Summary of the2017 United Nations Climate Change Negotiations (COP23)

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Introduction

The climate change talks ended in the morning of the 18th of November 2017 with a clear roadmap for finalization of the rulebook that will guide implementation of the Paris climate agreement. But these technical discussions took place against the backdrop of a larger battle about the failure of developed countries to meet their pre-2020 obligations of reducing emission by 5.2% of their 1990 emissions as well as to mobilise $100 billion annually for climate change activities in developing countries. Coal, oil and gas were amongst the issues discussed and however, being complicated by the US presidency which has divergent views as compared to the rest of the world which has agreed to cut on coal use.

One of the most important elements was the development of a process that would help countries to review and ratchet up their commitments to cut carbon within the framework of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

The official talks themselves finished during the early hours of Saturday morning, following some last-minute wrangling over the ever-fraught issue of climate finance.

COP 23 Outcomes

Rule Book

As was the case at COP22 in Marrakesh last year, negotiations in this session centred around attempts to make significant progress on developing the Paris “Rule Book” which contains technical rules and processes needed to fulfil the Paris Agreement’s ambition. The goal in the Bonn Conference was to create a draft of these implementation guidelines

Some sticking issues that consumed considerable timeframes include the “Transparency” negotiations especially the issues of how compliance will be monitored, in line with the “enhanced transparency framework” set out by the Paris Agreement.

The final COP23 agreement recognises that an additional negotiating session may be needed in 2018 between the May intersessional and COP24 in December to ensure the Paris rulebook is finished on time. This is after Parties contributions constituted a 192-page document.

Pre-2020 Climate Action

One key conflict to emerge in the early days of the conference, however, was pre-2020 climate action. This centred on developing countries concern that developed countries had not yet delivered the promised $100bn per year in climate finance by 2020 agreed in 2009 at Copenhagen; second, the Doha Amendment, a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol for the years leading up to 2020, had still not been ratified by enough countries to bring it into force for emission reductions by developed countries.

The pre-2020 ambition and implementation formed a major part of the COP23 decision text that was agreed which includes an agreement to form additional stocktaking sessions in 2018 and 2019 to review progress on reducing emissions, as well as two assessments of climate finance to be published in 2018 and 2020. These submissions will then be pulled together in a synthesis report on pre-2020 ambition ahead of COP24, which takes place in December next year in Katowice, Poland.

Facilitative Dialogue

Recalling that countries agreed two years ago in Paris that there should be a one-off moment in 2018 to “take stock” of how climate action was progressing. This information will be used to inform the next round of NDCs, due in 2020.

Originally called the “facilitative dialogue”, the name of this one-off process in 2018 was changed to “Talanoa dialogue” this year under the Fijian COP presidency. This was to reflect a traditional approach to discussions used in Fiji for an “inclusive, participatory and transparent” process.

It was agreed that the preparatory phase of the Talanoa dialogue will now begin over the coming year, ahead of the political phase conducted by ministers at COP24 in Poland. A key moment for the Talanoa dialogue will also be the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s 1.5C special report in September 2018.

Climate Finance Flows

Last-minute tensions unfolded over the Paris Agreement’s Article 9.5, which asks developed countries to report on their flows of climate finance to developing countries. The key point of Article 9.5 is to improve the predictability of financial flows to developing countries, thereby providing information to help them develop their climate plans.

However, as with the tensions over “pre-2020” discussed above, there was no formal space on COP23’s agenda to discuss how to develop the guidelines for it, with developed countries arguing that demands were beyond what was originally agreed.

In the end, negotiators settled on allowing extra time to discuss this issue at the intersessional meetings between now and COP24 in December.

The Adaptation Fund

A second sticking point on finance was the Adaptation Fund, a relatively small but politically significant multilateral fund for small-scale projects. Parties had previously agreed in principle that it “should” serve under the Paris Agreement, without mention of how it would be operationalized.

The AF was initially set up to be run on a share of proceeds from the international carbon mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol. However, these have so far yielded little revenue. Most of its money, therefore, comes from voluntary contributions, with EU member states so far providing around 95%.

Late into the night on the final day of COP23, member countries of the Kyoto Protocol, which the fund currently serves, at last formally agreed that the fund “shall” serve the Paris Agreement.

The Adaptation Fund also received more than $90m (including $50m from Germany) in new pledges during the COP. The same amount was also pledged to the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF).

Separately, France pledged to cover any shortfall in funding for climate change following the US decision to pull its funding of the science body.

Loss and damage

The Paris Agreement includes a section recognising the importance of averting – and addressing – the loss and damage caused by climate change. It also says parties should enhance “understanding, action and support” on this key topic, which has become somewhat of a bugbear at negotiations in recent years.

To some, it has now become the “third pillar” of the climate action, alongside mitigation and adaptation. But unlike mitigation and adaptation – with their promised $100bn-a-year in climate finance – there are currently no sources of finance for loss and damage.

No significant progress was made on this issue. However, the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) on Loss and Damage was tasked to bring forward any concrete plans on finance – the key difficulty in loss-and-damage discussions. A one-off “expert dialogue” was agreed for the May intersessional in 2018, which will inform the next review of the WIM in 2019.

Agriculture

One notable, yet low-profile outcome from the conference this year was the end of a deadlock on agriculture which had lasted for years. Developed countries have always wanted to have agriculture discussed under the mitigation component looking at how emission reductions would be realised from the agriculture sector, whilst developing countries view agriculture as a climate change adaptation issue with mitigation co-benefits.

Parties agreed to work over the next few years on a series of issues linking climate change and agriculture. Countries have now been asked to submit their views on what should be included in the work programme by 31 March 2018, with options including how to improve soil carbon and fertility, how to assess adaptation and resilience and the creation of better livestock management systems.

Gender

The Parties adopted the first-ever UNFCCC Gender Action Plan (GAP) at COP23 which seeks to advance the implementation of the multiple gender-related decisions adopted under the UNFCCC through capacity building of Parties to develop gender responsive climate policies and ensure that the travel funds support participation of grassroots and indigenous women. The GAP is a significant step forward in the efforts to bring gender equality into international climate process.

Road ahead in 2018

With the conclusion of COP23, the clock really begins to tick for the major deadlines and events in 2018. With the process for the Talanoa dialogue now essentially agreed, with it taking place throughout next year, there still remains much work to do before the Paris rulebook is agreed upon at COP24 in Poland.

Finally, Brazil has put in an official bid to host COP25 in 2019, which is scheduled to be hosted in Latin America and the Caribbean (Argentina and Jamaica were also said to be in the running). Brazil’s offer was officially “accepted with appreciation” suggesting it is now the frontrunner.

Conclusion

The early entry into force of the Paris Agreement and the accelerated pace at which related negotiations are taking place means that Zimbabwe has to upscale its efforts aimed at getting prepared for the implementation of the agreement. This entails putting in place the necessary frameworks that will enable the domestication of the agreement in particular the nationally determined contributions. The wide ranging nature of discussions and numerous work streams of the climate change negotiations require a broadening of the countries delegation and availing of the requisite resources by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development to enable the country to take full advantage of the opportunities arising from the new climate change discourse.

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