COP23 Fails to Accelerate Necessary Transition, but Delivers Two Silver Linings for Social Dimension of Climate Action

November 17, 2017

BONN, GERMANY – This year’s annual international climate conference concluded with two key messages: countries remain committed to negotiate a collective framework for international climate action (and adopted some innovative decisions on matters related to the social dimensions of climate change), but they failed to deliver strong signals that they will accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels that will meet the objective of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees as adopted in Paris.

Recent climate related disasters – from hurricanes in the Caribbean to floods in Africa and wild fires in Europe – provide a strong reminder that climate action is needed more urgently than ever before and that the policies are nowhere near adequate to meet this need. For the first time, the annual UN international climate conference (COP23) was held under the presidency of a small island state on the frontline of climate impacts: Fiji. This backdrop raised the stakes to deliver outcomes at COP23, which took place over the past two weeks in Bonn, Germany.

COP23 had two main objectives: 1) make progress towards the adoption of a “rulebook” to guide parties as they seek to implement the Paris Agreement and 2) agree to a process to increase the ambition of climate action next year.

In negotiations related to the Paris Agreement, little concrete progress was achieved in defining the specific elements of the future guidelines. Now, governments have only thirteen months remaining to finalise these rules before their deadline. A robust set of rules is critical to ensure governments reduce emissions to meet the Paris objectives.

However, there were two rays of light at COP23. Governments agreed to integrate gender equality as a guiding principle for climate action by adopting the first UN Climate Gender Action Plan. They also agreed to create a Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform in which indigenous peoples will have equal footing and will serve to promote the participation of indigenous peoples in UN climate responses and facilitate the sharing of traditional knowledge.

“The decisions related to gender and indigenous peoples are welcome developments to help the UN climate framework consider the social dimensions of climate change and climate policies,” says Sébastien Duyck, Senior Attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). “Next year, governments must ensure that these principles, as well as human rights, food security, and a just transition, serve as a basis for any policies that they implement under the Paris Agreement because this is where theory becomes practice, with real consequences for communities around the globe.”

Worryingly, governments failed to send strong signals that they are willing to increase ambition on emissions reductions. The Arab Group rejected a proposal that would have required the Green Climate Fund to divest its trust funds from fossil fuels replicating several attempts by Saudi Arabia to block the issue from being discussed at the GCF Board. And developed countries continue to be noncommittal on providing information as to how they plan to support developing countries dealing with climate change as they committed to in the Paris Agreement.

”Over the next year, Parties and civil society must earnestly engage in the Talanoa Dialogue so that it results in needed increased ambition to meet not only the promise of keeping temperature rise below 1.5℃, but also of ensuring rights-based climate action,” says Erika Lennon, Senior Attorney at CIEL. The “Talanoa Dialogue” is a year-long consultation process focused on leveraging additional ambition that Fiji will launch after the Conference. “Avoiding the most dangerous impacts of climate change requires a paradigm shift to reduce emissions, something governments that are the most responsible for climate change do not seem ready to deliver. With the UN unable to deliver adequate ambition, it is time for judicial courts to step up and address climate damages caused by fossil fuels.”