Key Outcomes of COP23: UN Climate Conference in Bonn

The clock is ticking, 2020 just three years away. There is immense pressure to get the Paris Agreement on track, translating conceptual commitments into concrete action without losing momentum.

After Paris in 2015 and Marrakech in 2016, the next step toward Paris Agreement implementation was the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany from November 6th to 17th, 2017, including the Conference of the Parties (COP 23, CMP 13, and CMA 1-2) as well as meetings of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI 47), the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA 47), and the Ad hoc Working

Group on the Paris Agreement (APA 1-4). With 22,000 participants and more than 4,500 helpers, it was the largest international conference ever to take place in Germany, presided over by the nation of Fiji and located at the headquarters of the UNFCCC Secretariat, with negotiations in the so-called “Bula Zone” and side events in the “Bonn Zone”.

A Sense of Urgency

The Conference opened with vivid reminders of the importance and urgency of its mission. Opening statements called to mind the victims of the numerous natural disasters, droughts and floods over the past year, reinforced by meteorological data about record-breaking temperatures, rising carbon dioxide concentrations, sea acidification, and intense hurricane, monsoon, and drought seasons as experienced over and over around the world.

2015, 2016 and 2017 have been the three hottest years on record, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are the highest they have been for 800,000 years. A report published during the second week of the Conference painfully underlined this by revealing that after a three-year plateau, global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry would once again rise by 2 percent in 2017. The host nation Fiji put special focus on the immediate and existential threats to Pacific island nations due to global warming and sea level rise and underlined the necessity for wide-ranging measures to be taken even before 2020 and even beyond the commitments of the Paris Agreement, involving civil society, NGOs, and affected stakeholders.

Despite all this, the Conference in Bonn was very much a transitional one: much of the negotiations were concerned with positioning and procedural groundwork for the facilitative dialogue at COP 24 next year, which was named the “Talanoa Dialogue”. It will launch after COP 23 and close at the end of COP 24, trying to lash together the guidelines for Paris Agreement implementation within this timeframe. In addition to outlining the dialogue, it was also noted that the Secretariat should develop an online platform to provide an overview on the work programme under the Paris Agreement, and that there might be need for an additional negotiating session between SB 48 and COP 24.

Mitigation

Not unexpectedly, Mitigation proved a contentious issue that led to extensive discussions and resulted in a 180-page “preliminary material” document. Countries and groups noted that the document contained redundancies but could not agree on how to eliminate them; nonetheless, the co-facilitator’s work was commended and hope expressed that this document would enable parties to start substantive negotiations at APA 1-5. It contains several caveats to take into account parties’ concerns, capture different views and represent their red lines.

Common time frames for Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) were discussed by the SBI and the pros and cons of five- and ten-year time frames weighed; the SBI invited parties and observers to submit their views on this by March 31st, 2018, and aims to make a recommendation for consideration and adoption by the CMA at SBI 48.

Adaptation

Similar to Mitigation, consultations on Adaptation Communication started with a list of headings and sub-headings that was expanded into an informal note, revised, and eventually forwarded to the APA contact group. Main areas of divergence formed around the inclusion of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, national circumstances, and flexibility on reporting. Developing countries pointed to a lack of guidance for adaptation communication in the NDCs and proposed to formulate general guidance as well as NDC-specific guidance. Many developing countries supported a request to the IPCC to prepare guidelines for aggregating data toward a global goal on adaptation, although other parties cast doubt on the feasibility of this proposal.

Recommendations regarding the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) were presented by the Adaptation Committee and the Least Developed Countries Expert Group (LEG), noting they had been unable to complete work on developing methodologies to review the adequacy of adaptation and support. It was proposed to move the Paris mandates for the Adaptation Committee and the LEG to the subsidiary bodies as a standalone item. The SBSTA and the SBI agreed to continue their considerations in April-May 2018 and aim to make a recommendation at COP 24.

The parties were invited to continue to report on the progress in regard to formulating and implementing their National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), as well as their experiences, best practices, and other relevant information, via an online questionnaire on NAP Central and during the NAP Expo in April 2018 in Bonn.

