“We will not drown, we are here to fight”: An assessment of the Fiji COP 23 in Bonn

“We will not drown, we are here to fight”: An assessment of the Fiji COP 23 in Bonn

In depth analysis

COP 23 was one COP in two zones: The Bula zone was the site of the official negotiations  - with little relevance to what happens in the real world. The Bonn zone hosted dozens of civil society kiosks and hundreds of events searching for real solutions.

Creator: BUNDjugend. Creative Commons License LogoThis image is licensed under Creative Commons License.

 

dear matafele peinam,

i want to tell you about that lagoon
that lucid, sleepy lagoon lounging against the sunrise
men say that one day
that lagoon will devour you

they say it will gnaw at the shoreline
chew at the roots of your breadfruit trees
gulp down rows of your seawalls
and crunch your island’s shattered bones

they say you, your daughter
and your granddaughter, too
will wander rootless
with only a passport to call home [1]

Summary

The 23rd meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 23) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held from 6 to 17 November in Bonn, Germany, under the presidency of the government of Fiji, the first time that a small island nation has served in this role.

This is the second COP since the adoption of the Paris Agreement at COP 21 in 2015 and since the Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016, just three days before the start of COP 22 in Marrakech, Morocco.

As of 22 November, 170 Parties have ratified the Agreement. Of the 197 Parties to the Convention, 195 originally signed it. Nicaragua initially argued it was not strong enough but has acknowledged that there is no alternative to the Agreement and ratified it just prior to the start of the COP. Syria, embroiled in a civil war since 2011, signed up on 7 November, leaving the United States as the only country which has rejected it, although it can’t officially withdraw until 4 November 2020, one day after the next U.S. presidential election.

It was expected to be a transitional and technical COP – and it was — with delegates charged with the complex task of writing the so-called “Paris Rulebook” for all of the elements mandated in the Paris Agreement and Decision text which is scheduled to be adopted next year at COP 24. They also had to complete the design of the 2018 “Facilitative Dialogue,” a test run for the “Global Stocktake” which all countries will conduct every five years starting in 2023 to assess and strengthen their “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) and global progress toward reaching the goal of the Paris Agreement: to hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Fiji brought vision to this technical COP through the Pacific tradition of “talanoa,” derived from “tala” meaning “talking or telling stories,” and “noa” meaning “zero or without concealment.” In the Fijian context, frank expression without concealment, in face-to-face dialogue, can lead to all participants understanding each other’s feelings and experiences.

The main COP decision – to be known as the Fiji Momentum for Implementation – contains three elements: a call for enhanced Pre-2020 Implementation and Ambition, a reiteration of the Paris Agreement Work Programme, and the design of the Facilitative Dialogue, rebranded by Fiji as the Talanoa Dialogue.

Here’s a shortlist of issues where progress (or no progress) was made in Bonn:

  • The design of the 2018 Talanoa Dialogue was jointly prepared by the COP 22 presidency of Morocco and the COP 23 Fijian presidency and will be launched in January 2018 under the leadership of Fiji and the COP 24 presidency, Poland. It aims to take stock of the collective efforts of Parties in relation to progress towards the implementation of the Paris Agreement, namely, the long-term goal of holding the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Many Parties, especially developing countries, worked hard to ensure that the Fiji Presidency will continue to guide the Talanoa Dialogue throughout the year.
  • The Fiji Momentum for Ambition decides that the outcome of the 2018 Talanoa Dialogue will feed into the COP stocktake on pre-2020 ambition in 2019. The pre-2020 decision and the Talanoa Dialogue together create an ongoing series of dialogues and reviews to enhance pre-2020 action, which will hopefully build enhanced trust to increase ambition for both mitigation and support in the post-2020 period.
  • The final decision on Loss and Damage is hopelessly weak. It includes no permanent agenda item for implementing “action and support,” only “encourages” parties to make available sufficient resources for the operation of the executive committee, and merely “encourages” the executive committee to mobilize and secure finance. The sole tangible action is an “expert dialogue” in 2018 to explore how finance might be secured. The bottom line is this: there is no guarantee of financial support for those affected by catastrophic disasters or even for the body tasked to find that finance.
  • The outcome of the climate finance negotiations on long-term finance (LTF) – continued efforts by developed countries to jointly mobilize USD 100 billion annually by 2020 – were predictably unremarkable, reinforcing largely agreed conclusions of earlier years, and made no substantial progress to show increased ambition pre-2020 to move faster or even go beyond this finance goal. No significant announcements of additional climate finance contributions were made at the High Level segment of the climate talks beyond some support for the Adaptation Fund (AF) and the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF). An opportunity to build more trust in the pre-2020 and Paris implementation processes was missed.
  • The COP also adopted a largely procedural decision on the sixth review of the Financial Mechanism, taking note of the work of the Standing Committee on Finance on the review and calling for greater complementarity and coherence between the Financial Mechanism’s operating entities, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and other sources of financial flows. As both the GEF and the GCF are accountable to the COP, parties provided formal guidance to those multilateral climate funds under the UNFCCC.
  • The COP serving as the CMP made further progress regarding the future of the Adaptation Fund, currently providing funding under the Kyoto Protocol, by deciding that it shall serve the Paris Agreement, with further decisions to be taken by the CMA in 2018 on whether it should do exclusively and under the guidance of and accountable to the CMA and what governance and operational revisions, including of its financing structure, are necessary to get the Adaptation Fund ready to do so..
  • While COP23 saw many attempts to promote quick technofixes for the climate crisis (ranging from nuclear energy to CCS, Bioenergy with CCS / BECCS to solar geoengineering) at side events and “climate action” spaces, there were also, encouragingly, increased debates between academics and civil society on transformational approaches and pathways for 1.5°C – targeting the fossil fuel and energy sector, transport, agriculture, lifestyles, financial institutions, GDP growth, and many other out of the (climate) box ideas. Members of the CBD Alliance expressed their alarm over increased talks of geoengineering in the UNFCCC in an Open letter to the UNFCCC: “Geoengineering is a distraction from the real priorities – emission reductions“.
  • The agenda of the APA – the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement – includes negotiations on features, information and accounting guidance of countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs), adaptation communications, transparency, the five-year “ratchet and review” mechanism of the Paris Agreement (the Global Stocktake), implementation and compliance, the Adaptation Fund, and other matters. Over the first seven days, countries proposed all of the elements they want included in the principles, rules, modalities, and procedures for each of those sections, which were captured in several “Informal notes” throughout the process. By the end of the session, the compilation of those notes totaled 266 pages and are annexed to a COP decision.
  • Another part of the “Paris Rulebook” creation is tasked to the SBSTA – the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice. These deliberations are crucial because they focus on international cooperation to enhance ambition as defined in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. One provision (Article 6.2) establishes “internationally transferred mitigation outcomes” (ITMOs) for countries to meet their NDCs. With regards to land use in the Rulebook, observers are detecting a link between the CORSIA, the carbon offsetting scheme which was established last year by ICAO — the International Civil Aviation Organization, a specialized UN agency – and the numerous references in the SBSTA text to cooperative approaches “outside the NDC.” This refers to mitigation outcomes, including possibly from REDD+, the UN framework to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, being transferred to non-state actors such as CORSIA, which will likely require billions of dollars to offset growth in aviation emissions.
  • A breakthrough early in the second week after five years of what could only be called bad faith negotiations on agriculture came as a genuine surprise to many observers. Developed countries stepped back from their opposition to long-standing proposals from developing countries and agreed for the subsidiary bodies to “jointly address issues related to agriculture, including through workshops and expert meetings,” and to take “into consideration the vulnerabilities of agriculture to climate change and approaches to addressing food security.” The decision on agriculture mandates a submissions process – which includes observers — to provide information on a number of topics so that scientific talks can now progress into action and the UN system can provide more strategic support to countries that need it.
  • Civil society observers and activists with a handful of allies in governments continue to push for inclusion of the Human Rights language from the preamble of the Paris Agreement into the Rulebook. Meanwhile, civil society, human rights defenders, and representatives of national and international human rights institutions held several meetings on the sidelines of COP 23 to establish a narrative that frames climate change as a human rights issue and to discuss legal avenues for holding big polluters accountable for human rights abuses resulting from climate change. Meanwhile, it was encouraging to see real progress achieved during the duration of COP 23 in a handful of investigations and court cases of strategic climate litigation around the world.
  • After several negotiating sessions over the first eight days of the COP, and with the specter of failure hanging over the negotiations, a final push propelled negotiators to agree on a Gender Action Plan (GAP). Building on the language of the Paris Agreement, the Gender Action Plan reminds Parties that gender-responsive climate policy continues to require further strengthening in all activities concerning adaptation, mitigation, and related means of implementation (finance, technology development and transfer, and capacity-building) as well as decision-making on the implementation of climate policies. Above all, it requires women to be represented in all aspects of the Convention process and gender mainstreaming through all relevant targets and goals in activities under the Convention as an important contribution to increasing their effectiveness.
  • The need to strengthen the efforts of local communities and indigenous peoples in responding to climate change was recognized in the Paris Decision text which established a platform for the exchange of experiences and sharing of best practices. A highly successful “open dialogue” on advancing the platform took place at the UNFCCC inter-sessionals this past May, and an agenda item on creating the platform was included in the official negotiations for the first time at this COP. So it was a big advance when final text appeared and was adopted. The Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform is a small step towards recognizing and respecting the perspectives and knowledge of indigenous peoples in this process that can now be built on.

