COP23: The Fijian approach, the ‘Paris Rulebook’, and a potential showdown…

The Imperial College London delegation at COP23
The Imperial College London delegation at COP23

Alyssa Gilbert, Director of Policy and Translation at the Grantham Institute, anticipates the comings and goings of the COP23.

Representatives from nearly two hundred countries are coming together this week in an annual meeting to push forward global progress in tackling climate change. Participants in the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), are converging on a conference centre in the German city of Bonn.

Among them is our delegation from Imperial – sixteen staff and students registered as official observers to the negotiation process. We will meet with the wider climate change community to share our ideas, reaching out to governments, industry players and others, who we think can benefit from our ideas and innovations to help tackle climate change more effectively.

What to expect at the Conference of Parties

Despite being riddled with acronyms and bureaucratic processes, these annual meetings remain at the heart of global ambition on climate change. They drive countries’ efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and set ambitions to support people at risk from the changing climate. International accords agreed at the meetings – like the high-profile Paris Agreement in 2015, and its predecessor in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol – provide commitments from member countries to work together to meet the climate change challenge

Some will be hoping for diplomatic fireworks at some point during these two weeks. COP23 is the first annual gathering to take place since the President of the United States, Donald Trump, announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Although the announcement triggered responses from a range of multinational companies and US states, who have since reiterated their commitment to the targets set out in the Paris Agreement, the Bonn meetings could see a showdown between the US and more ambitious nations. This will definitely get interesting if the US delegation takes a different approach from the past by, for example, deliberate obstruction of the negotiations; or if any high-profile climate deniers from the United States join in the talks.

It will also be interesting to see who fills the potential leadership vacuum left by the change of direction from the United States. I will certainly be watching for moves from the Chinese and the European Union delegations as discussions dive into some of the more complex negotiation.

Reading the rulebook

The Paris Agreement sketches out targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but has left much of the nitty-gritty unfinished. Rather it set in motion a series of meetings, included as part of these annual COPs, to agree the details of the ‘Paris Rulebook’, which will be announced at COP24 in Poland at the end of 2018.

It is vital that, over the next two weeks, negotiators make progress on writing this Rulebook if they are to make the COP24 deadline. Under discussion are rules that govern how changes in emissions are measured and reported on, and the process by which countries must strengthen their emission reduction commitments in the coming years.

The annual UN Emissions Gap Report 2017, which was released last week, emphasised what people here in the Bonn conference centre already know: that the existing commitments are unlikely keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, never mind 1.5C.

The plight of vulnerable people

The Fijian hosts of this conference have made it clear that they want to focus discussions on the plight of the most vulnerable nations, such as those in low-lying lands or without the finances to fund adaptive technologies. However, discussion over a suite of rules that require more developed countries to pay for environmental and economic damage in the most vulnerable nations, is likely to cause significant controversy.

Dealing fairly with the challenge of the so-called Loss & Damage requirement is important to ensure that climate change is tackled in a way that is just to all. Our official side-event will highlight the potential for the insurance industry to work in partnership with developing nations to help improve their resilience to the impacts of climate change.

Increasingly, central negotiators are recognising the interplay between the wider community and their task of setting up a successful international framework for action. Actions by local government, regional government, large and small businesses and citizens alike will drive the achievement of the overarching international goals. Yet at the same time, it is those international goals that push governments in the same direction and provide financial and legislative incentives for action.


Join Imperial and the Grantham Institute in Bonn

Get in touch if you would like to meet up with our delegation in Bonn. Imperial College London students are carrying out research on climate change narratives and on technology transfer, and the Grantham Institute has representatives speaking at side events on the impacts of climate change and insurance solutions, the potential of Carbon Capture and Storage and the latest climate science.

As the conference plays out, keep an eye on our Twitter feed for the latest blogs and news. For more information about Imperial College London at COP23, see our website.

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