SPECIAL COP23: Top Topics to Watch

The 23rd Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change is about to start in Bonn, Germany, on November 6, under the presidency of the Government of Fiji.

The international climate change summit is a crucial step after the entry into force of the Paris Agreement in 2016 and in view of the deadline to make it operational by 2018.

Although it is not expected to lead to conclusive results, COP23 needs to deliver substantial progress on the challenging roadmap to implement the global climate deal. The two weeks of the summit, which closes on November 17, will be packed with technical negotiations on tools and procedures to achieve Paris’ long term-goals, and discussions on major topics dominating the current global climate policy conversation.

Here a quick guide to COP23’s key themes.


A “Pacific COP” to focus on climate victims

It is the first time that an UNFCCC conference is presided over by a small island developing state. Fiji is among the most exposed and vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and the mission of this year’s COP Presidency is to bring the requests of Pacific Island Countries (PICs) and other developing states to the top of the international agenda.

By raising the attention on the disproportionate effects climate change has on the most vulnerable countries (who mostly are the smallest emitters of GHG), the “Pacific COP” is expected to bring to the center of the stage two of the most tangled topics discussed during climate talks in the past few years, such as the 1.5°C temperature goal and the “Loss and Damage” (L&D) framework, along with the issues related to adaptation and vulnerability to climate change impacts.


Delivering the Rulebook by 2018

In order to make the climate treaty fully operational, a work programme was launched in Paris to develop a “rulebook” detailing modalities, procedures and guidelines on a broad array of issues, e.g. how countries shall report and update their mitigation and adaptation pledges, their climate finance and technology transfers, or how the collective effort will be reviewed and scaled-up to achieve the long-term goals. In short, the rulebook should be a global common blueprint for reporting and accounting for climate action under the agreement. At COP22 in Marrakesh (in November 2016) countries confirmed the objective to complete the overall task by 2018 at COP24 in Poland.

Since 2016, UNFCCC Parties work together on the several subsets of the rulebook in the subsidiary bodies APA, SBSTA and SBI. The APA is responsible of defining the procedure related to the nationally determined contributions (NDCs), the transparency framework, the global stocktake and the compliance/implementation issues, whereas the cooperative mechanisms, the accounting framework for finance and technological support, the IPCC role in informing the global stocktake and the NDC registry are discussed within SBI and SBSTA.

At the last intersessional talks held in May, the rulebook’s skeleton started to be outlined and country Parties were invited to submit their views on the specific agenda items in advance of COP23. Co-chairs and facilitators are now working to capture both converging and diverging elements as well as proposed options to be used as starting points of the discussion in Bonn. In particular, summaries of views on two key APA issues – NDCs and adaptation communications – have been made already available. In addition a series of roundtables to advance APA issues has been planned on the weekend preceding the COP23  opening.


Kick-starting the Facilitative Dialogue

The “facilitative dialogue” planned in 2018 will be the first opportunity to take stock of the collective efforts taken by countries towards the Paris’ goals, mainly aimed at raising pre-2020 ambition. It will also represent a sort of dry run for the global stocktake, the periodical review established under the Art. 14 of the Paris Agreement. The global stocktake is a key mechanism that shall drive countries towards the achievement of the Paris’ objectives, by assessing every five years the collective impact of countries’ pledges against the long term mitigation, adaptation and finance goals.

The first global stocktake is planned to take place in 2023 and the facilitative dialogue to be convened earlier in 2018 at COP24. The preparatory phase has already started in May 2017 and COP 23 will officially launch the process, which will be held throughout 2018.

In Bonn the facilitative dialogue is structured in two parts, on November 11 and 16. The first part deals with the enhancement of pre-2020 ambition and the provision of means of implementation, while the second date will involve governments’ ministers in discussing the provision of financial resources, technology development and transfer, and capacity-building support.


Ensuring compliance and managing means of implementation

The Paris framework identifies finance, technology and capacity building as the three “means of implementation” to ensure all countries can meet their commitments.

Among the most debated issues in climate talks, climate finance will be discussed at COP23 in several occasions, addressing for instance accounting methods to track financial resources disbursed and received, ways to increase access to climate finance (and especially adaptation finance), options to integrate the Kyoto Protocol’s Adaptation Fund into the Paris system, and how the richer countries’ pledge of providing USD 100 billion per year by 2020 can be delivered.

The Paris Agreement created a new framework under the current UNFCCC Technology Mechanism to foster cooperation on technology development and transfer in support of developing countries. The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) is mandated with the development of this framework, and at COP23 it will convene the Technology Executive Committee (TEC) and the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN).

Two specific instruments are envisioned in the Paris framework on capacity building: the Paris Committee on Capacity-building (PCCB) and the Capacity Building Initiative for Transparency (designed to support developing countries in preparing and communicating their pledges in accordance to common transparency requirements). The PCCB is tasked with addressing gaps and needs in implementing capacity-building in developing countries and further enhancing capacity-building efforts. In May 2017 the PCCB gathered for the first time, adopted working modalities and procedures, and identified the focus area for 2017/2018, that is the implementation of NDCs. At COP23 the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) examines the first progress report of the PCCB.

Among other things, the APA (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement) is in charge of defining modalities and procedures of the committee to facilitate implementation and promote compliance, established under Article 15.2 of the Paris Agreement. The task reflects the treaty’s hybrid architecture mixing legally binding and voluntary elements, as the committee is explicitly set to be “expert-based and facilitative in nature and function in a manner that is transparent, non-adversarial and non-punitive”. Discussions are still in the early stage, as the APA started addressing operational matters concerning the compliance committee in May 2017 and is expected to streamline countries’ different views and considerations at COP23.

Main updates on the progress made under the different tasks necessary for the implementation of the Paris Agreement are periodically published by the UNFCCC.


The growing role of non-state actors

The role of non-states actors has been acknowledged as fundamental to address climate change with the launch in 2014 of the UNFCCC NAZCA platform. It is getting increasing attention to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement (as highlighted also in the recently published UN Environment’s Emissions Gap report) and is a focal point during the COP 23 in Bonn. A recent example is the case of the United States, where coordinated action by local administrations and private entities (nicknamed as the “America’s pledge”) promises to counterbalance the federal government’s disengagement. COP23 is planned to showcase a wide array of examples of climate actions and initiatives from the private sector, cities and other sub-national governments across the world.



(Image: COP23 logo. Credit: COP23 Presidency)