COP 23 was actually one COP in two zones – Bula and Bonn, two kilometers apart. The Bula zone was the site of the official negotiations, while the Bonn zone hosted dozens of civil society kiosks and hundreds of events. According to the UNFCCC list of participants, 16,028 people were registered – 9,202 delegates, 5,543 from observer organizations, and 1,283 media. An additional 5,940 people were accredited for the Bonn zone only. Thousands more participated in off-site events, marches, and demonstrations throughout the two weeks in Bonn and its surroundings. Several high-level announcements were made on the COP sidelines by coalitions of governments, corporations, and civil society.

The call for an end of the fossil fuel era throughout numerous events in the Bonn Zone echoed the messages of the People’s Climate Summit from 3-7 November, the Climate March that saw 25,000 people on the streets in Bonn on 4 November, and Ende Gelände, a peaceful mass civil disobedience action against open pit lignite coal mining in the Rhineland, from 5-7 November. All of these events articulated a message of global solidarity and climate justice and highlighted feasible alternatives to a corporatist approach to climate negotiations with false solutions in addressing the climate crisis.

Pre-2020 Implementation and Ambition

From the very start of COP 23, the rich/poor divide between developed and developing countries and the lack of negotiating space to hold rich countries accountable for their promises on climate action before 2020 threatened to generate distrust and stall the negotiations tasked with writing the Paris Rulebook.

On the first day of talks, the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDCs), representing 24 countries including China, India, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, proposed negotiations on “accelerating the implementation of pre-2020 commitments and actions and increasing pre-2020 ambition.” They contended that their proposal was not a new agenda item but rather “unfinished business” from a previous COP decision – the Durban Platform for Enhanced Access – which had not been resolved.

The Durban Platform, from COP 17 in South Africa, was reiterated as “Further Advancing the Durban Platform” at COP 19 in Warsaw. The first paragraphs of the Warsaw mandate resulted in the Paris Agreement, but the second section, a resolution for ambitious action by developed countries to reduce emissions and to provide financial support to developing countries in the years leading up to 2020, has not progressed. Pre-2020 ambition was the “second pillar” of the Durban Platform but, the LMDCs argued, only half of the bargain has been delivered. Developing countries were simply asking developed countries to fulfill the pledges they had already made.

Consultations among countries on the LMDC proposal were led by last year’s Moroccan COP presidency, but as the week progressed, interventions from developing countries on lack of pre-2020 ambition were abundant across the negotiating sessions. Brazil, in a press conference, even dared to say that the talks ran the risk of repeating Copenhagen, where COP 15 collapsed in 2009.

Then suddenly, on the morning of Wednesday 15 November, the stalemate broke and the consultations produced a resolution which answered key demands from developing countries and which embeds a process of reviewing and enhancing pre-2020 actions over the next two years. It establishes a process, through a “stock-taking” session at the 2018 COP and again at the COP in 2019, to track and report on the progress of developed countries’ pre-2020 commitments to reduce emissions and to provide finance and technology to support developing countries. It also requests the UNFCCC Secretariat to prepare official reports on those stock-taking sessions.

Most importantly for developing countries, the Fiji Momentum for Ambition decides that the outcome of the 2018 Talanoa Dialogue (see below) will feed into the COP stocktake on pre-2020 ambition in 2019. The pre-2020 decision and the Talanoa Dialogue together create an ongoing series of dialogues and reviews to enhance pre-2020 action, which will hopefully build enhanced trust to increase ambition for both mitigation and support in the post-2020 period.

The Facilitative Dialogue is now the Talanoa Dialogue, and an outlook for COP 24 in Poland

 The design of the 2018 Talanoa Dialogue was jointly prepared by the COP 22 presidency of Morocco and the COP 23 Fijian presidency and will be launched in January 2018 under the leadership of Fiji and the COP 24 presidency, Poland.

It aims to take stock of the collective efforts of Parties in relation to progress towards the implementation of the Paris Agreement, namely, the long-term goal of holding the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

It, too, will be conducted in the Pacific tradition of “talanoa,” which infused COP 23. The decision specifically notes that “the dialogue should not lead to discussions of a confrontational nature in which individual Parties or groups of Parties are singled out.” One might wonder how progress on increasing ambition will be achieved without confrontation when most of what has been seen in the UNFCCC in this context has been very much about concealing one’s true interests and little understanding of the circumstances of others.

