The Bonn climate talks are over — what now?

Woman on Kiribati

For this woman and her family living on the island of Kiribati, on the coast of a former freshwater pond that is now flooded with sea water, high tides pose a serious problem. The impact of climate change on island nations was a key topic addressed at COP23. (© Ciril Jazbec)

Editor’s note: The U.N. climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany, concluded last week, to make progress on the implementation of the Paris Agreement to confront climate change. Conservation International climate experts Maggie Comstock and Shyla Raghav, who were part of the negotiations, share their observations on the challenges and outcomes you need to know about.

Question: How was this COP different from previous years?

Maggie Comstock (MC): This is the first time that a Pacific Island nation — in this case, Fiji — has led the UN climate negotiations. This provided a critical opportunity to highlight the connections between oceans and climate change, the unique climate challenges faced by the countries in this region, as well as the leadership and innovation to drive solutions appropriate for islands and coastal communities.

This COP also marked the halfway mark of the two-year process to develop the details needed to make the Paris Agreement fully operational. Countries have been developing these details into a comprehensive “Paris Rulebook.” While countries have made moderate progress on key agenda items, a great deal of work remains before the implementation guidelines are to be finalized by December 2018.

Q: What were some of the major hurdles during negotiations?

Shyla Raghav (SR): Balancing speed with caution: We want to ensure there are robust and rigorous rules for the Paris Agreement but also need to see them agreed to quickly so that we can move rapidly toward action.

Also, there’s the matter of finance: Who pays? As we aim for more action and ambitious commitments and targets, there needs to be clarity on how these plans will be executed, and how and where the increasing costs of climate action will be met from the public and private sectors. Announcements of new funds (such as the CRAFT fund, the first private sector investment fund for climate resilience and adaptation, unveiled at COP), give us hope that the gap can and will be filled through innovative approaches.

MC: Countries take different perspectives on the interpretation of the Paris Agreement, which creates a challenge for agreeing on the details for ambitious action to address climate change. For example, countries have a variety of ways to set their mitigation goals. One point of contention is how the guidance should apply to developing or developed countries. Specifically, should there be one set of guidance for all countries, or different rules for developing and developed countries?

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Q: What are your key takeaways from the climate talks?

SR: Given the participation of so many world leaders in the talks — from France and Germany’s leaders Macron and Merkel, to American leaders such as Jerry Brown, Michael Bloomberg and Arnold Schwarzenegger — it’s clear the world is moving ahead on ambitious action on climate change.

There is growing scientific and economic consensus that in order to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius, natural climate solutions should be maximized, scaled-up and invested in around the world. New research from The Nature Conservancy and partners reinforced this fact at this year’s talks.

We can’t solve climate change without nature’s climate solutions: We need to protect, sustainably manage and restore key ecosystems around the world. After all, they provide at least 30 percent of the necessary emissions reductions and removals to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C. Nature’s contribution is essential to achieve the collective goals of the Paris Agreement and we should ensure that investment and action towards these goals is scaled up — quickly.

MC: During this year’s negotiations, countries advanced on important details for how the Agreement will be implemented and are currently deciding shared perspectives on topics including:

  • How countries will set and communicate their emission reduction goals;
  • How they will communicate on their adaptation plans and needs;
  • How forests, coastal ecosystems, oceans and other natural solutions will be recognized for their climate mitigation and adaptation benefits; and
  • How countries will be able to cooperate with each other on reducing global emissions, such as through emissions trading.

 Q: What’s next for global climate negotiations?

MC: By COP24 in 2018, countries will need to finalize and come to agreement on these remaining operational topics. While countries were productive at this year’s negotiations, some of the final details may be the hardest to resolve, so from May to November 2018, we expect to see a lot of discussion on these issues (and, potentially, late nights).

SR: What’s just as important is ensuring that action in the private sector, communities, cities and states creates the nourishment and catalysis to enhance collective action on climate change, which will help ensure an even more successful impact deriving from the Paris process. An example of a crucial gathering to feed in to the formal process is the Global Climate Action Summit taking place in CA in September 2018.

Q: What do you wish everyone knew about this year’s climate negotiations?

MC: For the first time ever, countries agreed at COP 23 to begin developing a formal space for dialogue between countries in the UNFCCC and indigenous peoples and local communities to exchange knowledge, experiences and best practices for climate action. This is a first step in recognizing the contributions of indigenous peoples and local communities and the importance of their leadership and traditional knowledge for informing and guiding global action on climate change. This unprecedented arrangement is important because indigenous peoples steward 24 percent of remaining intact forests around the world.

World governments are moving forward on global climate action, and natural climate solutions are an opportunity available today to make key progress towards the Paris Agreement goals.

SR: There is hope and there is urgency. The inspirational leadership of the Pacific Islands has infused hope into the global UN process. It’s clear that change is our new normal and our efforts should focus on urgent action to both keep emissions levels to those that will enable us to reach net-zero by 2050 (emissions must peak in 2020), and support those who are already acutely suffering and experiencing the impacts of climate change.

Maggie Comstock is CI’s director of climate policy. Shyla Raghav is CI’s climate change lead. Sophie Bertazzo is a senior editor at CI.

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