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The UN Climate Change Conference 2017: Key Outcomes

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In the early morning of Saturday, 18th November, at 6.50 a.m., the 23rd UN Climate Change Conference came to an end – half a day after the originally planned closing plenary. Difficult negotiations about finance for developing countries and enhanced Pre-2020 actions by developed countries delayed the process.

Although I did not stay until the final plenary was closed on Saturday, I still try to outline some of the key outcomes of this year’s Conference of Parties (COP) in this article. First, I discuss the main content of the final decision text and, second, some of the important initiatives which intend to generate ‘green’ momentum among state and non-state actors. In the end, a calendar should give you an idea which important international meetings discussing climate change will take place until COP24 in Poland.

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Closing of the Conference – UNclimatechange ©

The final decision text features three subheadings and two annexes underpinning the first two sections. The three main sections are:

 

Completion of the work programme under the Paris Agreement

First, the decision confirms that states are determined to complete the work programme under the Paris Agreement (PA) at COP24. To ensure a transparent process, the UNFCCC secretariat was requested to set up an online platform to highlight the work on the PA work programme. Annex I of the decision indicates the scope this platform should have.

Since last year’s COP in Marrakech, countries are working on the tasks set out under the PA. Most importantly, countries need to decide which common rules they want to apply in order to operationalise the Paris Agreement. The resulting document will contain specific technical details to ensure effective Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs ), compliance to them and transparency – to name just a few areas more details are needed.

The decision also highlights that an additional meeting of the parties before COP24 might be required in order to ensure that the necessary details can be agreed on in time.

Talanoa dialogue

Second, the facilitative dialogue scheduled for next year’s COP24 was renamed to ‚Talanoa dialogue’ and principles which should guide the dialogue were introduced. The intention of this process is to increase the ambition level of countries’ commitments in their NDCs. These principles describe an “inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue [with t]he purpose.. to share stories, build empathy and trust.” (UNFCCC)

Pre-2020 implementation and ambition

Third, the Pre-2020 commitments of developed countries are highlighted. Initially, this part was not on the agenda but finally formed a significant part of the decision text. Most notably, this text introduces additional stocktake sessions to assess the progress of finance contributions in 2018 and 2020, and emission reductions to take place in 2018 and 2019.

Besides these concrete, textual outcomes of the negotiations, many more resulted from collaborations of (local) governments, cities, civil society organisations, businesses, and so on. In four paragraphs, I feature some of them to give an impression which international governance initiatives started or were significantly advanced at COP23:

One of the boldest and, arguably, most business-friendly approaches was launched by Former Mayor of New York and Billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg and Governor of California Jerry Brown as part of the US campaign ‘WeAreStillIn’ . They erected an ‘igloo’ right outside the official negotiation zone where they hosted events to oppose Donald Trump’s official government delegation. Much media was present when they announced ‚America’s Pledge‘ , showcasing that the US will fulfil its commitments regardless the central government’s efforts. Activists did not see that uncritically and crashed the opening remarks by demonstrating for an end of fracking in California. France has also announced to take up the additional financial burden arising from the withdrawal of the US commitment to financial support the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the research arm of the international climate change negotiations.

Another important development seems to be actions against the usage of coal. The UK and Canada initiated the ‘Global Alliance to Power Past Coal’ aiming to phase-out traditional coal power plants without carbon capture and storage  within a self-set period. Austria is part of this alliance and has committed itself to end coal power production by 2020. Additionally, Macron stated during the high-level plenary on Nov. 16th that France will phase-out coal power production by 2021. Many have hoped for a similar commitment from Merkel, but she failed to do so – some blaming this on the stronger structural dependency of Germany on coal compared to France (GER: 42% versus FRA: 1.7%, source [1]). Both countries show in this aspect what some might call a hypocritical behaviour: They publicly support and communicate commitments to the agreement on emission reductions, but when it comes to concrete actions Germany protects high emission industries such as coal power production and France strongly relies on nuclear power resulting in other problematic emissions.

The third  is indicating a new leader on action against climate change. Last year, the Ministerial on Climate Action (MOCA) coalition was brought into place as a consequence to Donald Trump’s election as US president. This coalition consists of EU, China and Canada. Especially China is seen as a new champion in this regard. It stands strongly for the Paris Agreement despite the US’ intention to withdraw from its commitment which played an important role for China to join the Paris Agreement in 2015. China is strongly increasing its renewable energy production and it intends to reduce emissions in the industrial sector among others by introducing a national emission trading scheme (source).

The third  is indicating a new leader on action against climate change. Last year, the Ministerial on Climate Action (MOCA) coalition was brought into place as a consequence to Donald Trump’s election as US president. This coalition consists of EU, China and Canada. Especially China is seen as a new champion in this regard. It stands strongly for the Paris Agreement despite the US’ intention to withdraw from its commitment which played an important role for China to join the Paris Agreement in 2015. China is strongly increasing its renewable energy production and it intends to reduce emissions in the industrial sector among others by introducing a national emission trading scheme (source).

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Friendly picture of the three lead negotiators of Canada, China and the European Union –Climate Home News©

Finally, several platforms were launched or suggested. Most importantly, the Ocean and Climate Platform and the Indigenous and Local Communities Platform . Furthermore, seven countries, among them the Democratic Republic of Congo, have pleaded for a new ‘gateway’ to drive ambitions against climate change by involving non-party actors in the market mechanisms agreed under the Paris Agreement article 6. This could, for example , allow corporate actors to submit their REDD+ projects[2] to the corresponding platform administered by the UNFCCC. Conrad, the initiator of the REDD-debate in 2005 in the UNFCCC-arena, argues that this is necessary, in order to ensure the integrity and quality of REDD+ certificates. However, involving non-party actors, especially corporations, would make the UN more vulnerable to lobbying interests.

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The Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform (source)

If you are interested in following the climate change debate as it continues to develop, this calendar with important upcoming meetings until the next COP in Katowice, Poland, might be of interest for you. It highlights the three hot phases for climate action from now until December 2018:

  • December 2017 with meetings in Bonn and Paris,
  • March to May 2018 in Bonn, Brussels and probably Brazil, and
  • September to October 2018 in California and in a country willing to host the additional session of the Ad-hoc Working Group of the Paris Agreement to be able to finalise the ‘Paris rulebook’ at COP24.
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Calendar with key dates of climate change talks until COP24 in Katowice, Poland next year – (source: Carbon Brief

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See you next year at COP24 in Katowice!

Jürgen Stolzlechner is a recent graduate of the Master’s programme Environmental Policy and Regulation at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He has participated at the UN Climate Change Conferences in Lima as the Austrian youth representative and, subsequently, in Paris and Bonn as part of various NGOs. Professionally, he focuses on international and European environmental policy and sustainable development issues.

Written by Jürgen.

[1] Refers to the electricity production in 2015: Germany’s mix consisted of 42% solid fuels, 30% renewables, 14% nuclear and 11.4% gases. France’s mix consisted of 77% nuclear, 16.5% renewables, 3.9% gases, 1.7% solid fuels,. Other electricity sources are petroleum, waste and others.

[2] REDD stands for “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries” and was founded in 2005 under the UNFCCC to provide financial incentives for local populations to prevent deforestation. In 2009, REDD was extended (marked as a ‘+’) to REDD+ to also refer to the importance of “the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries“.

 

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