Regarding the Nairobi Work Programme (NWP), the SBSTA encouraged parties to strengthen partnerships with NWP partner organizations, improve the linkages of their work plans to the NWP, and enhance the role of the NWP in relation to the work of the Adaptation Committee and the LEG. The deadline for the submission of views on further improving the NWP’s relevance and effectiveness was extended to March 30th, 2018, and the Secretariat requested to prepare a synthesis report of work under the NWP since SBSTA 44 for review at SBSTA 48 next year.

Transparency Framework

Informal consultations resulted in a preliminary material document, using a notation key developed by the co-facilitators which shortened the length of the document but also seemed to generate some confusion. Important points included support for the preparation of NDCs and adaptation communication, the facilitative multilateral consideration of progress and technical expert review (TER), as well as the necessity for support in the framework to be aimed exclusively at meeting Paris Agreement obligations.

At the SBI, consideration of the development of modalities and procedures for the operation and use of a public NDC and an Adaptation Communication Registry as referred to in the Paris Agreement took place and will continue in SBI 48.

Global Stocktake

Progress and concrete proposals were made regarding the Global Stocktake (GST), which is scheduled to take place in 2023 and every five years after. Parties agreed that the GST should ensure inclusivity, be linked to sustainable development and poverty eradication, not place undue burden on developing country parties, utilise objective measures, apply to adaptation, mitigation and means of implementation, and encourage the participation of non-party stakeholders and expert groups, for example by holding technical dialogues in conjunction with regular sessions or by considering various sources of input.

Conversations around the GST concentrated on the concept of equity and the need to ensure a fair and transparent process. Parties quickly discarded a “name and shame” system for countries not meeting their commitments and instead discussed different meanings, definitions and possible implementations of equity, agreeing that it must be an essential part of the GST.

Implementation and Compliance

Possible linkups with the transparency framework were discussed at length, with the TER in the transparency framework seen as both a possibly valuable source of information and a potential duplication of facilitative functions. A lot of discussion revolved around the relationship of the Implementation and Compliance Committee to other bodies, the question of other bodies initiating the Committee’s work, and whether the Committee should be for legally-binding provisions only. Developing countries stressed the need for common but differentiated responsibilities, while some developed countries tried to hem in what they saw as excessive differentiation and bifurcation.

As in the other areas, the result was a revised informal note that was seen as a useful compilation of views and a base for future progress.

Loss and Damage

The Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) on loss and damage post 2020 was discussed and its inclusion as a standing agenda item proposed but ultimately rejected; there is some hope, however, that the Suva expert dialogue (to be held in conjunction with SB 48) and the Fiji Clearinghouse on Risk Transfer could help to strengthen the WIM. Furthermore, a Task Force on Displacement will start work in May 2018, flanked by an expert dialogue on loss and damage.

SBI and SBSTA requested the WIM Executive Committee (ExCom) to provide more detailed information in its annual reports and to organize an expert dialogue in conjunction with SB 48 for averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage due to adverse effects of climate change. Parties were encouraged to engage with and make use of the WIM and ExCom, to establish contact points for loss and damage, and to participate in ExCom meetings.

The ExCom was requested to consider cross-cutting issues, current, urgent and emerging needs, and to make sure that its work is converted into useful tools, methods and materials. Strengthening the WIM and financial commitments to assist especially the most vulnerable and most affected were repeatedly voiced as important and increasingly urgent concerns and goals for future discussion.

Climate Finance

The commitment of developed countries to jointly mobilise US$100 billion per year by 2020 was reiterated and the progress reviewed, with the next round of updated biennial submissions requested from developed countries and the organisation of a 2018 in-session workshop and summary report thereof for the COP 24 from the Secretariat. The Standing Committee on Finance’s (SCF’s) updated work plan for 2018 was endorsed, and the COP requested the SCF to expand its measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) work beyond the biennial assessment in cooperation with stakeholders and experts. The timeline for the second review of the functions of the SCF is supposed to be agreed upon at COP 24 at the latest.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) reported that the Fund is now “truly operational and delivering on its mandate”, but the COP noted that accreditation is pending for a significant number of entities. The GCF has approved (as of October 30th, 2017) 10 out of 38 funding proposals that support the formulation of NAPs; the SBI recognised that many developing countries face challenges in accessing funding for this purpose. The triggered review of the accreditation framework was welcomed in this regard and the GCF Board urged to adopt and implement the revised framework quickly to simplify access to the GCF. The Adaptation Committee and the LEG are to consider ways to assist with implementation of NAPs following the NAP Expo 2018.

