by Alexander Pfeiffer
In the early morning hours of Saturday morning the 22nd COP came to an end with some final declarations. Unfortunately, we, the YEL delegation, could not attend this final plenary, as it was closed to observers so only official negotiating parties could attend. Instead, we followed the process of the plenary via live stream and news ticker.
What came out of these 2 weeks of intense negotiations?
Overall I must say that I am slightly disappointed by the progress that has been made during the conference. Yes, there are some encouraging results, but especially on the technical side and the open questions that have kept the COPs busy for so many years – in particular Adaptation and Loss & Damage – there was a lot of debate and confusion but little tangible progress.
One of the success stories of this COP was certainly how countries have reacted to the US election early in week 1. While the Trump victory came as a surprise to many of us, it didn’t have the effect so many observers feared. Neither China nor other countries showed signs that they were planning to drop out of the effort. Quite the opposite seemed to be the case when, on the penultimate scheduled day, the conference adopted a call for nations to honour the promises made in Paris and to renew their attempts to avoid planetary disaster.
Other good news can be reported on the ratification effort of the Parties regarding the Paris Agreement. Over the course of the conference, 11 governments ratified the Paris climate agreement (Australia, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Finland, Gambia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, and the UK), bringing the total to 111. Since the beginning of September, a staggering 88 nations have ratified the agreement. To become legally binding, which the Paris agreement did in the week before the conference began, only 55 nations representing 55% of global emissions would have been necessary.
On the ambitions side no big developments have been made. The Paris agreement acknowledges that current pledges by the parties to cut GHG emissions will not be enough to bring us even close to the agreed target of 1.5-2.0 degrees Celsius. Nonetheless, parties did not manage to bring forward adapted INDCs with steeper emissions cuts, and instead focused on reinforcing existing plans.
The small positive spin on this overall frustrating result is that some countries have agreed to review their 2020 targets, notably the ‘Climate Vulnerable Forum’, a 47-strong coalition of developing countries, which declared it “will strive to lead” the green transition and aim to go 100% renewable. Furthermore, some countries – the US, Canada, Mexico, and Germany – published roadmaps for cutting their GHG emissions through 2050. 22 other countries, as well as 15 cities and nearly 200 private sector companies backed the “2050 pathways platform.”
Progress on the much-needed rulebook for the implementation of the Paris Agreement has been postponed as politically charged decisions on the balance between national sovereignty and global uniformity were deferred to later meetings. It has been re-confirmed that 2018 will be the next major meeting for negotiations under the Paris Agreement so the rulebook must be ready in that year at the latest. In that context, it appears inconsistent that governments agreed to more consultations but there will be no new or extra meetings.
Adaptation was one of the main reasons why the COP didn’t end on the Friday evening as initially planned, but instead went on until long after midnight on Saturday morning. One of the questions that needed to be solved was whether the Adaptation Fund, started under the Kyoto Protocol, would be continued under the Paris Agreement. Recipients of the funding generally favour a handling of adaptation finance via the Green Climate Fund (GCF), as it is relatively small compared to the flagship climate finance initiative announced in Paris and supports also small and medium-sized adaptation projects. However, its major source of funding, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is currently drying up. Despite the COP Presidency’s call at around 7 pm on Friday evening to find an agreement on this issue before reconvening at 10 pm parties did not manage to find common ground on this issue and postponed a decision on this issue for another 6 months.
Loss & Damage (L&D)
Being always one of the trickiest topics at the COPs, a satisfying solution on Loss & Damage has, yet again, not been found at COP22. The answer that will eventually have to be found to satisfy affected parties and observers is how to compensate small and vulnerable countries for the loss of land and the damage that is being caused by already ongoing and future climate change. This is mostly caused by the historic emissions of developed nations like the US, Europe, and increasingly also China. The result that has been achieved at this COP was that parties agreed on a framework that will provide the basis for the next five years of talks about this topic. Overall a rather unspecific negotiation result.
Being usually another difficult topic at the COPs, climate finance was less controversial this year. It wasn’t expected that this would be the COP of major financial commitments so it can almost be seen an unexpected success that some donors (such as the US, UK, and Germany) pledged some $50 million to improve carbon accounting in developing countries and $23m for a centre to share clean technology expertise. Moreover, Germany almost single-handedly replenished the Adaptation Fund, which had asked for $80m.
However important these pledges may be, they are only a drop in the ocean compared to the $100 billion per year developed countries have promised by 2020. Nevertheless, developing countries cautiously welcomed a roadmap, prepared by the UK and Australia, on how to get to the $100 billion figure by 2020, with some reservations about the accounting methodology.
As the final plenary was not open to observers and the conference ended on Saturday morning, the YEL delegation had the opportunity to attend the ‘Fossil of the Year’ award on Friday evening, also known as ‘Colossal Fossil’. This year’s Colossal Fossil went to Russia for several ‘crimes’ against the environment and climate, such as oil and gas exploration, subsidies, and arctic oil drilling.
Delayed action, again
Looking back at these past two weeks I can say that they yielded some invaluable experiences for me I would not want to miss. I had the chance to speak to many interesting people; ministers, ambassadors, scientists, negotiators, activists, and business professionals. While many of them work hard on scalable and innovative solutions to this global problem I can’t help but notice that many seem to lack the sense of urge they should have. Climate change, while already visible in many parts of the world, still seems to be a problem that many locate in the future.
While I am writing this, news run the ticker that the North Pole is an insane 20 degrees Celsius warmer at the moment than it should be at this time of the year. In this context, hearing that many of the questions that so urgently need an answer and bold action have been postponed, yet again, by several years leaves me with a bad feeling in my stomach.
I have the feeling that this ‘COP of Action’ as it was labeled in in the run up to the conference is yet another COP with impressive declaration but little concrete action. If we really want to limit global warming to any level that leaves us with a realistic chance of survival, non-state actors and businesses need to take over now and push the effort forwards.
Alex is the head of Young European Leadership’s delegation to the COP and a doctorate student at the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School