An assessment of the Fiji Climate Change Conference COP23 in Bonn

The 23rd meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 23) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held from 6 to 17 November in Bonn, Germany, under the presidency of the government of Fiji, the first time that a small island nation has served in this role. This is the second COP since the adoption of the Paris Agreement at COP 21 in 2015 and since the Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016, just three days before the start of COP 22 in Marrakech, Morocco.

As of 22 November, 170 Parties have ratified the Agreement.  Of the 197 Parties to the Convention, 195 originally signed it.  Nicaragua initially argued it was not strong enough but has acknowledged that there is no alternative to the Agreement and ratified it just prior to the start of the COP.  Syria, embroiled in a civil war since 2011, signed up on 7 November, leaving the United States as the only country which has rejected it, although it can’t officially withdraw until 4 November 2020, one day after the next U.S. presidential election.

It was expected to be a transitional and technical COP – and it was — with delegates charged with the complex task of writing the so-called “Paris Rulebook” for all of the elements mandated in the Paris Agreement and Decision text which is scheduled to be adopted next year at COP 24.  They also had to complete the design of the 2018 “Facilitative Dialogue,” a test run for the “Global Stocktake” which all countries will conduct every five years starting in 2023 to assess and strengthen their “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) and global progress toward reaching the goal of the Paris Agreement: to hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Fiji brought vision to this technical COP through the Pacific tradition of “talanoa,” derived from “tala” meaning “talking or telling stories,” and “noa” meaning “zero or without concealment.”  In the Fijian context, frank expression without concealment, in face-to-face dialogue, can lead to all participants understanding each other’s feelings and experiences.

The main COP decision – to be known as the Fiji Momentum for Implementation – contains three elements:  a call for enhanced Pre-2020 Implementation and Ambition, a reiteration of the Paris Agreement Work Programme, and the design of the Facilitative Dialogue, rebranded by Fiji as the Talanoa Dialogue.

Here’s a shortlist of issues where progress (or no progress) was made in Bonn:

