The 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), better known as COP24, is drawing to an ignominious close in Katowice, Poland, on Friday and, despite the attempts of the European Union and other major nations, the fortnight of negotiations is likely to be remembered more for its controversies than for any lasting impact.
For nearly two weeks negotiators, and then ministers, have worked at creating a framework of rules and operating procedures for implementing the core tenets of the 2015 Paris Agreement, known commonly as the Paris Rulebook. However, while these negotiations have continued steadily — and there are talks something sensible may come of it all — COP24 has been set ablaze by a number of controversies, headlined by the pro-fossil fuel side event put on by the United States (and backed by Australia) which was held on Monday, and was met with hecklers and protestors.
There have been the normal number of reports from global institutions making the most of the attention garnered by the COP talks — including a call from 415 global investors with $32 trillion in assets under management calling for global leaders to address the climate change “ambition gap,” as well as the latest update from the Climate Action Tracker, which revealed that, under current policies, the globe is on track for warming of 3.3˚C by 2100.
But, as Mohamed Adow, Christian Aid’s International Climate Lead, explained earlier this week, “a successful outcome in Katowice is like solving a three-dimensional jigsaw. It has three parts, the Paris rulebook, finance for poor countries, and renewed emissions reductions.”
“No outcome here in Katowice will be acceptable without countries agreeing to review and strengthen their pledges by 2020. The recent IPCC report showed that we don’t have the luxury of time, we need to start to close the gap now.”
“When the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015 we knew the pledges contained in it didn’t add up to stopping climate change,” Adow added. “The Paris Agreement as it stands now, only gets us to a world between 2.7 and 3.5 degrees Celsius of global warming, much higher than the agreement’s goal of 1.5. The process to bridge this gap is the Talanoa Dialogue which is why it’s such a vital part of these talks.”
So, it was with some relief that the European Union and a number of other countries from the High Ambition Coalition — a group of developed and developing nations with the “highest level of ambition,” including New Zealand, Canada, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and others — called on Wednesday for “the highest possible ambition in the ongoing climate negotiations” underway at COP24 and, in that light, announced their own intention to step up ambitions by 2020, “consistent with the long-term temperature goal of the Paris Agreement,” through several mechanisms, including:
- enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement as the primary tool for delivering mitigation ambition
- increased short-term action
- long-term low emission development strategies
“The EU is committed to working with our international partners to ensure a solid outcome of this conference so that the Paris Agreement can be turned into real climate action round the world,” said EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete. “Our aim is to raise global climate ambition, continue to follow through with concrete policies and measures, and support to our partners, in particular the most vulnerable.”
“It’s a critically needed gift on the Paris Agreement’s third birthday,” explained Lou Leonard, World Wildlife Fund’s senior vice president for climate change and energy, who spoke via email. “This is a turning point for the talks in Poland. Now countries need to translate this into a final decision in Katowice that kickstarts a stronger set of country climate targets by 2020.”
“The spirit of Paris is back. The statement will boost greater ambition at the crunch time of these so far underwhelming talks,” added Wendel Trio, Director of Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe. “We welcome the fact that many European countries take the IPCC report seriously and want to scale up action to fight climate change. For the EU this must mean a commitment to significantly increase its 2030 target by 2020, even beyond the 55% reduction some Member States and the European Parliament are calling for. We call upon the countries that have not signed the statement so far to stop ignoring the science.”
The High Ambition Coalition also noted in their press statement that they would “be informed by the 2018 Talanoa Dialogue” and welcomed “with appreciation the Talanoa Call for Action and thank the COP23 and COP24 Presidents for their endeavours.”
The Talanoa Dialogue was set up by the Fijian presidency of the 2017 UN climate talks, COP23, in an effort to bring together governments and civil society to drive conversation and break “the climate deadlock” by drawing participants closer together. The Talanoa Dialogue was closed on Wednesday with the issue of the Talanoa Call for Action (PDF) — which called on “Heads of State and Government to maintain climate action at the top of the political agenda” and stressed the need for “urgent and rapid” mobilization of all societal actors to step up their efforts with a view to meeting the global climate goals agreed upon in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
“The Talanoa Dialogue now must give way to the Talanoa Call for Action,” said Prime Minister of Fiji, H.E. Frank Bainimarama, President of COP23.
“Together, we must recognize the gravity of the challenge we face – the need to increase our collective nationally determined contributions fivefold – five times more ambition, five times more action – if we are to achieve the 1.5 degree target. Together, we must unreservedly accept the science and the advice that our present NDCs have us on target for warming of at least 3 degrees by century’s end. Together, we must commit to continue exchanging ideas and best practices to raise our NDCs and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Together, we can overcome the greatest threat humanity has ever faced – with the entire global community eventually emerging more prosperous and more resilient.” – Bainimarama
The Talanoa Call for Action is built around a series of “calls” which are directed at governments, international agencies, non-Party stakeholders, civil society, spiritual leaders, and youth, in an attempt to foster greater political will and action.
“We are encouraged that the Talanoa Call for Action from the COP Presidents fully acknowledges the latest climate science from the IPCC and calls on countries to raise global ambition,” said Helen Mountford, Vice President of Climate and Economics, World Resources Institute. “To reflect this urgency in the final COP decision, countries need to make clear that they are committed to strengthening their national climate commitments by 2020.
“The success of the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit next year will depend on whether national governments send a clear signal at COP24 that they will strengthen their national climate commitments by 2020.
“The Talanoa Dialogue was an historic year-long process – the first time that the UN climate talks gave businesses, cities and civil society a seat at the same table as countries,” Mountford added. “This is clear recognition of how everyone has a role in tackling the climate crisis. Now national governments must reaffirm their commitment to the Paris Agreement by strengthening their national climate plans by 2020. This signal will give governments, businesses and investors the clarity and confidence they need to accelerate climate action at home.”
However, the Talanoa Call to Action was never going to be a legal charter for action — nor was it intended as such — but simply a call for action from a vitally important cross-section of the global society. Which leads us back to where it begins and ends, with the negotiators working behind the scenes. Reports suggest there are a number of sticking points and thorny issues negotiators are trying to resolve — such as the “global stocktake” and climate finance, as well as the need for more global ambition.
We end, then, with the words of H.E. Frank Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji and the President of COP23, whose ringing indictment of inaction will likely fall on deaf ears — if the global outcry hasn’t already swayed countries like Russia and the United States:
“As I have said repeteadly as COP23 President, we face the starkest of choices,” Bainimarama said in a speech delivered to the closing of the Talanoa Dialogue on Wednesday. “Act decisively now to cap the global temperature at no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above that of the pre-industrial age. Act decisively to embrace the new technologies that will pave the way to a clean energy future and ensure our future prosperity. Or enter history as the generation that blew it — that sacrificed the health of our world and ultimately betrayed humanity because we didn’t have the courage and foresight to go beyond our short-term individual concerns. Craven, irresponsible, and selfish.”
Author’s note: This article will be updated with further comment and opinion as it is provided to the author.