COP 23 was held November 6-17, 2017 in Bonn, Germany. This 23rd climate summit of the UNFCCC was a technical meeting in preparation for COP 24 at the end of 2018.
Important political decisions must be taken there in the areas of finance, ambition and transparency. These decisions will have to be included in the so-called Rulebook of the Paris Agreement (PA): the climate agreement that was concluded in Paris in December 2015. The PA will enter into force in 2020 and can only function properly if all countries adhere to the same rules. During COP 23 and COP 22 a lot of preliminary work was done for this Rulebook.
Chairman of COP 23 was Fiji. Therefore much attention was paid to the small island states that are vulnerable to climate change. A special outcome of COP 23 is the Talanoa Dialogue (TD). It started during COP 23 as an interactive process that leads to COP 24 and supports decision-making there. Talanoa is a Fijian word and stands for a political process with three important rules: 1) Everyone can have their say; 2) It is a fair and just discussion process; 3) The outcome must be fair and just to ‘those who matter’. ‘Those who matter’ in this case refers to victims of climate change, so in particular people on low islands, in coastal regions and farmers. The official TD within the climate negotiations must help raise ambitions, both in the field of mitigation (emission reduction) and in the field of financing. That is necessary, because according to the 7th UNEP GAP report (2017), presented at COP 23, only at most a third of what is needed to achieve the goals of the PA is effectively underway. In the coming year, the countries will continue to work through the TD and in interim meetings on Loss & Damage, pre-2020 emission reduction targets and finances (see below).
Outcomes COP 23
1) Pre-2020 action: more and more countries are ratifying the Doha Amendment. The EU did this at the end of December 2017. It means that these countries will continue their efforts to reduce emissions, also in the period before 2020 when the PA enters into force. As a result, the National Climate Plans (NDCs) under the PA can be more ambitious. At the same time, many countries still have to ratify the Doha Amendment, so the situation is not only rosy.
2) The Gender Action Plan has been adopted. It means that more attention will be paid to the position and role of women, and more women will be in decision-making positions. At least that is the aim. This may influence the content of decisions.
3) The Indigenous Peoples’ Platform has been adopted. The so-called ‘original inhabitants’, such as Indians in the US and Latin America, aborigines in Australia and the inhabitants of countries such as Fiji, will be able to make their voices better heard through this platform. The World Council of Churches (WCC) has supported and worked with these groups for years.
4) Launch of the Ocean Pathway. The intention is to get oceans and their major role in climate on the working agenda of the climate negotiations in 2019 and to have them included in the National Climate Plans (NDCs).
5) Power Past Coal Alliance. A group of approximately 20 countries and American states has agreed to stop using coal or lignite for energy generation by 2030 at the latest. The Netherlands is in, Germany and Poland are not (yet). Spicy: the alliance is led by the UK and Canada, so close allies of the US. A clear signal. See https://cop23.unfccc.int/news/more-than-20-countries-launch-global-alliance-to-phase-out-coal
6) Many US states and cities are showing vigorous climate policies, despite President Trump’s stance. This was evident from various side events and presentations. See https://www.wearestillin.com
1) Climate finance. There is still no definition of climate finance. Most rich countries earmark existing development money as a climate contribution. The poor countries want climate money to be separately earmarked and to come on top of existing development money. They will need a lot of money for adaptation (adaptation to climate change), for their economic development without fossil fuels, and because of forced climate migration. Whether the pledged annual USD 100 billion by 2020 for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) can be achieved without the US is not yet clear. The rich countries will report on their progress in raising the money.
2) Loss & Damage (L&D). Already now there is a lot of damage in many countries as a result of storms, floods, drought, forest fires, etc. In addition, not all losses can be expressed in monetary terms. Think of the disappearance of traditions and cultures as a result of forced climate migration (Fiji). Although L&D has official text within the PA, at COP 23 the rich countries refused to discuss the topic within the official COP-agenda. There will now only be a special expert meeting in the margins of COP 24. In order to do justice to the enormous losses that have already been suffered and will still come, poor countries are asking for financial compensation. For the rich countries, this is currently unmentionable. There is, however, the InsuResilience initiative of the G20(19) that provides insurance against economic climate damage. However, the premium is unaffordable for most poor countries. It was hoped for more progress on L&D during COP 23, but that did not happen.
In summary, the biggest obstacle to serious progress in the climate negotiations is the squabble over money. It also inhibits the ambition of rich countries to speed up the necessary transition.
As usual new ideas, projects and scientific research were presented during the side events. Two important topics:
1) Climate refugees still have no legal status, unlike war refugees. This means they can be completely left to their fate. The stories of the Fijian participants in the ecumenical team showed that this is indeed the situation. Climate refugees on the islands are not only victims of climate change and therefore often lose everything, but also have to pay for their own relocation and related expenses. Given the expected increase in the number of climate refugees worldwide, this situation, if left unaddressed, could cause a lot of chaos.
