Contrary to what press reports claim, Ulrik Lenaerts, a Belgian climate negotiator, believes that the 23rd climate summit in Bonn (November 2017) was not a disappointment. The sense of urgency is still there, although the various countries involved urgently need to take more ambitious climate measures.
"The COP23 in Bonn was seen by all participating countries as a transitional conference", says Ulrik Lenaerts. As the number two of the Belgian climate delegation, he knows the climate negotiations from the inside. "The goal was to work out the various aspects of the Paris climate agreement as thoroughly as possible in order for the process to culminate at the climate summit in Katowice (Poland), which takes place at the end of 2018. Since 2016, however, expectations had gradually increased. The fact that the COP23 presidency was held by Fiji, a small island state that is extremely vulnerable to climate change, was a hopeful sign. In addition, the Paris agreement entered into force in 2016, which was earlier than expected thanks to the efforts of China, former US president Obama and former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon."
Lenaerts was not disappointed by the outcome of the Bonn summit. Unlike what the press claimed, the momentum was not lost. Quite the contrary, all participating countries remain fully aware of the sense of urgency with regard to climate change. "China and other emerging countries expressed concerns about the waning attention of countries such as the US, Canada, Australia and Japan, while the African countries strongly insisted on sufficient climate funding. That caused some delay, but it didn’t tarnish the atmosphere. Even the US delegation didn’t adopt a negative attitude and gave the impression of wanting to stay involved and keep all options open, which doesn’t mean that president Trump will reverse his decision."
Quite the contrary, all participating countries remain fully aware of the sense of urgency with regard to climate change.
One of the most important results is the so-called 'Talanoa dialogue', which will take place across 2018. Each country’s actions to reduce carbon emissions will be assessed, as well as whether their efforts are sufficient to limit global warming by 1.5°C or 2°C. The name 'Talanoa' refers to a tradition in the Pacific to build confidence during negotiations instead of pointing the finger at others. The dialogue is in line with a report that will be released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018 and that will outline how the world can still manage to limit global warming to 1.5°C
It was also crucial to increasingly involve all stakeholders, including those who do not directly participate in the negotiations. Cities, American states, NGOs, companies… all are committed to limit global warming. Lenaerts: "For instance, it is very important that multilateral development banks commit themselves to only invest in projects that are in line with the Paris objectives, or that private investments switch from fossil to renewable energy."
The COP23 also decided on a 'gender action plan' that brings together all issues related to equal opportunities for women in a comprehensible way. Moreover, a platform for indigenous peoples should allow these groups to play a more active role in international climate policy. Finally, an open dialogue was established between the participating countries and civil society.
Cities, American states, NGOs, companies… all are committed to limit global warming.
In other words, the momentum at the negotiating table is still there. Lenaerts nevertheless points out that policy makers and stakeholders remain insufficiently aware that far-reaching measures are needed to effectively combat climate change. Even the promising initiatives taken by big cities and other players are not going far enough. A report published by the United Nations Environment Agency (UNEP) at the end of 2017 clearly states that, with the current measures, our world will see temperatures rise by at least 3°C. Limiting global warming to 1,5°C would mean consuming the world’s entire carbon budget by 2030, while staying below 2°C of global warming would leave us with 20 percent of this budget. This means that, in net terms, we will soon no longer be able to emit carbon.
"The EU has outlined a serious scenario, with a 26 percent reduction of carbon emissions by 2020, 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. The 2020 objective is definitely achievable, but is limited to the 'low-hanging fruit'. After that, it will be more difficult to reduce carbon emissions, and even an 80 percent reduction might not be enough. If we want to limit global warming to 2°C, we need to lower emissions by 80 to 95 percent. Belgium also picks the low-hanging fruit for the time being, but drastic measures will be needed to go further. That will not be easy with our scattered buildings, heavy reliance on road transport and the difficult scaling up of renewable energy."
Success will depend on the extent to which national policy makers take decisive action and all stakeholders – including individual citizens – engage in the transition to a carbon-neutral society.
It remains positive that countries like China and India are massively investing in renewable energy. China even decided to launch its own carbon market and impose a price for carbon emissions. Mexico and other American countries consider doing the same. These markets would be an important addition to the European system, which has real potential, but still suffers from a carbon price that is too low. Higher prices for carbon emissions could significantly drive global investment towards a low-carbon society.
Climate negotiators will continue to work hard to make the necessary decisions at the next summit in Katowice. However, success will depend on the extent to which national policy makers take decisive action and all stakeholders – including individual citizens – engage in the transition to a carbon-neutral society. Only then will we manage to achieve the objective of a 1.5 or 2°C decrease. Clearly climate policy has to become ‘faster and more ambitious’.