By Anders Lorenzen
This year’s UN climate talks, COP23, have been hailed as a success after producing advances on critical issues, organisers have said. But the talks also made clear how far there still is to go. That was evident when the Global Carbon Project, at a press conference on the opening day of the summit, announced that they project CO2 emissions would rise in 2017 – blaming increased coal use as a consequence of a pickup in the Chinese economy.
Merkel on the sidelines
This years’ COP made more evident that German leadership on climate change was faltering and France is entering a position as the EU’s foremost climate leader. First, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel openly admitted that Germany had more work to do as they had failed to gain control of their emissions due to increased coal usage and coal mining activity. Energy analysts and commentators have pointed to the fact that Germany’s coal use has increased due to nuclear decommissioning as the main cause of their emissions backtrack. At the same time, French President Emmanuel Macron wasted no time in making clear France’s commitment to tackling climate change, by joining a global coalition of 20 nations called the ‘Powering Past Coal Alliance’ which commits to ending coal usage by 2030. It is a coalition Germany felt they could not sign up to. France has one of the most ambitious coal phase-out strategies in the developed world, and pledge to end its use by 2021. Macron also said that France is the only major developed country who will deny any new licenses exploring for and extracting hydrocarbons.
Absurd US scenes
COP23 was also the first COP since the US confirmed they would pull out of the Paris Agreement with absurd scenes being played out as a consequence. This year two separate US delegations were present at the talks, one representing the Trump administration whose main objective was to lobby for coal, while the other unofficial group was being headed up by progressive US states such as Washington and California and included former New York City Mayor and climate advocate Michael Bloomberg.
A different finance problem
As always, finance was again a big issue at this year’s talks, but a new financial topic was unwillingly at the table. What to do if Trump and the US actually go through with removing all UN climate funding. Again back to Macron, who said that he proposed that Europe takes over from the US and delivers the US’s funding and said that France is ready to meet that challenge.
The Paris Agreement will officially come into action in 2020, so this year’s COP and the next in Poland are all about securing the implementation of the agreement and to achieve that the ‘Talanoa Dialogue’ was adopted.
UN hails achievements
The UN body that oversees the climate negotiations, UNFCCC, hailed COP23 a success. They earmarked that greater progress has been made in securing long-term finance to meet the goal of delivering the agreed $100 billion per year by 2020 to developing countries, helping them to take action on climate change, but warned that greater efforts are needed. The UNFCCC did say that the Adaptation Fund has exceeded its 2017 target by over $13 million, taking the total to $93.3 million.
Yet, since the Paris Agreement only deals with post-2020 commitments there is still anger and frustration in the developing world that rich countries are not contributing enough.
There was an acknowledgment of the crucial work women do in combatting climate change – which will be supported through a Gender Action Plan. The Plan sets out to make women part of all climate change projects and decisions on both international and national scales, as women can be especially vulnerable to climate change and should not be excluded from the decision making.
A significant breakthrough in agriculture was also hailed which should address the deadlock observed in this industry in recent years. It should lead to a faster and more coordinated response by nations in a sector that is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG) after the energy industry. In conjunction with this, one of the world’s largest food companies, Unilever, has in partnership with the Norwegian government and others announced a $400 million fund that will support more efficient agriculture, smallholder farmers, and sustainable forest management.
And by noting the huge impact of climate change already seen in the world’s oceans, the Ocean Pathway Partnership was launched, which by 2020 aims to strengthen action and funding, linking climate change with healthy oceans in ambitious national climate plans.
What happens next
Great achievements were never expected at COP23. But with the world racing towards the 1.5 degrees target and reports that CO2 emissions are again projected to be on the rise, both paired with the fact that the Intended National Determined Contributions (INDC) are throwing us towards a 3 degrees world, many may have become even more worried that we are not progressing fast enough. On top of this, there are clear questions about leadership. Who will take the lead? Will it be China, or will Macron convince EU leaders that now is the time for the union to take back their leadership position?