The Talanoa Dialogue in 2018

The dialogue will be structured around three general topics: Where are we? Where do we want to go? and How do we get there? Importantly, the Special Report by the IPCC on global warming of 1.5°C, which will be released in October 2018, will inform the dialogue.

It is interesting to note how language changed over the last two days of the talks as Parties determined how strongly they wanted to commit to the Talanoa process. In an early morning version on 16 November, they “take note” of the announcements regarding the design. By late evening that day, however, the language was much stronger – “endorses the design.” In the final decision, the COP “welcomes with appreciation” the design and “launches” the Talanoa Dialogue, which firmly places the responsibility of conducting the dialogue in the hands of the Fiji Presidency.

The preparatory phase of the dialogue will begin in early 2018. “Stakeholders and expert institutions,” as well as Parties, are encouraged to provide analysis and policy inputs to inform the dialogue. An online platform will be created to house all those inputs. Discussions will be held at the inter-sessional meetings in May, and all “information and insights” gained from the preparatory phase will be synthesized by the presidencies to prepare for the political phase.

In the political phase, high-level representatives and ministers will take stock of the collective efforts of Parties, engage in roundtables, and, undoubtedly, in many bi-lateral discussions. The presidencies will provide a summary of key messages at the final meeting of the Dialogue.

Many Parties, especially developing countries, worked hard to ensure that the Fiji Presidency will continue to guide the Talanoa Dialogue throughout the year. The Fiji Presidency ends on the first day of COP 24, when all activities in the preparatory phase will have been completed. Many are concerned that Poland’s widespread and continued use of coal will cast a pall over COP 24 and create the possibility that few decisive steps will be taken. Civil society is also concerned about possible limitations being imposed on engagement, since public funding for many environmental groups in Poland has been eliminated. There is an additional fear that obtaining the necessary visas to enter Poland could be problematic and that strict admission rules might be used by the host country to restrict participation of critical non-business civil society voices, especially from developing countries.

A Loss for Loss and Damage

to the carteret islanders of papua new guinea
and to the taro islanders of the solomon islands

i take this moment
to apologize to you
we are drawing the line here

because baby we are going to fight
your mommy daddy
bubu jimma your country and president too
we will all fight

COP 23 was not expected to be an exciting global climate summit, but instead a technical COP focused on writing the rulebook for the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The Fijian presidency, however, provided an opportunity to spotlight the fate of small island nations, such as Fiji, which are the most susceptible to the catastrophic effects of climate change, and the least able to pay for the costs of reconstruction after catastrophic storms, or for protection or resettlement from slow onset events such as rising sea levels. The moral weight of a Pacific COP amplifying the voices of small island nations was thus seen as a crucial opportunity to press for progress on loss and damage, especially on the provision of additional finance for that purpose.

Fiji was pummeled last year by Typhoon Winston, the strongest ever to make landfall in the southern hemisphere. It destroyed 40,000 homes, killed 44 people, and created economic losses estimated at nearly one-third of the country’s GDP. In the two months prior to COP 23, back to back Category 5 hurricanes brought widespread destruction to several Caribbean islands. Add to that deadly floods in Africa and South Asia, and droughts and heatwaves affecting nearly one-third of the world, and it’s clear to see why many felt a momentum for increased action on loss and damage at this COP.

But it was not to be.

Loss and Damage in the UNFCCC

The concept of loss and damage is not new. It was first raised by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) some 20 years ago. At COP 16 in Cancun in 2010, countries agreed to consider how to address loss and damage as part of the Cancun Adaptation Framework. The Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM) was agreed at COP 19 in November 2013 and contains three main functions: enhance knowledge, strengthen dialogue and coordination, and enhance action and support, including finance for loss and damage. That third function has yet to be addressed, and was blocked again by developed countries in Bonn.

After Warsaw, tense negotiations followed on whether loss and damage would become the third “pillar” of climate policy (joining mitigation and adaptation) or continue to be subsumed under adaptation. A standalone Paris Agreement Article 8 on loss and damage was a major victory for developing countries, although it is tempered by one sentence in the Paris Decision stating that the article on loss and damage “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation.” Inclusion of the term “compensation” was a red-line for many developed countries, especially the United States. In the end, a compromise replaced “compensation” with “action and support.”

Despite the existence of a standalone Article for loss and damage in the Paris Agreement, there was no official space for it in the COP 23 negotiations except in the subsidiary bodies where the periodic reports of the executive committee established to implement the Warsaw Mechanism are reviewed.  The committee’s five-year rolling workplan of 12 October was presented to the subsidiary bodies early in the first week.

In the negotiating sessions – closed to observers — where the workplan was discussed, developing countries repeated their call for a permanent agenda item in the subsidiary bodies, demanded sufficient resources for the WIM to function at a more accelerated level (the committee only meets twice a year), and urged Parties to mobilize finance to countries who have been worst hit by the effects of climate change.  But developed country delegates repeatedly blocked any talks on finance – the US was reportedly more vocal in the loss and damage discussions than in any other negotiation room.

The final decision is hopelessly weak.  It includes no permanent agenda item for implementing “action and support,” only “encourages” parties to make available sufficient resources for the operation of the executive committee, and merely “encourages” the executive committee to mobilize and secure finance.  The sole tangible action is an “expert dialogue” in 2018 to explore how finance might be secured.  A reported attempt by some developing countries to strengthen the text by taking the issue to ministers was apparently unsuccessful.  The bottom line is this: there is no guarantee of financial support for those affected by catastrophic disasters or even for the body tasked to find that finance.

Meanwhile, the “InsuResilience Global Partnership for Climate and Disaster Risk Finance and Insurance Solutions” was launched on the sidelines of the COP.  This private sector initiative brings together G20 countries, the 49 vulnerable countries of the V20, and more than 30 private sector partners, and aims to provide working insurance plans to as many as 400 million vulnerable people worldwide by 2020. Although welcome, this initiative is in effect a match-making platform between private insurance providers and clients.

It is insufficient and little more than a convenient distraction from the moral obligation of developed countries under the core equity principle of the UNFCCC to provide public finance resources to the poorest developing countries and people already severely affected by the impacts of catastrophic climate change.  Instead, the response to climate disasters is privatized with the victims left to pay the insurance premiums.  This turns fairness on its head as those who have contributed the least to climate change and have profited the least from the economic development spurred by historic greenhouse gas emissions become responsible for the cost of climate damages.

Multiple Decisions, but Little Progress for Climate Finance at COP 23

Like at previous COPs, the issue of climate finance proved to be a core sticking point in Bonn – both with respect to discourses about pre-2020 ambition and in looking to the Paris Agreement implementation and the ways those two negotiation strands are interlinked.

It was thus not surprising that consultations on ex-ante finance transparency under the COP, namely a clear indication by developed countries how much public finance and other financial resources they intend to provide biennially as demanded under Article 9.5 of the Paris Agreement, extended until the morning hours of Saturday, well past the official closing time of COP 23.

