5 things to watch at COP23 (or how to justify your trip to Bonn)

06 November 2017

by Jonathan Grant, director in the climate change team

COP gets underway this week. There are no great expectations, but the Fijian Presidency will do its best to advance the talks on a few fronts.  This COP could be an odd hybrid between dull negotiations over technical rules and potentially explosive politics.  Here are five things to keep an eye on at the climate summit:

  1. The Facilitative Dialogue – current national emissions targets fall short of the global goal of ‘well below 2°C’ (note a) and the facilitative dialogue in 2018 aims to address this - or at least get the ball rolling.  The IPCC will provide some food for thought in a special report on the 1.5°C target next year, but there is little clarity around the process to raise ambition at the national level.  Governments at COP need to agree a structure and agenda for the facilitative dialogue. The Fijian Presidency will consult parties during the COP aiming to finalise the technical and political plans for the dialogue.
  2. Those Paris Agreement rules – the plan is to adopt a rulebook for the Paris Agreement at COP24 in Poland next year.  These will cover everything from national emissions reporting to reducing deforestation. If the discussions on carbon markets (Article 6) are anything to go by, then this COP will be challenging. I’m not convinced that having a negotiating text at the end of it is necessarily a tangible indication of progress when current national positions are so divergent.
  3. The discussion on loss and damage – recent extreme weather events set the stage for Loss and Damage discussions. Many have called for greater emphasis on this in the negotiations and for enhanced funding. Loss and Damage had a high profile at the pre-COP meetings, so it will be interesting to see how the COP tackles this subject with an island state as President.
  4. Who’s leading? The role of the US, China, the EU and others. Many will watch how the US team engages in the talks following its announcement to withdraw from the Paris Agreement (or renegotiate it). The US announcement is bound to affect the discussion of raising ambition at the national level. China, Canada and the EU along with vulnerable developing countries are likely to keep up the pressure on national action, with some commentators suggesting that China is ready to step-in and fill the climate leadership void left by the US. But after several years of flat emissions in China, there are reports that coal consumption is on the rise again in 2017.
  5. The role of business – since the all-inclusive Paris Summit, the negotiating process has limited the input from business groups and other NGOs – preventing the formal submission of position papers for example. Some definitions of climate finance now specifically exclude the private sector(note b), which is unlikely to help mobilisation. More significantly, a campaign to exclude fossil fuel companies from the UNFCCC (which has rumbled on in the background for ages and ages) has gained a bit of momentum recently.  It is not clear how or whether the COP will tackle these issues and maintain engagement of business on markets, finance and mitigation.

Notes:

a)  Our Low Carbon Economy Index shows how big the gaps are between the two degrees ambition and the rather more feeble national targets

b)  In Copenhagen, governments referred to “a wide variety of sources, public and private” for the $100bn