  • The design of the 2018 Talanoa Dialogue was jointly prepared by the COP 22 presidency of Morocco and the COP 23 Fijian presidency and will be launched in January 2018 under the leadership of Fiji and the COP 24 presidency, Poland. It aims to take stock of the collective efforts of Parties in relation to progress towards the implementation of the Paris Agreement, namely, the long-term goal of holding the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Many Parties, especially developing countries, worked hard to ensure that the Fiji Presidency will continue to guide the Talanoa Dialogue throughout the year.
  • The Fiji Momentum for Ambition decides that the outcome of the 2018 Talanoa Dialogue will feed into the COP stocktake on pre-2020 ambition in 2019. The pre-2020 decision and the Talanoa Dialogue together create an ongoing series of dialogues and reviews to enhance pre-2020 action, which will hopefully build enhanced trust to increase ambition for both mitigation and support in the post-2020 period.
  • The final decision on Loss and Damage is hopelessly weak. It includes no permanent agenda item for implementing “action and support,” only “encourages” parties to make available sufficient resources for the operation of the executive committee, and merely “encourages” the executive committee to mobilize and secure finance.  The sole tangible action is an “expert dialogue” in 2018 to explore how finance might be secured. The bottom line is this: there is no guarantee of financial support for those affected by catastrophic disasters or even for the body tasked to find that finance.
  • The outcome of the climate finance negotiations on long-term finance (LTF) – continued efforts by developed countries to jointly mobilize USD 100 billion annually by 2020 – were predictably unremarkable, reinforcing largely agreed conclusions of earlier years, and made no substantial progress to show increased ambition pre-2020 to move faster or even go beyond this finance goal. No significant announcements of additional climate finance contributions were made at the High Level segment of the climate talks beyond some support for the Adaptation Fund (AF) and the Least Developed Countries Fund(LDCF).  An opportunity to build more trust in the pre-2020 and Paris implementation processes was missed.
  • The COP serving as the CMP made further progress regarding the future of the Adaptation Fund, currently providing funding under the Kyoto Protocol, by deciding that it shall serve the Paris Agreement, with further decisions to be taken by the CMA in 2018 on whether it should do exclusively and under the guidance of and accountable to the CMA and what governance and operational revisions, including of its financing structure, are necessary to get the Adaptation Fund ready to do so..
  • While COP23 saw many attempts to promote quick technofixes for the climate crisis (ranging from nuclear energy to CCS, Bioenergy with CCS / BECCS to solar geoengineering) at side events and “climate action” spaces, there were also, encouragingly, increased debates between academics and civil society on transformational approaches and pathways for 1.5°C – targeting the fossil fuel and energy sector, transport, agriculture, lifestyles, financial institutions, GDP growth, and many other out of the (climate) box ideas. Members of the CBD Alliance expressed their alarm over increased talks of geoengineering in the UNFCCC in an Open letter to the UNFCCC: “Geoengineering is a distraction from the real priorities – emission reductions“.
  • The agenda of the APA – the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement – includes negotiations on features, information and accounting guidance of countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs), adaptation communications, transparency, the five-year “ratchet and review” mechanism of the Paris Agreement (the Global Stocktake), implementation and compliance, the Adaptation Fund, and other matters. Over the first seven days, countries proposed all of the elements they want included in the principles, rules, modalities, and procedures for each of those sections, which were captured in several “Informal notes” throughout the process. By the end of the session, the compilation of those notes totaled 266 pages and are annexed to a COP decision.
  • Another part of the “Paris Rulebook” creation is tasked to the SBSTA – the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice. These deliberations are crucial because they focus on international cooperation to enhance ambition as defined in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.  One provision (Article 6.2) establishes “internationally transferred mitigation outcomes” (ITMOs) for countries to meet their NDCs. With regards to land use in the Rulebook, observers are detecting a link between the CORSIA, the carbon offsetting scheme which was established last year by ICAO — the International Civil Aviation Organization, a specialized UN agency – and the numerous references in the SBSTA text to cooperative approaches “outside the NDC.”  This refers to mitigation outcomes, including possibly from REDD+, the UN framework to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, being transferred to non-state actors such as CORSIA, which will likely require billions of dollars to offset growth in aviation emissions.
  • A breakthrough early in the second week after five years of what could only be called bad faith negotiations on agriculture came as a genuine surprise to many observers. Developed countries stepped back from their opposition to long-standing proposals from developing countries and agreed for the subsidiary bodies to “jointly address issues related to agriculture, including through workshops and expert meetings,” and to take “into consideration the vulnerabilities of agriculture to climate change and approaches to addressing food security.”  The decision on agriculture mandates a submissions process – which includes observers — to provide information on a number of topics so that scientific talks can now progress into action and the UN system can provide more strategic support to countries that need it.
  • Civil society observers and activists with a handful of allies in governments continue to push for inclusion of the Human Rightslanguage from the preamble of the Paris Agreement into the Rulebook. Meanwhile, civil society, human rights defenders, and representatives of national and international human rights institutions held several meetings on the sidelines of COP 23 to establish a narrative that frames climate change as a human rights issue and to discuss legal avenues for holding big polluters accountable for human rights abuses resulting from climate change. Meanwhile, it was encouraging to see real progress achieved during the duration of COP 23 in a handful of investigations and court cases of strategic climate litigation around the world.
  • After several negotiating sessions over the first eight days of the COP, and with the specter of failure hanging over the negotiations, a final push propelled negotiators to agree on a Gender Action Plan (GAP). Building on the language of the Paris Agreement, the Gender Action Plan reminds Parties that gender-responsive climate policy continues to require further strengthening in all activities concerning adaptation, mitigation, and related means of implementation (finance, technology development and transfer, and capacity-building) as well as decision-making on the implementation of climate policies. Above all, it requires women to be represented in all aspects of the Convention process and gender mainstreaming through all relevant targets and goals in activities under the Convention as an important contribution to increasing their effectiveness.
  • The need to strengthen the efforts of local communities and indigenous peoples in responding to climate change was recognized in the Paris Decision text which established a platform for the exchange of experiences and sharing of best practices. A highly successful “open dialogue” on advancing the platform took place at the UNFCCC inter-sessionals this past May, and an agenda item on creating the platform was included in the official negotiations for the first time at this COP. So it was a big advance when final text appeared and was adopted.  The Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform is a small step towards recognizing and respecting the perspectives and knowledge of indigenous peoples in this process that can now be built on.

COP 23 was actually one COP in two zones – Bula and Bonn, two kilometers apart.  The Bula zone was the site of the official negotiations, while the Bonn zone hosted dozens of civil society kiosks and hundreds of events.  According to the UNFCCC list of participants, 16,028 people were registered – 9,202 delegates, 5,543 from observer organizations, and 1,283 media.  An additional 5,940 people were accredited for the Bonn zone only.  Thousands more participated in off-site events, marches, and demonstrations throughout the two weeks in Bonn and its surroundings.  Several high-level announcements were made on the COP sidelines by coalitions of governments, corporations, and civil society.

The call for an end of the fossil fuel era throughout numerous events in the Bonn Zone echoed the messages of the People’s Climate Summitfrom 3-7 November, the Climate March that saw 25,000 people on the streets in Bonn on 4 November, and Ende Gelände, a peaceful mass civil disobedience action against open pit lignite coal mining in the Rhineland, from 5-7 November.  All of these events articulated a message of global solidarity and climate justice and highlighted feasible alternatives to a corporatist approach to climate negotiations with false solutions in addressing the climate crisis.

Source: By Don Lehr, Lili Fuhr, and Liane Schalatek

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