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‘Not only about the challenges but equally the opportunities’ – Co-Chairs set out vision for SB58

The 2023 UN Climate Change Conference SB58 kicks off in Bonn in June, with a view to paving the way for a successful outcome at COP28 in the United Arab Emirates, later in the year. SB58 will be the first opportunity for all Parties to the UNFCCC to meet since COP27 last year, where there was a historic decision on the loss and damage fund and funding arrangements. Both loss and damage and the global stocktake – an opportunity to chart climate action in this critical decade – will be in focus at the June conference.

The two Co-Chairs of the SB conference are new to their roles. The UN Climate Change Secretariat spoke to Harry Vreuls, Chair of the UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), and Nabeel Munir, Chair of the UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) about their expectations of the Conference.

Harry Vreuls and Nabeel Munir
Co-Chairs of the UNFCCC Subsidiary Body (SB) conference, Harry Vreuls and Nabeel Munir

Nabeel Munir, what role will the global stocktake play this year? We’ll see the wrap-up of the technical phase of the global stocktake in June – what can it deliver to shift the needle on climate change and what needs to happen here in Bonn?

Let me start with an explanation of the global stocktake. COP28 in the UAE at the end of the year will be the first time since the Paris Agreement that governments will actually take stock collectively of the progress towards the agreement’s goals and objectives. This will probably be one of the biggest deliverables during the multilateral climate change process this year.

We already know that there are significant gaps, which include mitigation, adaptation, means of implementation, including in particular, finance. This will be a key moment for the international community to ratchet up support and ambition on climate change. We will collectively try to drive climate action and enhance international cooperation and to determine the frame of what we call the “direction of travel” for the future. That is across all areas of action.

What the SBs will provide is the one final opportunity for all the parties, experts, non-party stakeholders in an interactive technical dialogue to provide their inputs of what they want. To identify challenges, overcome gaps and build on and scale up the opportunities and solutions. The outputs of this technical discussion will then feed into the political space.

The SBs will also be an opportunity for the parties to discuss what the contents of the global stocktake will be and for the High-level Committee to share its plans for how it wants to take the process forward. So, our appeal would be for the Parties to take this opportunity during the SBs and to use this time in a very productive manner to see how they want the process to go forward.

Harry Vreuls, as Chair of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice, you have been closely following the latest climate science – notably the recent publication of the Synthesis Report of the Sixth Assessment of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. What are the findings that worry you the most – and which findings give you hope? And to what extent do you think they will inform the deliberations of governments this year in Bonn and later in the UAE?

The most worrying thing is the acceleration of the climate change impacts that we are seeing. These are more severe events, in shorter intervals and often compounded together. So that is the general trend. But as also indicated by a lot of other people, apart from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) repeating the findings, is the fact that we are running out of time. And the IPCC calls for urgency, and for scaling up of efforts collectively. And this is what we need to do. We have to drastically reduce emissions, adapt faster and shift finance to low emission options. But we are not too late.

We together have to take action. And the IPCC clearly demonstrates that it is possible to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius with rapid and deep emission reductions across all sectors and systems of the global economy. The solutions are there. The IPCC outlines many feasible, effective and low-cost mitigation and adaptation options to scale up action across sectors and countries.

At the SBs, the findings of science will complement and underpin our work across events and agenda items. This not only about the challenges but equally about the opportunities.

Last year’s COP27 in Egypt was billed as the “Implementation COP”. Perhaps the single most important outcome was a set of decisions on loss and damage. Nabeel Munir, what needs to happen in Bonn and later in the UAE this year with regard to this issue?

Well, many might recall that my own country, Pakistan, was in the headlines last year because of the ravages of the massive floods that devastated our people. Addressing losses and damages as a result of climate change-induced catastrophes is therefore critical for developing countries. And on loss and damage, the SBs will see two specific streams of work.

The first stream will be focused on the funding arrangements and the fund that was decided at the COP in Sharm el-Sheikh last year. And that was really something that was a landmark in the history of COPs. But there is a lot of work that still needs to be done on that account. SB58 in Bonn will host, for instance, the second Glasgow dialogue on loss and damage. This will focus on operationalising this fund and the funding arrangements. It would be one of the platforms that will be informing this process, including of course, the transitional committee that was established by COP27, the workshops, ministerial consultations and many other meetings.

