Clean Tech

Bonn and off

M Ramesh | Updated on January 09, 2018

The package presented at COP23 may sound good, but the crucial task of securing funding for developing countries fell flat, says M Ramesh

The political masters have given the recently-concluded climate talks in Bonn a coat of success paint, but scratch the surface and the ugly reality shows itself.

At the 23rd Conference of Parties to the Convention, or COP23, developing countries came a cropper. (‘Convention’ refers to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was born at the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.) Negotiators of the developing countries return home with nothing more than the satisfaction of having roared at the mighty developed world, who, nevertheless displayed their empty pockets.

Billed as an ‘Implementation COP’, the Bonn meeting was meant to further negotiations so as to come up with a ‘rulebook’ by 2018 for implementing the ‘Paris Agreement’, the ‘historic accord’ that the COP21 of 2015 delivered. In Paris, 197 countries agreed to a target of limiting rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrialisation era of the mid-19th century, with an “ambition” of 1.5 degrees. This would be achieved by all countries doing what they promised to do in terms of their stated ‘nationally determined contributions (NDCs)’. While the agreement was hailed epochal, many have also criticised it for lack of concreteness and for the fact that it contains no punitive measures for violations, relying exclusively on naming and shaming of the violator.

In October, the United Nations Environment Programme said in its ‘Emissions Gap Report, 2017’, that even if all the countries did what they said they would do at Paris, the planet would turn hotter by 3 degrees, which bodes disaster. The EGR 2017, therefore, highlighted the urgency in climate change combat.

Against this backdrop, the hope was that COP23 would move rapidly forward, framing rules that would bind all countries to their promises — more the developed countries, especially when it comes to providing finance and technology. However, what Bonn has brought forth is a bunch of agreements that are peripheral to climate talks, such as a ‘gender action plan’ to include women in climate activities, an insurance facility, a plan to have “indigenous people” (adivasis) to have a say in climate talks, a call for action from the UN Ocean Conference, an agreement to begin talking about what to do to bring down emissions that come from agricultural activities.

All this has been packaged to sound good. “We leave Bonn having notched up some notable achievements, including our Ocean Pathway, the historic agreement on agriculture and others on a Gender Action Plan and Indigenous People’s Platform,” says Frank Bainimarama, the Prime Minister of Fiji, who will head climate talks for a year till the next COP, which will be held in Katowice, Poland.

Bainimarama has expressed satisfaction. “We have done the job we were given to do, which is to advance the implementation guidelines for the Paris Agreement,” he said in a statement.

As though in response to this statement, Nick Mabey, CEO and Director of E3G, a European climate change think tank, says: “COP23 achieved what it had to but not what it needed to.” Practically, the entire civil society is unhappy with Bonn’s lack of progress. “At COP23, political agreements did not sufficiently address the harsh climate reality that millions of poor and vulnerable people already face,” says Wolfgang Jamann, Secretary-General and CEO of CARE International.

Involving women in climate activities and getting tribals to have their say in talks are all fine, but the meat lies in securing funding for developing countries, especially for ‘adaptation’ (building defences against climate change-caused vagaries of nature, and ‘loss and damage’ (repairs and rehabilitation after a climate event, like hurricane, occurs.) In this, the Bonn meeting, as has been widely pointed out, falls flat.

The most that happened in Bonn about these was to hold the rich countries to the Article 9.5 of the Paris Agreement, which says that the developed world shall “communicate” once every two years how much of funds would flow to the developing countries. Some observers give this a few marks. “While the quantum of finance remained elusive as ever, some agreements on predictability of finance and discussions around Adaptation Fund eventually salvaged a very pertinent issue,” says Aarti Khosla of Climate Trends.

Also, the Adaptation Fund, which is meant to help developing countries to build their defences against climate change-related vagaries of nature, was linked to the Paris Agreement. Incidentally, the 10-year-old Adaptation Fund has a corpus of $93.3 million, when the need for adaptation finance runs into tens of billions.

“We are no longer talking about the future,” says Tracy Carty, of Oxfam International, an NGO, “the world’s poorest countries and communities are already fighting for their lives against disasters intensified by climate change. Yet, for the most part, rich countries showed up to Bonn empty-handed and blocked progress on finance.” It did not help that the United States is in the process of quitting the Paris Agreement, enlarging the hole in funding.

Symbolic victory

In a way, the developing countries played into the hands of the rich countries by consuming a full week in negotiating “pre-2020”. The Paris Agreement comes into force in 2020. What the developed countries would do till 2020 is the subject of a 2012 agreement, called Doha Amendment (to the Kyoto Protocol). At Bonn, developing countries negotiated hard to get the rich countries report, by May 2018, their progress under the Doha Amendment — which is meaningless, because with just a year-and-a-half left to 2020, knowing the developed countries’ progress under the Doha Amendment has little point. The developing countries extracted a win over the developed world — a matter of satisfaction, but little else.

Arivudai Nambi Appadurai of World Resources Institute, who has been a part of India’s climate negotiations team, sums up COP23 as “baby steps in the right direction.” Indeed, COP23 leaves something positive on the table. For instance, despite President Trump’s stance on climate talks, the US negotiators are said to have been constructive (despite a shocking, but poorly-attended ‘pro-coal’ event held by the US delegation at COP23). A few project-specific funding announcements were made, a bunch of alliances were forged, such as for green buildings, ‘power past coal’ and eco-mobility. “There has been positive momentum around us,” said Bainimarama. Sadly, that is not enough.

Published on November 21, 2017

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