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COP 23 – raising ambitions accelerating actions
November 4, 2017, 3:15 pm

Following a year of increasingly visible climate change impacts, governments are gathering from 6–17 November in Bonn, Germany for the 23rd annual UN climate change conference (COP 23).

Over the course of two weeks, negotiators will attempt to flesh out a set of implementation guidelines for the Paris Agreement — the long-term global strategy to address climate change — ahead of the 2018 deadline.

Although the COP is being held in Bonn, technically it is being hosted by Fiji - the first Pacific nation to do so. As such, civil society and many developing countries hope that issues like loss and damage and climate-induced displacement will be elevated

Urgency in implementing the Paris Accord is underscored by the latest report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which showed that concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth's atmosphere surged to a record high in 2016. Last year saw average concentrations of CO2 hit 403.3 parts per million (ppm), up from 400ppm in 2015.

Researchers say the increase was 50 percent higher than the average of the past 10 years, and that the result of a combination of human activities and the El Niño weather phenomenon drove CO2 to a level not seen in 800,000 years. Scientists believe this surge risks making global temperature targets largely unattainable.

The latest findings point to the dire need for countries to collaborate their efforts to realizing the ambitious climate programs envisioned in the Paris Agreement, said Dr. Oksana Tarasova, chief of WMO's global atmosphere watch program.

Although the Paris Agreement set a goal to limit global average temperature rise to 2°C, scientists have warned it is 95 percent likely that average global temperatures will pass this threshold by the end of the century.

For COP 23 to capture progress toward these objectives, several substantive issues must be resolved, including the role of the United States; the lack of ambition in near-term (pre-2020) targets; increasing the ambition of countries' contributions to global action and addressing climate change impacts.

In June, President Trump announced the United States' intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, throwing into doubt its role at UN climate talks, and related bodies like the Green Climate Fund. At COP 23, attention will turn to whether the United States (and its allies in the ‘Umbrella Group’) will continue to advance a narrow agenda focused mainly on mitigation, and foot-drag on other key issues such as adaptation, loss and damage and the global stocktake.

The window to avoid breaching the aspirational 1.5°C threshold is closing fast; by some estimates less than four years remain, yet countries' actions pre-2020 have remained minimal. The challenge facing governments is to raise ambition and accelerate actions before the narrow window of opportunity closes. Without scaled-up pre-2020 action, the challenge in the post-2020 period becomes much greater as warming gets locked into the climate system. Even with scaled-up action in the immediate term, countries must still bridge an alarming ambition gap, as the pledged ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ (NDC) would result in over 3°C of warming, with risks of much higher temperatures.

Developing countries are also adamant that the only way the Facilitative Dialogue — considered the ‘test run’ for the ‘Global Stock Take’ to occur post-2020 — can work is if it assesses countries' pledges on the basis of equity and in light of what support has been offered to realize conditional pledges. Developed countries will push for a more ‘mitigation centric’ approach which considers only the reporting and emissions reductions components of the pledges.

Developed countries also remain reluctant to discuss financing for loss and damage as they see this as risking an admission of liability for climate change disasters occurring around the world. Instead they prefer insurance measures, which are unsuited for slow-onset climate impacts. In addition, questions around the implementation by developed countries of obligations to provide finance, technology and capacity will necessarily take on more urgency.

In Bonn, developing countries will be asking developed countries to elaborate on their plan to mobilize a minimum of $100 billion annually by 2020, and seeking assurances of increased support in the longer-term, post-2025. The Green Climate Fund has so far received pledges of only $10.3 billion which pales in comparison to the trillions of dollars it will cost for developing countries to fulfill their pledges.

The general fault lines between countries at COP 23 remain largely the same as what they were at Cop 22, and major divergences over key questions which were not wholly addressed in the previous sessions will reappear. Though COP 23 will likely not contain the full drama of the 2015 Paris Summit, it will nevertheless expose some real and urgent geopolitical tensions that must be resolved in order for the international community to avert a deterioration of the global climate system.

Meanwhile, a series of special events called the ‘Momentum for Change’ are planned from 12 to 16 November at COP23 to demonstrate the exceptional amount of climate action happening around the world. The events will honor nineteen inspiring projects selected as winners of the United Nations ‘Momentum for Change’ Climate Solutions award, which is spearheaded by the UN Climate Change Secretariat.

The event shines light on some of the most innovative, scalable and practical examples of what people across the globe are doing to combat climate change. These examples, called ‘Lighthouse Activities’, are part of wider efforts to mobilize action and ambition, as national governments work toward implementing the Paris Climate Change Agreement and supporting the Sustainable Development Goals.


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