Advancing, but slowly, on the Paris Agreement

 Advancing, but slowly, on the Paris Agreement

The curtain closes on the Bonn Climate Change Conference (also known as COP23), held in Bonn from 6 to November 2017 under the Presidency of the Fiji Islands.


No definitive outcome was expected from this negotiation round. Its success was instead to be judged against the capacity to substantially progress on the guidelines to operationalise the Paris Agreement, which need to be adopted by 2018. And this was no easy task,considering that the so called “Rulebook” will importantly need to specify the way national efforts in terms of mitigation, adaptation, and support will be reported and reviewed.

Generally speaking, this “transition COP” managed to live up to expectations. Many expressed satisfaction for the way negotiations were conducted, allowing to move the Rulebook from a conceptual to a more technical level. An approach to the “Facilitative Dialogue” was also approved, so to guide Parties in understanding how to rump up the ambition of national pledges in time for COP24. The approach is based on “Talanoa”, a Fijian concept stressing the importance of sharing stories, building emphasis and making wise decision for the common good. The Fijian Presidency pushed for including considerations on pre-2020 ambition in the Facilitative Dialogue, as a way to meet the concerns of most vulnerable countries for the lack of a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol. A main point of discussion concerned how to balance the need for pre-2020 ambition with the necessary focus that the Facilitative Dialogue should have on the period after 2020 when the Paris Agreement will be operational.

Another point of contention was represented, not surprisingly, by finance-related issues. And in particular Article 9.5 of the Paris Agreement, that mandates developed countries to biennially communicate the amount of financial support provided to developing countries for their adaptation and mitigation actions. The main issue here was understanding how long term public finance commitments will need to be determined.

Beyond the necessary steps towards the operationalization of the Paris Agreement, COP23 was characterised by a strong focus on building the resilience of most vulnerable societies. And this is not surprising considering that Fiji is among the most most exposed areas to the impacts of climate change on earth. A number of initiatives were launched at COP, including the Global InsuResilence Partnership that aims at developing the capacity of the poorest to access affordable insurance products to cope with extreme events such as cyclones or floods. The goal is to reach 400 million people by 2020 through a partnership between the G20 countries and the 49 most vulnerable nations.

And what about civil society?

This COP was somehow different from all the others. From the first time in history, and because of logistic issue, the space traditionally devoted to NGOS (the so-called observers) was separated from that of formal negotiations. This fact made interaction between the two worlds difficult, but also had the effect to strongly highlight the energy and proactive attitude of non-state actors compared to the slowness of formal negotiations. This determination that was expressed in particular by the civil society and sub-national entities of the United States, as a way to counterbalance Trump’s willingness to withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. An example among many is the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bi-partisan coalition born in June 2017and composed of 15 US governors that committed to implement the emissions reduction targets pledged by the US in Paris.

Yet, there is still a long way to go. It is now clear that emissions reduction pledges will not be sufficient to keep global temperature increase within 2°C and the risk of exceeding this threshold considerably worries the scientific world. By 2020, the ambition of national pledges needs to be ramped up. The time available is really short and even if this COP has sent out encouraging signals, it is crucial to act quickly in the upcoming, decisive years.

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