For most developing countries, many of which made more ambitious domestic climate actions in their national NDCs conditional on the provision of financial support by developed countries, the discourse about the scale, progression, and predictability especially of public climate finance provision under long-term finance discussions is inseparable from efforts under the APA to increase climate ambition in next year’s Talanoa Dialogue process. In contrast, developed countries see such a connection as prejudging APA discussions. In the end, the decision text on this matter forwards the outcomes to COP 24 to further consider and adopt how ex-ante finance transparency will be addressed.

Acting as the CMP (the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol), the COP also discussed the future of the Adaptation Fund under the Paris Agreement.  The fund currently provides funding for concrete adaptation actions to developing country parties under the Kyoto Protocol.  Talks centered specifically on whether and how it will fit into the Financial Mechanism of the Paris Agreement. Parties struggled with language on whether the Adaptation “should” or “shall” serve the Agreement, with developing countries pushing for a clear “shall” mandate, but developed countries arguing that a substantive review of the Adaptation Fund’s governance and operational procedures was needed before such a clear mandate was given.

The decision in Bonn squares this circle by deciding that the Adaptation Fund shall serve the Paris Agreement, with further decisions to be taken by the CMA (the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement) in 2018 on whether it should do so exclusively and under the guidance of and accountable to the CMA and what governance and operational reforms, including on funding sources, might have to be considered prior to such a decision.

The outcome of the negotiations on long-term finance (LTF) – continued efforts by developed countries to jointly mobilize USD 100 billion annually by 2020 – were predictably unremarkable, reinforcing largely agreed conclusions of earlier years, and made no substantial progress to show increased ambition pre-2020 to move faster or even go beyond this finance goal. No significant announcements of additional climate finance contributions were made at the High Level segment of the climate talks beyond some support for the Adaptation Fund (AF) and the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF).   An opportunity to build more trust in the pre-2020 and Paris implementation processes was missed. This is not to say that the roughly USD 167 million pledged for both funds focusing on adaptation action (by Germany with a total of USD 118 million and Sweden with USD 44 million as main contributors) is not welcome.

In fact, both funds need this injection of grant money for 2018 as a matter of survival. But this is far from the scale of additional finance commitment needed to instill confidence in developing countries that their unilateral efforts to raise ambition going into the 2018 Talanoa Dialogue will be matched by adequate developed country financial support.  To put the pledges to the AF and LDCF in context: rumor has it that the German government spent roughly an equivalent sum on the logistics and operation of COP23.

Thus, inadequately and unremarkably, the LTF decision in Bonn only reiterates the USD 100 billion goal and acknowledges progress toward that goal. It also calls for “greater balance” between funding for mitigation and adaptation, but stops short of asking for a clear 50:50 allocation commitment. Although not formally discussed, the finance elephant in the room, the de facto renunciation by the Trump administration of its international climate finance commitments, and whether other developed countries will be willing to make up for the resulting shortfall, was a constant undercurrent and is bound to resurface with force next year.  In 2018, there will be an in-session workshop on long-term climate finance organized by the Secretariat for consideration by COP 24 as well as a high-level ministerial dialogue organized by the COP 24 Presidency which will focus on access to climate finance.

Next year will also see a new iteration of the Biennial Assessment on climate finance flows by the Standing Committee on Finance (SCF), showing progress – or lack thereof – on a verifiable pathway toward the USD 100 billion annual goal of climate finance provided. In the COP’s review of the work of the SCF in a largely sanitized decision text, the SCF was asked to “enhance its work on the measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of support” beyond the biennial assessment of climate finance flows, reflecting weakened compromise language.  Developing countries felt more transparency and accountability of finance flows were direly needed, while developed countries spearheaded by the EU felt that the SCF was already devoting too much time on this issue.

The COP also adopted a largely procedural decision on the sixth review of the Financial Mechanism, taking note of the SCF’s work on the review and calling for greater complementarity and coherence between the Financial Mechanism’s operating entities, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and other sources of financial flows.  As both the GEF and the GCF are accountable to the COP, parties provided formal guidance to those multilateral climate funds under the UNFCCC. In the case of the GEF, controversy in the discussion among parties centered primarily on how to ensure that in its upcoming seventh replenishment period, funding continues to be provided to developing countries in the form of grants and concessional loans and that the GEF (which also serves other UN conventions on biodiversity and desertification) receives and allocates sufficient finance for its climate change focal area to address the needs and priorities of developing countries.

For the GCF, nominally the largest multilateral climate fund with confirmed commitments of USD 10 billion (of which USD 2 billion of the USD 3 billion US commitment will not be paid under the Trump administration), crucial issues in the COP guidance focus on increasing direct access to the Fund, as well as protecting the right of all eligible developing countries to access GCF funding using all financial instruments, grants as well as loans, guarantees, or equity investments. Background here is the rejection of a project requesting grant financing from Argentina at the last GCF Board meeting in early October in Cairo, where some developed country GCF Board members questioned the eligibility of Argentina as a middle-income country to receive GCF grant financing.

Reflecting a one-year stalemate in the GCF Board, the COP guidance to the GCF, at the last minute, was stripped of a provision introduced by small island states that would have requested the GCF trustee, in the interim the World Bank, to report to the COP on the alignment of the investment of the Fund’s assets with the Paris Agreement, i.e. ensuring that they are not invested in fossil fuels. This provision was opposed not surprisingly by the Arab States (with Saudi Arabia leading the opposition of such a Trust Fund Investment Policy in the GCF Board), but also by India and had to be stricken in order for the decision to be approved.

Meanwhile, in the real world, fossil fuels are increasingly being seen as risky business – and this perception now goes beyond coal. The Norwegian central bank – which runs the country’s $1tn sovereign wealth fund that also happens to be the biggest one in the world – has told its government it should dump its shares in oil and gas companies.

1.5°C and Geoengineering

The discussions around the need for increasing ambition significantly in the next few years were also fueled by the UN Environment’s Emissions Gap 2017 report that focuses mainly on 2030 and concludes: The emissions gap in the case of 1.5°C with higher than 50 percent probability is found to be 16 to 19 GtCO2e for conditional and unconditional NDCs respectively.

The fact that current pledges in the NDCs do not provide a clear pathway for limiting global warming to well below 2°C, let alone 1.5°C, is paving the way for more consideration of risky and dangerous geoengineering schemes.

But no silver bullet for climate change has yet been found. And while geoengineering technologies remain mostly aspirational, there are proven mitigation options that can and should be implemented vigorously. These include scaling up renewable energy, phasing out fossil fuels (including an early retirement of existing fossil infrastructure), wider diffusion of sustainable agroecological peasant agriculture, and decreased energy and resource input into our economy.