The Adaptation Fund Board reported that the Fund is in high demand and delivering on its mandate. There is concern regarding the sustainability, adequacy, and predictability of funding, as well as the need to further streamline the accreditation and approval process and improve the Fund’s efficiency. The Board was encouraged to continue engagement with subnational actors and the private sector. In one of the last decisions of the Conference, after continued insistence from developing countries, it was decided that the Adaptation Fund “shall” (instead of “should”) serve the Paris Agreement and be directly linked to it; it is expected that “exclusively” will be added to that in 2019.

Regarding the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the COP reiterated its call to ensure a robust seventh replenishment in order to provide adequate and reliable funding, as well as to enhance the consultation process with developing countries and provide them with adequate support. The SBI recommended the COP to invite the GEF to support developing countries regarding technology needs assessments and priority technology projects to foster innovation and investment.

The Financial Mechanism passed its sixth review, with the seventh review to be initiated at COP 26 and completed by COP 27.

Additional Results

As climate change increasingly impacts food security, agriculture was a major topic at the Conference. The SBSTA and SBI decided to jointly address issues related to agriculture through workshops and expert meetings, and compile the views of parties and observers by March 2018 to be included for consideration at SB 48. Additional focus was put on sustaining (as well as increasing) forests and, promoted by the Fijian presidency, oceans, with the SBSTA noting the importance of ocean-related climate indicators (heat content, acidification, sea level rise etc.) and systemic ocean observations.

On November 14th, the first ever UNFCCC Gender Action Plan was adopted under the Lima work programme on gender to support the implementation of gender-related decisions and mandates in the UNFCCC process and integrate gender equality in all sectors of climate policy and action. It was decided to review the implementation of the Gender Action Plan at COP 25 in 2019.

Also discussed were the purpose, function, and processes of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, as well as its place within or in relation to the UNFCCC. After extensive discussion, this new platform was operationalized with a shared chairmanship by state and indigenous peoples’ representatives, enabling more contribution and influence for these directly affected stakeholders.

SBI concluded work on the fourth review of the implementation of the framework for capacity building in EITS under the Convention and requested SBI 52 to initiate the fifth review, aiming to complete at COP 26. The Paris Committee on Capacity Building will continue its 2017 focus area or theme, with which the next Durban forum should be aligned.

Other points of interest include the high-level segment starting on November 15th (which included, among many others, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama), the launch of the “Powering Past Coal Alliance” under the leadership of the UK and Canada, the participation of an official and an “alternative” delegation from the US, and Syria’s announcement that it would sign the Paris Agreement.

Conclusion

In 2018, the parties need to place solid cornerstones if the Paris Agreement is to proceed as planned. At COP 23, work has been done to lay the foundations and shore up the building blocks for this endeavour: and while the foundation may be unassuming to look at, it certainly is an integral part of the structure and needs to hold the weight next year will place on it.

Progress on the Paris Agreement has to happen, and it has to happen soon. It is clear that the pace has to accelerate—maybe with a second intersessional after the May one in 2018—and that there is urgent need for the Paris Agreement to be implemented and come into force from 2020 on, as well as for action before 2020, if rapid climate change and runaway global warming are to be avoided.

Sources

Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz, Bau und Reaktorsicherheit (https://www.bmub.bund.de/)

Climate Tracker (http://climatetracker.org/)

IISD Reporting Services / Earth Negotiations Bulletin (http://enb.iisd.org/)

UNFCCC (http://unfccc.int/meetings/bonn_nov_2017/meeting/10084.php)


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About the Author
Dennis Mombauer

Dennis Mombauer currently lives in Colombo as a freelance writer and researcher on climate change and education. He focuses on ecosystem-based adaptation and sustainable urban development as well as on autism spectrum disorder in the field of education. Besides articles and research, he has published numerous works of fiction in German and English.