiasm. Not to forget the national pavilions of states that have understood that to become “climate leaders” they must be present among people and know how to communicate with them. Even when they don’t have that much to say. For these reasons, together with a substantial lack of interest due to the scarcity of leaks to uncover and rumours to tweet, the Bula Zone was virtually ignored in favour of the vibrancy of the events and initiatives that made civil society seems light years ahead of politicians.

Jerry Brown, leader of We are still in “acted” as President of the United States

The very politicians that were absent. “The impression is that some governments interpreted the Paris Agreement as the finishing line, instead of as the starting point,” international broadcast correspondents reported from Bonn.

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Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel at the COP23 in Bonn, on the 15th of November © Philipp Guelland – Pool/Getty Images

No one would really be able to say which heads of states or governments punched into the COP23 other than the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, obliged to play the host, and French President Emmanuel Macron, who wanted to keep high the reputation of Paris, the city the Agreement is named after. So much so that he has called for a new climate summit (One Planet), which will be held in the French capital on the 12th of December and will be principally dedicated to the topic of financing. “The Paris conference,” Le Comte underlined, represents “a reparatory exam for rich countries, in the hope that they decide to open their wallets”.

The former and current governors of California, respectively Arnold Schwarznegger and Jerry Brown were there to represent the United States, or at least its people. They animated the igloo-shaped pavilion, the Climate Action Center, of the We are still in coalition of states, cities, businesses and US organisations that have decided to continue to work towards achieving the Paris Agreement’s targets, notwithstanding President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from it. The climate conference will also be remembered for this: for civil society’s ability to take back its role. Even physically, considering the vitality of the Bonn Zone. The role of who has the weapon of reason on their side.  

Coal

For good and for evil. Coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel in the world, dominated the scene. There are those who launched an alliance of around twenty governments to say goodbye to coal by 2030 and those who had the “courage” to hold a conference on “clean” coal – made in USA. The official US delegation followed the instructions of the White House that has repeatedly made clear that it wants to invest in coal to guarantee its population’s energy needs. What this means is that the stocking of CO2 emissions from coal plants’ chimneys can become a solution to combatting climate change, in Trump’s view.

coal protest germany cop23
A German NGO holds a protest in a coal mine in the Rhineland before the start of the COP23 in Bonn © Sean Gallup/Getty Images

There are no more technical COPs, only proactive ones

After an initial impasse between industrialised and developing nations, the latter managed to obtain the provision that all governments must immediately indicate what they’re doing and what they intend to do to contrast climate change.

What needs to happen before 2020

The countries of the Global South underlined the necessity to respect the objectives set by the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol – which celebrated its 20th year – which should have covered the period between 2013 and 2020, but which hasn’t entered into force because it hasn’t yet been ratified by enough countries. This seeks to “cover” the remaining years before the Paris Agreement becomes operational.

On agriculture

Another important step forward was that related to agriculture. In the works for six years, the working programme on food security and the entire agricultural sector has finally fully entered the negotiation process. NGOs and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) have strongly lobbied for it, pointing out that climate change now represents one of the principal causes of malnutrition in the world and agricultural production is one of the principle causes of global warming.

The Gender Action Plan

The Gender Action Plan was also adopted with objective of integrating the issue of gender in environmental and climate action programmes.

One planet in Paris. The most committed meet in December

The challenges met in Bonn are well captured by the issues on which no agreement was found, if not only partially. First among these, the issue of financing, at the heart of all others: without adequate funds it is impossible to undertake mitigation, transition and adaptation programmes.

Though on the one hand it was agreed upon that the funds to repair the damages that the most vulnerable countries suffer won’t be part of the famous 100 billion dollars promised (and never entirely put up) in 2011 for the Green Climate Fund. On the other, however, the fundamental question of reporting – that is transparency over how the money is used – has been postponed to 2018.

Therefore, Macron has decided to bring together around a hundred countries in Paris in December. Not all of them: only those who are serious about fighting climate change – hence, Donald Trump hasn’t been invited. The objective, as underlined by the Climate Action Network that brings together NGOs worldwide is to arrive at COP24 next year in Katowice, Poland, ready “to prepare to step up ambition by 2020 in order to transition to a renewable energy future”.

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