While COP23 saw many attempts to promote quick technofixes for the climate crisis (ranging from nuclear energy to CCS, Bioenergy with CCS / BECCS to solar geoengineering) at side events and “climate action” spaces, there were also, encouragingly, increased debates between academics and civil society on transformational approaches and pathways for 1.5°C – targeting the fossil fuel and energy sector, transport, agriculture, lifestyles, financial institutions, GDP growth, and many other out of the (climate) box ideas.

Given recent developments in the USA (including a Geoengineering Hearing of the Subcommittee on Environment and the Subcommittee on Energy on November 8th and the proposed SCoPEx outdoor experiment in 2018), it was refreshing to see big civil society networks raising their voices with a clear message: The Climate Action Network (CAN) International’s ECO newsletter of November 13th comments on SCoPex and the US Hearing: “Though the scientists involved are not climate sceptics, they are, at best, naive and play into the hands of a fossil fuel industry that attempts to sabotage all strong decarbonisation efforts. It is no surprise that the Trump-party dominated US Congress held an Energy and Environment Committee meeting on geoengineering earlier this week, where members supported geoengineering research and were willing to provide consistent funding for it as a tool to address climate change impacts, instead of adopting politically-unpalatable (to them) mitigation measures.

Among other options, transparent, inclusive, and multilateral governance regimes under the UN could be established to consider whether experiments like these should proceed. If SCoPEx moves forward with its proposed tests in 2018, it could bring full-scale SRM deployment closer. Unpredictable ecological impacts of modifying weather patterns on a mass scale are a grave concern; even more so the risk that SRM is examined for military use, and the diversion of funding away from real solutions to the climate crisis.”

And members of the CBD Alliance expressed their alarm over increased talks of geoengineering in the UNFCCC in an Open letter to the UNFCCC: “Geoengineering is a distraction from the real priorities – emission reductions“.

Any debates on closing the emissions gap and increasing ambition post-Paris need to seriously consider real radical and transformative emission reduction strategies that rely on proven technologies and contribute to climate justice in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals and Planetary Boundaries.

Writing the Paris Rulebook

The Paris Agreement was successfully adopted in 2015 largely because the technical details were postponed until 2018.  For the first time in the Convention’s history, the Agreement stated basic obligations for all countries, and introduced new procedures which have become the workstreams or negotiating tracks which will result in the creation of what has become known as the Paris Rulebook.

The agenda of the APA – the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement – includes negotiations on features, information, and accounting guidance of countries’ national determined contributions (NDCs), adaptation communications, transparency, the five-year “ratchet and review” mechanism of the Paris Agreement (the Global Stocktake), implementation and compliance, the Adaptation Fund, and other matters. Over the first seven days, countries proposed all of the elements they want included in the principles, rules, modalities, and procedures for each of those sections, which were captured in several “Informal notes” throughout the process.  By the end of the session, the compilation of those notes totaled 266 pages and are annexed to a COP decision.

Another part of the Rulebook’s creation is tasked to the SBSTA – the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice.  These deliberations are crucial because they focus on international cooperation to enhance ambition as defined in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.  One provision (Article 6.2) establishes “internationally transferred mitigation outcomes” (ITMOs) for countries to meet their NDCs.  Another (Article 6.4) establishes a new “Sustainable Development Mechanism” (SDM) to generate tradeable emissions units.  A third (Article 6.8) calls for a framework for non-market approaches to assist countries to implement their NDCs.

The question of market-based approaches post-Paris is very different from that in the Kyoto regime. Trading of ITMOs would take place in a radically changed world where Parties have not only committed to a 1.5 C degree target and long term deep de-carbonization, but where all Parties have committed to climate actions and emission reductions. This leaves no room for offsetting! Without clear rules, trading in ITMOs could blow significant holes into the Paris Agreement and weaken the environmental integrity of the new regime.

Just as in the APA, Parties added their preferred elements into each of the three agenda items, which were captured in Informal Notes on Articles 6.2, 6.4, and 6.8 – another 44 pages of potential “Paris rules” which will be taken up again at the next SBSTA session in May 2018.

Land Use in the Paris Rulebook

The agriculture, forestry and land use sectors will very likely play a key role in the market and non-market activities which are the subject of the SBSTA negotiations.  But industrialized countries can no longer paper over their lack of ambition in transitioning away from fossil fuels with cheaper emissions reduction projects in developing countries or in sectors such as agriculture and forestry.

Many countries added elements to the Article 6 discussions to safeguard the environmental integrity of any trading mechanism – to ensure that such an approach will lead to an overall reduction in global emissions.

Additionally, observers are detecting a link between the CORSIA, the carbon offsetting scheme which was established last year by ICAO — the International Civil Aviation Organization, a specialized UN agency – and the numerous references in the SBSTA text to cooperative approaches “outside the NDC.”  This refers to mitigation outcomes, including possibly from REDD+, the UN framework to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, being transferred to non-state actors such as CORSIA, which will likely require billions of dollars to offset growth in aviation emissions.[4]

While negotiators are concerned that there is no “double counting” from CORSIA (that emission reductions sold to CORSIA are not also included in a country’s NDC), it is also important to ensure that overall global emissions decrease – which can only happen with absolute emission reductions in key sectors such as aviation (that only benefit the rich and high polluting) and not if aviation growth is offset with forest carbon credits.

In parallel with COP 23, the ICAO council met from 30 October to 17 November to agree on draft rules for what types of offsets might be included in CORSIA.  If ICAO decides to include forest offsets in the CORSIA – which runs a high risk of not actually reducing overall omissions — it will create the illusion that flights are carbon-neutral when in fact overall emissions are increasing.  As a very important first measure, forest offsets must be excluded from the CORSIA.

Another element to watch as these talks on carbon markets progress –one which will only become more prominent – is the use of “blockchain technology” in carbon accounting and climate finance.  It is already referenced once in the rules being developed on internationally traded mitigation outcomes. Civil society must urgently educate itself on the functioning and risks of this disruptive technology and beware of its underlying ideology of cyberlibertarianism that depends to a large extent on far-right political thought.

Finally, an Outcome on Agriculture – now the real work can begin!

Nearly 800 million people – one in nine of the global population – suffer from chronic undernourishment, according to the most recent statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization.  Food systems are responsible for between 19 and 29 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

So it was unacceptable that UNFCCC talks on agriculture have been deadlocked for five years.  Developing countries have demanded that discussions focus on adaptation so that developed countries will provide them with financial support to ensure food security.  Developed countries have maintained a focus on mitigation so that developing countries reduce emissions from their agriculture sectors – that to a large degree produce food shipped around the world and consumed by people in rich countries (either directly or as feedstock for the global meat industry).

Mindful of rumors that agriculture might disappear from the official negotiations because of this lack of progress, everyone, including the Fijian presidency, was hoping to come out of this COP with some kind of meaningful outcome,

Nevertheless, a breakthrough early in the second week after five years of what could only be called bad faith negotiations still came as a genuine surprise to many observers.  Developed countries stepped back from their opposition to long-standing proposals from developing countries and agreed for the subsidiary bodies to “jointly address issues related to agriculture, including through workshops and expert meetings,” and to take “into consideration the vulnerabilities of agriculture to climate change and approaches to addressing food security.”

