The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing about the takeaways from the latest global climate talks, which concluded in Bonn, Germany, on November 18. The 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) focused on the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement, which is slated to start in 2020. The Paris Climate Agreement calls on the world's nations to keep global warming significantly below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial levels. The year 2016 was already 1.2 C warmer than the 1850-1900 baseline.
H.E. Solo Mara, Ambassador of Fiji
- Ambassador Mara led off the discussion with an overview of why the 23rd Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23) was significant. The 2017 COP was the first time a small-island state, Fiji, presided over the conference.
- Ambassador Mara noted a major legacy of COP23 would be its introduction of the first formal dialogue between civil society organizations and national governments. This was borne out of recognition that the challenge of climate change is not solvable by government entities alone. Participants in the conference also wanted to connect these challenges with the people who are actually affected by climate impacts by weaving their stories into the multilateral dialogue.
- Fiji was integral in introducing the "Talanoa Dialogue," which would facilitate the exchange of best practices between scientists, governments, and sub-national actors for the development of policy solutions.
- Ambassador Mara noted that the existing Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are not yet ambitious enough to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and must be scaled up dramatically [NDCs are the post-2020 climate actions countries have voluntarily committed to as part of the Paris Climate Agreement]. Many nations are planning to step up their emission reduction actions in the near future, including China, the European Union, and India.
- One particularly encouraging coalition active at COP23 was "America's Pledge," consisting of more than 2,500 cities, counties, and businesses that are striving to deliver on the Paris Agreement's goals. Taken together, the group would be equivalent to the world's third-largest economy.
Anton Hufnagl, First Secretary for Climate, Environmental, and Urban Affairs at the Embassy of Germany
- Hufnagl said COP23 marked the first time all 197 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) had officially joined the Paris Agreement. Syria and Nicaragua had been the final holdouts. [The Trump Administration has indicated that the United States will leave the Agreement, but it cannot legally do so until 2020].
- Although Fiji was the host nation, the event was actually held in Bonn, Germany, in order to best accommodate the conference's 22,000 attendees and minimize the event's environmental footprint.
- Civil society organizations had a dedicated space at the conference for the first time, recognizing the essential role they will play in developing and implementing the NDC plans.
- COP24 in Poland will finalize how the Paris Agreement will be implemented. Lingering implementation questions include how to achieve transparency and the monitoring of achievements. Delegates at COP23 assembled a collection of texts which will form the basis of negotiations over the final implementation rulebook.
- Much of what's currently being negotiated is with an eye toward 2020. But since the Paris Agreement entered into force much faster than anticipated, some parties are urging swifter action.
- Hufnagl emphasized that climate action remains in Germany's best interests due to related economic and security issues, among other factors.
Sam Ricketts, Director of Federal & Inter-State Affairs with the DC Office of Governor Jay Inslee (D-WA)
- Ricketts underscored the critical role of state governments on climate action. Washington Gov. Inslee was one of four governors in Bonn (he was joined by Gov. Brown of California, Gov. McAuliffe of Virginia, and Gov. Brown of Oregon). They sought to reassure the global community that the United States will continue to lead on climate change action. This was the largest delegation of American governors to attend a COP to-date. Six additional governors' offices were represented by senior officials at the COP.
- All of the states that sent governors or representatives to COP23 are members of the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition featuring 14 states, plus Puerto Rico. The Climate Alliance represents $7 trillion in GDP (40 percent of total U.S. GDP), as well as 36 percent of the U.S. population.
- Climate Alliance members have pledged to do their part in meeting or exceeding their share of the U.S. Paris Agreement commitments (NDC) and the goals originally laid out in the Clean Power Plan.
- Alliance governments are now working directly with Canada and Mexico on a climate dialogue.
- Washington State is facing many climate-related challenges today, including wildfires, ocean acidification, sea level rise, and water management issues.
- Washington State is seeking to build a low-carbon economy and reduce emissions, including the phase-out of coal power. Washington is also a leader in electric vehicle adoption. Washington State is the fastest-growing economy in the country, which state leaders partly attribute to its pursuit of climate action.
Lisa Jacobson, President of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE)
- Jacobson highlighted the role of the business community, which serves as one of nine constituent groups in the climate negotiations. Business plays a key role in implementation and finance and should remain closely involved with international climate policy.
- There was an unprecedented formal role for NGOs and the business community at COP23, including involvement in the Talanoa Dialogue.
- The diversity of industries present included many major corporations speaking about their sustainability outlooks. These companies have prioritized sustainability due to the job creation and economics benefits it brings to their customers and investors.
- "We Are Still In" is an alliance consisting of hundreds of companies pledging sustainability and climate action. These companies are working to decouple economic growth from emissions.
- BCSE recently released a paper, Powering Ambition, highlighting the economic drivers of emissions reduction and the benefits these actions are producing.
Every single member of the United Nations is part of the Paris Agreement, but President Trump indicated in June that the United States will withdraw from the agreement in 2020 (the earliest it is legally able to). His decision briefly threw the entire agreement into question, as U.S. participation is deemed essential if the global community is to meet its climate goals. Indeed, the United States is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind only China. Nevertheless, the other 194 signatories of the Agreement are pressing forward.
Participants in this year's climate conference worked on developing guidelines for the Paris Climate Agreement, which are due by November 2018. These guidelines are critical, as they will determine how the agreement is implemented (and, ultimately, how successful it is). The topic of climate finance was also intensely discussed. Developed countries have promised to provide $100 billion a year to developing countries by 2020 to help them lower their emissions and adapt to climate change. But securing this funding has proved difficult.
This year's climate conference was the first time the United States did not take a strong leadership role in almost a decade. The U.S. government sent a small, lower-ranking delegation, despite its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. But the United States was also represented by a delegation of four governors and many local officials, led by California Governor Jerry Brown and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. This unofficial delegation declared that, although the current administration does not intend to meet the Paris Agreement goals, other U.S. governmental and business actors will seek to do so.