PwC COP23 report - a missed opportunity?

22 November 2017

by Jonathan Grant, director in the Sustainability and Climate Change 

Perhaps my expectations were too high. It was always billed as a humdrum, technical COP, and governments did make reasonable technical progress.

But surely a more ambitious outcome was possible given all the factors in play. Delegates in Bonn discussed the rapid pace of low carbon innovation and investment around the world, the increasingly obvious climate impacts, the potential of a vulnerable small island state holding the COP Presidency and the glaring gap between the ‘well below 2०C’ global goal and the more feeble national targets.  

But it was just slow, reasonably steady progress as governments developed long draft documents that provide the basis for the Paris Agreement rulebook.  Fiji’s plan for the Dialogue in 2018 was welcomed but it emphasises the global goal and perhaps misses the opportunity to really scrutinise national action. Before the COP I suggested five things would be worth watching - so here’s how they played out:

  1. The Facilitative Dialogue (the process to review progress in 2018 and raise ambition):  following consultation by the Fijian Presidency, the COP launched the Talanoa Dialogue*. Next year governments will discuss the questions of where are we, where do we want to go and how do we get there? A 4-page paper sets out the mechanics and timing of the dialogue: a call for inputs (up to 2nd April, including from business, NGOs and others), technical discussions (in May), more inputs (through to late October; this includes the IPCC 1.5०C report) and political discussions (at COP24). But the emphasis is on global ambition and collective efforts, not the adequacy of national targets which are so much more motivating for companies.  Countries are likely to avoid or delay any scrutiny of their own national actions. The other glaring omission is detail on how countries will revise their national targets to align with the well below 2०C goal.  It seems hard to get beyond “we will review progress and raise ambition” to something more tangible and specific.
  2. The Paris Agreement Rulebook - here the negotiations proceeded as expected. Detailed technical discussions and reasonable progress in the first week, followed by a bit of political argy-bargy in the second. No major deadline meant no major breakthrough. But long draft texts were developed that will provide the basis for the rulebook that should be agreed at COP24 next year.
  3. Loss and Damage - there were significant disagreements over developed countries’ historic pledges on finance and emissions (pre-2020). The discussion will continue next year and beyond with a number of stocktakes scheduled in 2018, 2019 and 2020 to assess if developed countries are meeting their commitments.  Vulnerable developing countries continued to push the issue of ‘loss and damage’ and while it will remain on the agenda for the Paris Agreement, references to ‘compensation’ or ‘liability’ were excluded.   It is expected that the Adaptation Fund established under the Kyoto Protocol will serve the Paris Agreement, but the details of how haven’t been finalised.
  4. Who’s leading - Although the US played a quietly constructive role inside the negotiations, some commented that there was no effective counterweight to China’s influence. Consequently, the large emerging economies reasserted the distinction between developed and developing countries on everything from finance to reporting. Outside, many US states, cities and companies noisily supported the We Are Still In campaign.
  5. The role of business - Business groups, including IETA and others, were actively engaged as always at the negotiations.  While some NGOs raised concerns about a conflict of interest, the issue did not escalate significantly.  The business community emphasised its desire to continue working with governments and the COP, noting that “all of us here have a genuine interest in meeting the objectives of the Paris Agreement”.

Lastly, negotiators commented unselfconsciously on the gap between the technical negotiations and progress in the ‘real economy’.  For example, inside the negotiating rooms, some major emerging economies tried to reestablish the distinction between developed and developing countries.  The issue formerly known as Common But Differentiated Responsibility has been rebranded and is now ‘bifurcation’.  It is still equally divisive, in both senses.  There is no such divide outside the negotiating halls.  In national pavilions, governments, companies and NGOs from around the world highlighted the pace of action and investment to tackle climate change.  

In 2018, perhaps negotiators need be more self-conscious and close that gap.

*  ”Talanoa is a traditional approach used in Fiji and the Pacific to engage in an inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue. The purpose of Talanoa is to share stories, build empathy and trust.  During the process, participants advance their knowledge through common understanding; it creates a platform of dialogue, which results in better decision-making for the collective good.”

Jonathan Grant
PwC | Director
Mobile: +44 (0)7841 567014
Twitter: @JG_climate