The dialogue will also focus on maximising support from the existing funding arrangements. You know, this is a kind of a two-fold thing. There is a fund to be established, but at the same time there are existing funding arrangements. So it is important that when we respond to economic and non-economic losses, slow onset events, extreme weather events and all of these losses and damages that relate to climate change, that these are fully tapped into. So, the collective aim of all of us should be and is a clear decision both on the fund and the funding arrangements at COP28 in Dubai.

And the second stream that I spoke about is about technical assistance to the developing countries, particularly those vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change. In Sharm el-Sheikh, parties agreed the institutional arrangements for operationalisation of the Santiago network on loss and damage. But what this actually means is finding a home for the Santiago network.

In Bonn, Harry Vreuls and I expect SB58 to propose a host for the Santiago Network Secretariat. The decision will be taken at COP28. The process is already in place, which is based on calls for proposals and an evaluation by a panel that has already been carried out. So a proposed decision for the COP is what we are looking for.

We’ve heard about the importance of Loss and Damage. Harry Vreuls, how would you say the overall issue of adaptation to climate change has grown in prominence compared to previous years and what sort of progress can we expect on this issue now in Bonn?

Both adaptation and loss and damage have gained more prominence. But I want to recall that already in the Paris Agreement, almost eight years ago, there were dedicated elements on loss and damage and adaptation that were included at the time. In addition to the recent development on loss and damage, Parties are also looking into the Global Goal on Adaptation. Experts are meeting this year again for four workshops to discuss with each other and prepare a decision on the Global Goal on Adaptation: what it means in terms of concrete implementation and how we can see progress towards enhanced resilience and reduced vulnerability. So additionally, to the negotiations in Bonn, there will be a two-day workshop on this Goal.

Many of the fundamental elements that coordinate adaptation action, and many nations and communities are ready to take steps towards resilient societies and economies. However, greater action and ambition will be needed to effectively manage the risk both now and in the future. And in addition to the work programme on Global Goal on Adaptation I just mentioned, I expect progress on several adaptation-related agenda items.

COP27 also resulted in a strong focus on the so-called “just transition” of countries and societies towards clean energy. Nabeel Munir, what does that mean in practical terms and what do developing countries need in terms of support for the transition?

Sharm el-Sheikh was instrumental in doing many things, and loss and damage was not the only one. What the parties collectively agreed was to create a work programme on just transition pathways as well. What exactly does it mean? It is an affirmation that sustainable and just solutions to climate change can be founded on meaningful and effective social dialogue and the participation of all stakeholders. A just and equitable transition encompasses pathways that include energy, socio-economic, workforce and many other dimensions, all of which must be based on nationally defined development priorities and must include social protection to mitigate potential impacts associated with these transitions.

So, what we look forward to now is for a work programme that is capable of helping parties accelerate ambitious climate action. That’s why it is important that Parties in June start building that work programme and set parameters for its implementation. So, we as Chairs expect our discussions in Bonn to focus on pragmatic approaches and technical aspects with regard to elements, scope and modalities of the work programme that we hope to be established very soon.

There is meanwhile a growing recognition of the impacts that climate change is having on the agriculture and food security sectors. Harry Vreuls – what are the biggest concerns that you see in these areas, and what role can the UN Climate Change process play in tackling them?

Climate change is a threat multiplier and nowhere you see this as clearly as in agriculture. Where food systems are already stretched and lack resilience, climate change increases drought, floods and other risks. Food production is severely threatened. And the poorest and most vulnerable areas are hit hardest. I recall the drought in the Horn of Africa, and the floods in Pakistan and in other regions, in small island states.

At the same time, we must also find ways to address emissions that stem from agriculture. Soon on both sides, we have to take action. There are a lot of activities concentrating on agriculture and food security and food protection. The role that UN climate change can play was stated at COP27 when parties successfully completed the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture. The COP established the four-year Sharm el-Sheikh joint work programme on implementation of climate action on agriculture and food security.

The COP also decided to establish an online portal for sharing information on project initiative policies, for increasing opportunities for implementation of climate action to address issues relating to agriculture and food security. At the upcoming session in Bonn, parties should come up with a roadmap for this four-year joint work and identify how to operationalise the potentials under it. There is strong interest from parties and other stakeholders, including non-state actors, for this agenda item, and I expect a good outcome for this item in Bonn.

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