The decision on agriculture mandates a submissions process – which includes observers — to provide information on topics including: a) the outcomes of five in-session workshops; b) assessing adaptation, adaptation co-benefits and resilience; c) soil carbon, soil health and soil fertility; (d) improved nutrient use and manure management; (e) improved livestock management systems; and (f) socioeconomic and food security dimensions of climate change in the agricultural sector.

Scientific talks can now progress into action and the UN system can provide more strategic support to countries that need it.  Agriculture discussions in upcoming sessions should now be able to focus less on process and more on the tools and real life solutions that can make agriculture and food security less polluting and better able to cope with climate change.

The agreement on agriculture was a welcome piece of positive news in the early part the COP’s second week when most other negotiation streams appeared not to be progressing well.

Negotiators working on agriculture must now get their heads around the high and ever-increasing emissions from industrial meat production.  Commitments to keep global temperatures from rising above 1.5°C or even 2°C will not be possible without addressing the staggering emissions from the meat and dairy industry. By 2060, growth in meat and dairy production, driven in large part by these companies and by the industrial food system they represent, is on course to take up the entire budget of global emissions under a scenario of a 1.5°C increase targeted under the Paris Agreement. According to new research launched at COP 23, “Big meat and dairy’s supersized climate footprint,” the top 20 meat and dairy producers emit more greenhouse gases that Germany. And the three largest meat and dairy corporations emit more than either Exxon, Shell or BP. Agricultural discussions in the UNFCCC need to urgently address the non-CO2 emissions from agriculture. The political direction is clear and should guide us away from the industrial food chain towards the peasant food web.

Human Rights in the Paris Rulebook

One of the most significant victories of the Paris Agreement was the inclusion of language on human rights in its preamble, although hopes for an anchoring in the articles of the Agreement were shattered.  In the end, civil society campaigners and a few country delegates had to fight hard to ensure that mention of key principles and of Parties’ existing human rights obligations were not removed from the final text, including specific references to poverty alleviation, rights of Indigenous Peoples, public participation, gender equality and women’s empowerment, food security, just transition for workers and decent work, intergenerational justice, and ecosystem integrity.

But that win was only the start of the battle.  Now they must be embodied in five key elements of the Paris Rulebook being negotiated:  reporting guidelines on countries’ NDCs, adaptation communications, the transparency framework, market mechanisms, and the global stocktake.

So far, that’s not happening enough.  Which countries will prove willing to defend this agenda as human rights champions?  Less than a handful have stepped up to introduce the cross-cutting language necessary to enshrine these principles in the Paris Rulebook.

The terms “human rights,” “indigenous peoples and local communities,” “stakeholder consultations,” “elders and youth,” “just transition,” or “gender” appear only four times in the current draft of the rulebook for NDCs, in the section on information to be considered in the planning process of their design. They are referred to with different terminologies only a few times in the current drafts for adaptation communications and for transparency, and not at all in global stocktake.  Human rights appears eight times in the emerging rules on market mechanisms, and gender appears once.

The preambular language of the Paris Agreement regarding human rights is not new.  It refers to obligations which countries already have under other international frameworks such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Incorporating these principles throughout the Paris Rulebook will not create additional burdens but, instead, will ensure policy coherence.  It is disheartening to not see stronger support by Parties for the inclusion of human rights considerations in the Paris Rulebook.  With time running out on writing the rulebook, for countries not to speak up for integration of human rights effectively undermines the implementation of the Paris Agreement in accordance and coherent with nations’ existing human rights obligations.

Human Rights in the Real World – The Climate Litigation Movement

we will all fight
and even though there are those
hidden behind platinum titles
who like to pretend
that we don’t exist
that the marshall islands
tuvalu
kiribati
maldives
and typhoon haiyan in the philippines
and floods of pakistan, algeria, colombia
and all the hurricanes, earthquakes, and tidalwaves
didn’t exist

still
there are those
who see us

Civil society, human rights defenders, and representatives of national and international human rights institutions held several meetings on the sidelines of COP 23 to establish a narrative that frames climate change as a human rights issue and to discuss legal avenues for holding big polluters accountable for human rights abuses resulting from climate change. Globally, there are now close to 900 climate cases litigated in courts, more than two thirds of them in the United States alone.

Meanwhile, it was encouraging to see real progress achieved during the duration of COP 23 in a handful of investigations and court cases of strategic climate litigation around the world:

On November 16th, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) launched a major new synthesis report: Smoke and Fumes: The Legal and Evidentiary Basis for Holding Big Oil Accountable for the Climate Crisis. Drawing from the extensive and ongoing recent investigations into the oil industry’s history of climate research and climate denial, including the hundreds of documents compiled in CIEL’s own research, Smoke and Fumes presents the first comprehensive summary of what the oil industry knew about climate change, when they knew it, and how they misled investors and the public about climate science. Significantly, the report analyzes the available evidence in the context of core principles of legal responsibility that underlie tort and human rights regimes around the world, and maps that evidence to the rapidly developing science of climate attribution, providing a foundation – and a roadmap – for future investigations into corporate climate accountability.

The Peruvian farmer and mountain guide Saúl Luciano Lliuya, who has filed a lawsuit against the German utility RWE, received a groundbreaking victory in the higher regional court in Hamm on 13 November. .At the oral hearing, the court stated clearly that large emitters like RWE are liable for supporting people in poorer countries affected by climate change, paving the way for the case to proceed. For the first time, a court has said that a contributor to climate change must claim responsibility for the hazards associated with global warming.  RWE’s immense emissions threaten the plaintiff’s family and property as well as a large part of his home city of Huaraz. He is demanding that the company pay its fair share of adaptation costs. The District Court Essen first dismissed the civil lawsuit against RWE, but Lliuya filed an appeal before the Higher Regional Court Hamm against the negative ruling of the Regional Court.

During COP 21 in December 2015, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR) launched a first-ever investigation into the responsibility of carbon producers for human rights impacts resulting from climate change. The investigation was triggered by a petition filed by Philippine disaster survivors, communities, and 14 local NGOs including Greenpeace Southeast Asia-Philippines. Recently, the CHR called on 47 carbon producer corporations to attend a preliminary conference on 11 December 2017.

Mark 11 December in your calendar for another reason.  On that same day, in the famous Juliana v. United States climate lawsuit brought by 21 young plaintiffs in 2015 who argue that their constitutional and public trust rights are being violated by the government’s creation of climate danger, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral argument over whether the Trump administration can evade trial. The case is one of many related legal actions brought by youth in several states and countries, all supported by Our Children’s Trust.

