The result of the 2016 US presidential election came in the midst of last year’s annual two-week climate change conference, and the election of Donald Trump, who had vowed to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement during the campaign, was met with shock and despair by the climate change community. Trump delivered on his promise within six months of taking over, and pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement.
The consequences of the US walking away from the global fight against climate change is expected to dominate discussions at the 23rd edition of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which begins in Bonn, Germany, on Monday. The US is still part of the negotiations; the pullout will not be effective until November 2020. But its participation is expected to be demonstrably scaled down. A small and low-profile team could be sent, and there may not even be a US country pavilion at the venue.
Among other things, negotiators at COP23 are scheduled to finalise the rulebook of the Paris Agreement, a process that began in Marrakesh last year. The rules will decide how the Agreement — laying out the global climate change architecture that will replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol in 2020 — would be governed and implemented.
The Paris Agreement seeks to ensure that average global surface temperatures do not rise beyond two degrees Celsius, possibly 1.5 degrees, from pre-industrial times. To achieve this goal, countries have promised under the Paris Agreement to take a variety of self-determined actions to restrain the current rate of global warming.
The new Emissions Gap report by the UN Environment Programme (which has been released ahead of the climate conference for the last eight years) shows that actions that countries have promised to take would allow temperatures to rise by “at least” three degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels by the year 2100. The US’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement and renege on promises to cut emissions could make the situation worse, it says.
The upcoming conference is the first to be hosted by a country whose very existence is threatened by climate change — Fiji. However, the country, which comprises over 300 small islands in the south Pacific Ocean, does not have the resources to host such a major conference at home, and has, therefore, decided to host it at the permanent UN climate secretariat in Bonn. The host is also the president of the conference, and the presidency of Fiji is expected to bring more attention to a range of issues that are important to small island countries, including enhanced action from major emitters so that temperature rise is kept to within 1.5 degrees of pre-industrial levels.
Among the most important issues is that of losses and damages, talks on which have not made much progress since the 2013 meeting in Warsaw, Poland. Small island nations that are in danger of getting submerged as sea levels rise, have been demanding a provision for compensation for losses suffered due to climate change. They have been arguing that they and other least developed countries face the worst impact of climate change, even as they’ve made negligible contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions.
The Paris Agreement acknowledged this, but stopped short of treating it as a “liability” or “compensation” to be addressed by developed countries, who have had almost the entire share of historical emissions. With hardly enough money forthcoming from the developed countries even to fulfil their commitment of raising $ 100 billion every year from 2020 in climate finance, finding more money to compensate for potential damages is not going to be easy. Developed countries have pushed the idea of insurance in the loss and damages dialogue, but the small island countries have resisted strongly, seeing this as an attempt to seek lucrative businesses for big corporations. With Fiji at the helm, loss and damages could be one of the most prominent discussions in Bonn.
Indeed, the biggest setback due to the US decision to leave the Paris Agreement has been to efforts to gather funds necessary for climate actions. Hundreds of billions, possibly trillions, of dollars are needed every year for these actions, and the capability of the United States to raise financial resources and energise financial flows has been unparalleled. The Conference is scheduled to review the working of the two existing financial institutions — Global Environment Facility and the Green Climate Fund — that have been channelising financial resources to projects in the developing and least-developed countries. The developed countries are still far from a definite roadmap to raise their committed $ 100 billion annually 2020 on.
Meanwhile, 169 countries have ratified the Paris Agreement so far, leaving just 27 who haven’t. Among those still to ratify is the Russian Federation, the world’s fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and Lebanon.