2) Legal approach to climate change: can international arbitration (international dispute settlement) force states and companies to take measures? Article 24 in the PA offers a starting point for this. The Permanent Court of Arbitration would be the appropriate court for this, as the number of cases between countries and companies has increased sharply in recent years. The Chamber of Commerce in Stockholm (2nd in size worldwide!) has launched an international competition to design a new legal instrument to make international (investment) legislation help tackle climate change. 300 lawyers worldwide in 42 teams work in this competition; the winner(s) will be presented at the UN General Assembly in September 2018.
Campus and events
At COP 23 there was again a campus with stands, (country) pavilions, exhibitions, presentations, etc. Many NGOs and companies were present there. A selection of the many activities, also outside the conference centre:
– Human Rights: The Pacific Warriors et al. emphasized the human rights of those most affected by climate change, especially women, children and indigenous people, see https://350.org/the-pacific-climate-warriors-at-the- peoples-climate-summit/
– Coal industry: host country Germany was heavily criticized for its adherence to the coal industry. Demonstrators and journalists met at a large open coal mine, see https://www.ende-gelaende.org/en/
– Divestment: the withdrawal of investments from the fossil fuel sector and reinvestment in renewable energy is no longer only a theme for NGOs and lobbyists, but also for the OECD, see http://www.oecd.org/env/investing-in- climate-investing-in-growth-9789264273528-en.htm
– CAN International: the Climate Action Network once again followed the negotiations closely and awarded the Fossil of the Day daily: a ‘poodle’ prize for a country that is blocking the progress of the negotiations. Responses from countries show that this has (some) effect on the negotiations.
Ecumenical team and faith communities
Because of Fiji’s presidency, the WCC had included some delegates from Pacific churches in the ecumenical team. They were Frances Namoumou of the Pacific Council of Churches, Rev. Tafue Lusama of the Congregational Church in Tuvalu, and Rev. James Bhagwan of the Methodist Church in Fiji. They talked about the impact of climate change on the Pacific Islands, and the efforts of the churches there to help the people, including with their forced migration. All the more reason for the WCC to continue drawing attention to climate justice.
– Worship service on the theme of climate justice in St. Paul’s Cathedral, where a message from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was presented. See
– Statement to the High Level Segment of COP 23 ‘To Bonn and Beyond: Act Now with Justice and Peace’. This annual statement on behalf of the faith communities was delivered by Frances Namoumou. See:
– Interreligious climate statement ‘Walk On Earth Gently’. This statement was signed by faith leaders worldwide and presented to COP 23 and the UNFCCC secretariat during a meeting on the multi-religious Sustainable Living Initiative. See:
http://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/interfaith-statement-for-cop23-urges-change-of-lifestyles and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiS9LnJsDKw&feature= youtu.be
– The growing multi-religious cooperation within the UNFCCC is coordinated by the WCC within the Interfaith Liaison Committee (ILC) of the UN. This ILC also had a working meeting with UNFCCC Secretary Patricia Espinosa.
– Side event on forced climate migration and Loss & Damage, by the WCC et al. See
– Meeting with a delegation from the Global Catholic Climate Movement in preparation for COP 24.
– Meeting with Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon, see https://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/first-minister-of-scotland-meets-wcc-delegation-at-cop23 and
– Meeting with the Palestinian delegation. The WCC climate working group includes a Palestinian.
More videos and press releases
Voices from the Pacific at COP 23:
Frances Namoumou on the outcome of COP 23:
COP 24 / run-up
The agenda for 2018 includes important meetings:
– The Talanoa Dialogue (TD), the ongoing consultation process between countries (see above). The intention is that the business community, NGOs, etc. will also participate. The question is to what extent this TD is in fact window dressing.
– Bonn UNFCCC 30 April–11 May 2018 (annual intersessional).
– Second Ministerial Summit on Climate Action (MOCA), chairpersons Canada, EU, China. One meeting in Europe, spring 2018, a second in China later in 2018.
– G7(8) June 8-9 in Canada; G20(19) Nov 30-Dec 1 in Argentina.
For the third time, Poland will chair a COP, namely COP 24, December 3-14, 2018 in Katowice. Poland has so far shown poor climate policies, relying heavily on its coal industry. Other (EU) countries and NGOs will therefore make efforts to lobby Poland for better climate policies. The European Christian Environmental Network ECEN (www.ecen.org) will also contribute to this: the 12th ECEN Assembly will be held from October 6-10 in Katowice, in consultation with the Polish Council of Churches and the Global Catholic Climate Movement. There is also a plan for a multi-religious Climate Action Charter for faith communities, to be signed in the course of 2018, to be presented at COP 24. To be continued.
Amsterdam, January 2018
Marijke van Duin
Marijke van Duin is a member of the climate working group of the World Council of Churches since 2000. She was present at COP 23 from 12 to 17 November.
With thanks to Adrian Shaw, Church of Scotland and Athena Peralta, WCC