And finally: Norway. With the backing of a wide coalition, two environmental groups, Nature and Youth and Greenpeace Nordic, have filed a historic legal case against the Norwegian government for granting licenses to allow oil drilling in new areas of the Norwegian Arctic for the first time in 20 years. The plaintiffs argue that Norway thereby violates the Paris Climate Agreement and the right to a healthy and safe environment for future generations as stated in the Norwegian Constitution. The case, “The People vs. Arctic Oil,” was presented in the Oslo District Court on 14 November 2017. It is the first case that challenges drilling for new oil and gas based on the Paris agreement, and it is the first time the rights contained in Norwegian Constitutional Article §112 are invoked in Court, which could set an international precedent for future climate cases around the world. Live updates from the case can be accessed here.

Gender Action Plan

Women in developing countries are particularly vulnerable to climate change because of persistent gender discriminations and restrictions that deny them access to resources such as land, finance, and political power. Women remain underrepresented in decision-making bodies, including those related to mitigation and adaptation efforts, although the IPCC and prior COP decisions recognize that addressing global climate change needs the effective participation of women as agents of change in climate actions.

Recognizing these issues, the two-year “Lima work programme on gender” was initiated at COP 20 in 2014 to advance gender equality measures throughout the climate negotiations.  A COP 22 decision extended it for three more years until 2019 and calls for enhancements including the development of a “gender action plan” to support the implementation of gender-related decisions and mandates under the UNFCCC. At a gender and climate change workshop at the Bonn meetings in May, Parties and civil society representatives agreed on priority areas of action for the plan including capacity-building and knowledge generation, gender balance, participation and women’s leadership, coherence, means of implementation, and monitoring and evaluation. This goes significantly beyond the still important goal of achieving gender balance within the composition of delegations, and in all bodies established under the Convention, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement.

After several negotiating sessions over the first eight days of the COP, and with the specter of failure hanging over the negotiations, a final push propelled negotiators to agree on a Gender Action Plan (GAP). Building on the language of the Paris Agreement, the GAP reminds Parties that gender-responsive climate policy continues to require further strengthening in all activities concerning adaptation, mitigation, and related means of implementation (finance, technology development and transfer, and capacity-building) as well as decision-making on the implementation of climate policies.  Above all, it requires women to be represented in all aspects of the Convention process and gender mainstreaming through all relevant targets and goals in activities under the Convention as an important contribution to increasing their effectiveness.

It lists 16 targeted activities to be performed over the next two years with clear responsibilities and indicators on how gender integration can be improved in climate policy, among them: increasing the number of female climate decision-makers, bringing gender-responsive budgeting into climate finance processes, and increasing the participation of women from grass-roots, local and indigenous peoples’ communities in UNFCCC sessions.

While the approval of the Gender Action Plan can be seen as a COP 23 success and a long overdue step for the climate process, its full implementation is far from secured. With little funding for this purpose under the Secretariat’s approved administrative budget for the next two years, the GAP implementation process remains dependent almost exclusively on voluntary contributions by the Parties, which were not yet forthcoming in Bonn.

Further, the UNFCCC’s gender mainstreaming effort must look beyond the GAP and its signal of intent.  In order to have real traction, gender mainstreaming efforts must focus on finding entry points for gender actions in the negotiations beyond the actions listed in the GAP.  This must be the task of the technical experts negotiating mitigation, adaptation, finance, and technology provisions – negotiators who were not involved in the discussions on gender mainstreaming in Bonn. For the GAP to become more than an “add-on” to otherwise still gender-blind climate negotiations, gender champions must compel negotiators to include gender considerations across all negotiating tracks of the Paris Agreement – in the elements of the Paris rulebook and in its Finance Mechanism.  It should also be noted that the GEF and the GCF, the operating entities of the financial mechanism of the Paris Agreement, pursue a gender mainstreaming approach with separate gender policies and action plans and are expanding their own accountability frameworks on ensuring improved gender equality results for all their actions.

Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform

Indigenous Peoples and local communities have been clamoring for a seat at the UN climate change table since shortly after the signing of the Convention in 1992.  They are often the first to face the consequences of climate change since their livelihoods are nearly totally dependent upon the environment and its resources.  A recent study revealed that at least one quarter of all tropical forest carbon is found in the collectively managed territories of indigenous peoples and local communities, and peer-reviewed evidence demonstrates that they do a better job at maintaining forests than any other land management strategy.  Still, without secure rights, these communities and their forests are at risk of illegal and forced encroachment, conflict, and capture by more powerful interests.

The need to strengthen the efforts of local communities and indigenous peoples in responding to climate change was recognized in the Paris Decision text which established a platform for the exchange of experiences and sharing of best practices.

A highly successful “open dialogue” on advancing the platform took place at the UNFCCC inter-sessionals this past May, and an agenda item on creating the platform was included in the official negotiations for the first time at this COP.  But after a preliminary text appeared early in the conference, the negotiations seemingly stalled as no new text appeared for some days.

Reportedly, some developed countries proposed that the platform be established outside the formal UNFCCC process since the UNFCCC, being a Party-driven process, would limit the involvement of indigenous peoples.  There was also the complicated matter of how different countries recognize their indigenous cultures.  And there is a long-standing issue of how distinct rights provided for indigenous peoples might differ from local communities.

So it was indeed a major and satisfying victory – “a big advance” said one prominent group representing Amazon indigenous communities – when final text appeared and was adopted.  The Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, while only a small step towards recognizing and respecting the perspectives and knowledge of indigenous peoples in this process, contains some key elements.  It recommends the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples (recognizing the principle of free, prior and informed consent, or FPIC), equal status of indigenous peoples and Parties, including in leadership roles, identifies the functions of the platform as knowledge, effective engagement, and the integration of indigenous peoples’ knowledge systems into climate actions and policies, and recommends adequate funding from the Secretariat and voluntary contributions to fulfill the platform’s functions.

It seems that the UNFCCC is finally catching up with other UN processes like the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) where indigenous peoples’ rights, cultures and knowledge systems have been part of debate and decisions for many years. But other indigenous peoples’ observers at COP 23 have a less positive assessment. The Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) concludes: “The challenge for our Indigenous Caucus is that the countries that are parties to this UN climate conference are very cautious on the process and rules for inclusion of Indigenous peoples in a decision-making role in the operationalizing of the platform. We need to be clear that on the final day of this two week 23rd Session of the Conference the Parties (COP 23), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has not recognized our rights. The final document from the parties to this conference says they only will ‘consider their respective obligations on the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.”

A Tale of two COPs

dear matafele peinam,
don’t cry
mommy promises you
no one
will come and devour you

no greedy whale of a company sharking through political seas
no backwater bullying of businesses with broken morals
no blindfolded bureaucracies gonna push
this mother ocean over
the edge

COP 23 was actually two conferences, located at opposite ends of Bonn’s Rheinaue Park on the banks of the River Rhine.  On the north end, in the familiar World Conference Center and a temporary structure on the UN campus, was the official “Bula” zone, where increasingly bleary-eyed delegates and the civil society representatives tracking them ran from room to room trying to navigate often-overlapping negotiating sessions.

