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Nations brace up for fresh rounds of negotiations at 2018 Bonn climate talks

Recording an estimated $300 billion of climate change damages, 2017 went down as the costliest year as well as the third hottest on record. Large tracts of the world’s oceans are being suffocated, and according to World Bank estimates, hundreds of millions of people are at risk of being displaced in the coming decades.

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UNFCCC

It is against this background that negotiators from the world’s governments gather in Bonn from April 30 to May 10, 2018 for three simultaneous meetings under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Their aim as ever is to figure out how to further implement the many agreements they have made over the past 28 years, and crucially how to put the 2015 Paris Agreement into practice. Their self-imposed deadline to finish this work is the end of this year at the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) to be held in Katowice, Poland. However some key questions have to be resolved before this can happen, including:

  • Will countries step-up their contributions in this critical window for climate action?
  • Will countries stick with the plan to deliver comprehensive national contributions?
  • Will real progress be seen on finance—the key enabling condition for climate action?
  • How can the process itself advance given the role of the US and polluting corporations?

With the window to avoid breaching the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C threshold closing fast – by some estimates less than four years remain – and with the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) projected to result in 3°C warming, countries know they must radically step up their efforts in the immediate-term as well as the long-term.


Will the Talanoa Dialogue increase ambition?

The Paris Agreement set up a process by which Parties could review the adequacy of their NDCs and increase their ambition accordingly. Though not a legal obligation, there is building political pressure around this so-called ratchet mechanism, and the Fijian Presidency has taken on the task of running what they have dubbed the “Talanoa Dialogue.”

The Dialogue is organised around three questions: 1) where are we; 2) where do we want to go; and 3) how do we get there? The Presidency invited both Parties and civil society to submit their inputs which the UNFCCC Secretariat will compile into materials used during the April/May meeting.

Previous dialogues of this nature, such as the 2016 Facilitative Dialogue on pre-2020 action, have seen Parties largely ignore the input from civil society experts and fail to revise up their commitments, so expectations are tempered for the Talanoa Dialogue. However, there is a determination among both developing countries and global civil society to use the Talanoa Dialogue to have a meaningful conversation can take place around what constitutes fair and adequate efforts, and to translate this into a badly needed concrete increase in ambition.

Having fought so hard in at COP23 in Bonn for attention to be paid to pre-2020 climate actions, developing countries are expected to maintain their strong call for more ambition in this period. Countries did agree in Bonn to submit progress reports on their pre-2020 actions for all to see but whether or not there is any kind of meaningful review of the adequacy of these critical near-term efforts is not guaranteed.


Will the scope of the NDCs be comprehensive?

A major point of contention within the negotiations continues to be the “scope” of the NDCs which Parties have made as part of their efforts to meet the objective of the Paris Agreement to limit temperature rise to below 1.5°C.

This highly political debate has seen developing countries fighting to maintain a holistic approach to the NDCs – as enshrined in the Paris Agreement – and the differentiation between developing and developed countries. On the other side, many developed countries would like to see the focus limited to emissions reductions only, with no clear differentiation, and without meaningful conversation about the financial support they have put forward.


Will there be progress on finance?

Finance, an eternal sticking point within the talks, has recently become much stickier with the withdrawal of $2 billion by the U.S. under Trump’s administration. A high-level segment on finance is slotted for COP24, but with the U.S. delegation adamant that they do not want to discuss finance at all, it remains unclear how the item can advance unless other developed countries such as the European Union find some more margin to revise their approach to climate finance. Without a clear roadmap for delivering $100 billion per year by 2020, as pledged by developed countries since 2009, developing countries are hindered in their ability to carry out their own mitigation and adaptation actions.


How will the process advance?

Parties are also expected to continue negotiations on how to best address conflicts of interest in business groups, especially those that represent the fossil fuel industry’s interests. Developed countries, where most fossil fuel corporations are based, have continually tried to block these negotiations but their efforts have been largely overpowered by negotiators from Latin America and Africa who have championed the issue.

The Co-Chairs of the Paris Work Programme track of the negotiations (the “APA” for short) have outlined a process to conclude negotiations which involves picking up the same streams of work, with the same facilitators, as their previous sessions. Notably, the US – which has indicated its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement – is facilitating talks on the issue of transparency which may raise some concerns among other countries and civil society.

Negotiators will be working to narrow down the textual proposals in order to arrive at a negotiating text well before COP24 in Katowice, Poland, this December. The actual shape of the outcome on the Paris Work Programme remains undecided, with developing countries in favour of a single decision to ensure coherence between all the issues and avoid the severing of any links between issues being taken forward in the APA and related issues being advanced in the other negotiating bodies, the SBI and SBSTA, which also meet next week.

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