Climate Finance | November 6, 2017

A bluffer’s guide to the Bonn — or is it Fiji? — climate talks

The team at


Climate Finance

Nine things you need to know about COP23 but didn’t know to ask

(Pic: UNFCCC / Flickr)

What a time for a small island state to host a UN climate summit.

OK, we’re not in Suva. Fiji is organizing the meeting but its capital was too small. Bonn — a city that feels stranded in the 1990s — is filling the void, complete with sullen skies and chill winds.

But if there was a moment to remind the world’s governments of the urgency required in tackling climate change, it is now. Scientists are certain that as the impacts of a warming atmosphere bite harder, small islands will be the first to suffer as a result of rising seas or more intense storms.

Expect the host Fijians to ram this message home at COP23, with details of islands they plan to vacate as conditions worsen, and calls for greater financial support for at-risk countries.

Naturally, there will be intense scrutiny of the U.S, position at the talks, given the Trump administration’s frenzied fossil fuel-funded assault on climate and environmental policy. Trump’s tour of Japan, China and the Philippines will garner headlines, especially given the slew of gas deals he’s likely to sign.

It’s curious to observe that despite U.S. president Donald Trump’s biting rhetoric, the US will have a team here taking part. Expect close focus on his administration’s slightly odd decision to use COP23 as a platform to promote clean coal later this week.

Trump is a draw, but focus too hard on the toupee and you’ll miss the bigger — and potentially more interesting leads.

No. 1 —The UK-Canada alliance against coal

One of the most intriguing events at COP23 will be the sight of London and Ottawa climate ministers launching a new diplomatic push to ditch coal. Both countries are strong US allies, but Canada’s Cath McKenna and the U.K.’s Claire Perry have had sharp words about its climate policy in recent weeks. Look out for warm words from France, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal at the launch.

No. 2 — Policing climate action

Talks on a Paris Agreement rule book kick off again this week. They’re technical but compelling: negotiations on a form of global governance that could last through 2100. One important element is compliance — how will cheats or laggards be identified?

Another is the idea that all national plans should be based on the same metrics, to make them easier to compare. So should all countries use the same baseline year for CO2 (the E.U. uses 1990, the US 2005). It’s a touchy area. For example, who could ‘trigger’ a warning over lack of action or cheating?

Saudi Arabia: “There can be no-third party trigger, whether a Party-to-Party trigger, Committee trigger, Secretariat trigger or CMA trigger”

EU: ‘Experience from other Multilateral Environmental Agreements shows that the inclusion of referrals other than a Party “self-referral” would further facilitate implementation’

Should the UN deliver new guidelines for national climate plans?

Switzerland: ‘Pure national determination does not deliver a coherent international regime and that national determination should be complemented by guiding elements.’

Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay: ‘[We] cannot support any approach that would create additional/new features or further elaborate on existing features.’

No. 3 — Polluters in court

Climate litigation is now a thing. In the past three weeks, the Irish and New Zealand governments have faced challenges in court over their climate change targets. Those cases — which will rumble on — build on Urgenda’s win in the Netherlands in 2015 and a slew of cases against the UK government on air quality from Client Earth.

Next February, ‘Our Children’s Trust’ will face the U.S. government in federal court in what’s likely to be a landmark case. Meanwhile in Delhi, lawyers had the Modi administration in the India Green Tribunal this year over shipping emissions. Expect more cases, especially as the body of science attributing specific extreme weather events to human activity rises.

No. 4 — Attributing extreme weather to greenhouse gases

№3 leads nicely onto a paper published in Nature Climate Change last week. “It is now possible to quantitatively determine the contribution of individual countries to global mean temperature change… historical responsibility of individual countries and regions can now be quantified for specific extreme events.”

The study takes the 2013–2014 Argentine heatwave as an example. It reckons that excluding the greenhouse gas contributions from the E.U. makes the Argentinian heatwave “a 1-in-15-year event, compared to a 1-in-12-year event under the current climate that includes all emissions.” That’s a 37% increase.

No. 5 — Pre-2020 action

The Paris Agreement was always more of a long play. But we know we need to bend the curve of emissions (downwards) by 2020 to keep the world in with a chance of avoiding dangerous levels of warming. So, keep an ear out for calls from developing countries for more pre-2020 action.

This, after all, was the pledge by so-called ‘rich countries’ (U.S., E.U., Norway, Australia, Canada, Japan) when they signed up to the Doha Amendment in 2012, laying the foundations for a global climate deal that all countries would take part in, developing or developed. Have they delivered on that pledge? It’s a moot point.

No. 6 — Poland and the Talanoa Dialogue

Could you have a more Trump-like country than Poland at the moment? A right-wing, nationalist, coal-munching government with little appreciation for global norms, the courts or what other countries think about it.

The question is — does the world really want Poland to be guiding global climate talks through 2018 — ahead of its third U.N. climate summit in 10 years, this time in Katowice?

That’s what’s at stake with the so-called Talanoa Dialogue: a one-year review of climate policies, actions and ambition through 2018.

Odds are most countries that want to see tougher emission cuts do not. Odds are most developing countries at acute risk from climate impacts will agree.

No. 7 — The (Trump who?) US pavilion

There’s no snazzy U.S. government pavilion in Bonn — in fact this correspondent saw the chief U.S. envoy here using a cafe table as his desk this afternoon. In the absence of the federal government, state leaders like California’s Jerry Brown and billionaire publisher Mike Bloomberg have stepped in to fund a vast pavilion on the edges of the talks.

It’s part of the We Are Still In campaign by sub-national leaders stateside. Senators, Congressmen and EU leaders are billed as speaking in the next two weeks — some of whom are tipped as potential presidential candidates in 2020.

No. 8 — The Macron Factor

He talks a big game and will host a climate summit in Paris this December, but can France’s youthful leader in tandem with Canada’s Trudeau offer genuine leadership on climate when he attends the COP in week two? And what impact could that have on coal-addicted Germany — currently tied down in complex coalition negotiations and facing the embarrassment of blowing its 2020 climate goal?

No. 9 — Oil prices

Saturday’s arrests of key Saudi leaders has now hit oil giant Aramco. According to Bloomberg Ibrahim Al-Assaf, a former finance minister ‘was among at least 17 princes, current and former government ministers and businessmen taken into custody’.

After years of low prices, OPEC is contemplating a rise to $60–70 a barrel. Good for producers, not so good for the global economy, and another reason to move to a more diversified energy mix.