Some two kilometers south in the “Bonn Zone,” where side events, information sessions, and countless conversations were held, the spirit was festive and colorful, frequently positive and solution-oriented, and very often mixed with combative notes of defiance and resistance against failed decision-making.  Many of those, however, were almost by default too self-centered and self-referential, since interaction with climate decision-makers was decidedly difficult.  Experiences and stories from the front line of climate change, and potential climate solutions should have had a chance to be heard by the negotiators in the Bula zone.

Halfway between Bonn and Bula, just outside the official zone, stood a giant tent housing the U.S. Climate Action Center, an initiative of the “We Are Still In” campaign, with more than 1,700 corporate signatories including Amazon, Apple, Nike, and Target.  U.S. mayors, governors, corporations, and university presidents highlighted climate actions that continue to ramp up regardless of the Trump administration’s announced withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.  The fundamental message throughout the center was, “Donald Trump cannot stop us.” This led to the interesting dynamic that this “unofficial US delegation” proved more effective in Bonn then the negotiators delegated by the White House and showed that increasingly, and not just for the US, real climate change ambition and action is demonstrated by those not formally represented in the UNFCCC process.

Activities by civil society, government, and corporations numbered in the hundreds, in official and unofficial side events, Global Climate Action Agenda initiatives on agriculture, transport, forests, and many other topics, and various announcements timed to the COP.

Billionaire philanthropist and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, the UNFCCC’s special envoy for cities, and California governor Jerry Brown launched “America’s Pledge,” an initiative to measure emissions reductions by so-called “non-state actors.”  Bloomberg argued that his coalition of cities, states, and businesses represents more than half of the U.S. economy – the third largest economy in the world if it were a country – and should be given a seat at the negotiating table of the UN climate talks.

Nineteen countries intend to end their reliance on coal as an energy source as announced in the Powering Past Coal Alliance which hopes to have 50 members by the time of next year’s COP.  The US, Australia, and Germany are conspicuously missing from the list. This announcement proved quite successful in sidelining Germany at the same time as negotiations in Berlin over the formation of a new government, which ultimately failed, hit a major stumbling block over the question of a coal phase-out and Germany’s future climate policy. Although the alliance is an interesting political move, the seriousness of commitment of at least some of its members remains in doubt.  Bear in mind that one signatory, the UK, continues to cut subsidies for renewable energy and that production from the tar sands in Canada, another signatory, continues unabated.

COP 23 also saw a High Level Call to Constrain Oil, Gas, and Coal Production to Achieve the Paris Goals: High level officials from Pacific Islands have called for a reigning in of fossil fuel production in order to stay within the climate limits agreed to in Paris. This requires a halt to exploration for, and expansion of, new reserves and a managed decline and just transition away from fossil fuel production starting with wealthy countries and states which have the means to act first and fastest. These calls echoed the goal of the Lofoten Declaration, which affirms that it is the urgent responsibility and moral obligation of wealthy fossil fuel producers to lead in these efforts. The Lofoten Declaration has been signed by nearly 500 organizations globally. His Excellency Anote Tong, the former President of Kiribati, and François Martel, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Development Forum, formally signed the Lofoten Declaration at COP 23.

The call for an end of the fossil fuel era throughout numerous events in the Bonn Zone echoed the messages of the People’s Climate Summit from 3-7 November, the Climate March that saw 25,000 people on the streets of Bonn on 4 November, and Ende Gelände, a peaceful mass civil disobedience action against open pit lignite coal mining in the Rhineland, from 5-7 November.  All of these events articulated a message of global solidarity and climate justice and highlighted feasible alternatives to a corporatist approach to climate negotiations with false solutions in addressing the climate crisis.

Fossil fuels were not the only action item at COP 23.  On 16 November, the 19 member countries of the “Biofuture Platform” including Brazil, China, Egypt, France, India, Morocco, and Mozambique announced a formal agreement on the development of targets for biofuels and to construct an action plan to achieve them.  “Sustainable biofuels can provide solutions to the energy transport nexus. This partnership offers us that chance,” said Rachel Kyte, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and CEO of Sustainable Energy for All.  Given that the carbon neutrality of bioenergy remains nothing more than a myth, Rachel Kyte is a core architect of the UN’s push to economic valuation of nature and valuation of natural capital.  Several of the founding signatories are countries known for land grabs and fundamental human rights abuses when it comes to the land sector.  The positive value of this initiative is impossible to grasp.

The story of two COPs can be told from two perspectives. One story is this: separating observers and their meeting spaces from the official negotiations will make it increasingly difficult to hold governments accountable for how they act in the UNFCCC space and will provide those worried about too many critical voices with an excuse to hand out even fewer badges at future COPs. For the civil society folks who  received the coveted two-zone accreditation, their efforts to bridge the geographical (if not the political) divide revolved primarily around the use of rental bicycles provided free of charge to make the daily trips back-and-forth and serve as “connective tissue” for both zones.  Many of them took up the challenge with vigor, despite the cold and continuous drizzle, even if that meant taking impromptu bike-riding lessons (for example, the Women and Gender Constituency provided a bike-riding “capacity building” training on site).

But there’s another way of telling this story: COP 23 was boring. Negotiations were not only very technical but had little relevance to what happens in the real world. The “other COP” in the Bonn Zone was where the action was, where real solutions (and some false ones) for implementing Paris and increasing ambition were tabled and discussed. Negotiators stuck in the Bula Zone discussing how to measure, report, and verify progress on implementation were isolated from the substantive talks of what implementation actually means – a fact that is easily seen by reading the outcome documents of COP 23.

still
there are those

who see us

hands reaching out
fists raising up
banners unfurling
megaphones booming
and we are
canoes blocking coal ships
we are
the radiance of solar villages
we are
the rich clean soil of the farmer’s past
we are
petitions blooming from teenage fingertips
we are
families biking, recycling, reusing,
engineers dreaming, designing, building,
artists painting, dancing, writing
and we are spreading the word

and there are thousands out on the street
marching with signs
hand in hand
chanting for change NOW

and they’re marching for you, baby
they’re marching for us

because we deserve to do more than just
survive
we deserve
to thrive

The title quotes the rallying call of the Pacific Climate Warriors at COP 23. The authors would like to thank Teresa Anderson, Kate Dooley, Sébastien Duyck, Stephen Leonard, Julie-Ann Richards, Anne-Laure Sablé, and Hans Verolme for their contributions to this analysis.

[1] On 23 September 2014, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a Marshall Islander poet and spoken word artist, addressed the Opening Ceremony of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit and performed her poem entitled “Dear Matafele Peinem” written to her daughter. We are citing from that poem here throughout our analysis with the permission of the author. For more information on Kathy and her work see: https://www.kathyjetnilkijiner.com

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