SPECIAL COP23: High-level segment to step up last days’ efforts in Bonn

The high-level segment of the Bonn Climate Change Conference opened its works yesterday afternoon (Nov. 15th) with an official event at the presence of Heads of State and Government.

The ceremony was opened by Timoci, a 12-year old Fijian boy that, after touching the audience by telling how climate impacts are already hitting his country and his life, asked world’s leaders to take urgent and serious action to fight climate change at COP23. “Climate change is here to stay, unless you do something about it…let us be more environmental oriented and restore a spectacular mother earth”, he concluded.

COP President and Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama then took the floor to remind state representatives why and what they are negotiating in Bonn during these two weeks. He stressed that the implementation phase of the Paris Agreement has started and countries need to take the responsibility to fulfil their duty and to safeguard interest of the their people and future generations. He took the opportunity to describe the work done in the past few days, proudly recalling the progress achieved in many issues and in particular on pre-2020 implementation and ambition. “This provides  a balance of the interests of states at different stages of development and keeps this process moving forward”  he said, as the issue is actually one of thorniest since the very beginning of these talks.  “We are all bound by our common interest in reducing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This is humanity’s mission” he added, and reminding the audience in the room that we are all in the same canoe, he asked them “to stay the course and reach our destination”.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres started by recalling that “the voice of small island states, that are at the frontline of the impacts of climate change must be our voices”. He then highlighted 5 ambition areas that need further efforts: reducing  emissions, increase adaptation, improve climate finance as well as partnerships and leadership. In detailing them, the UN chief also stressed a lot the economic and social synergies involved in the climate actions and the interaction with the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. He also mentioned new landmark initiatives, such as “InsuResilience”, the German-led insurance partnership aimed at protecting 400 million vulnerable people against extreme weather events by 2020, the Global Climate Action Agenda which in these days showed stakeholders’ action all around the world, as well as other initiatives involving local communities, cities, business, and civil society. Announcing that he will convene a climate summit in September 2019 to mobilize political and economic energy at the highest levels, he encouraged states to take urgent action: “I can think of no greater way to show your people that you care for the well-being of your citizens than to claim the mantle of climate leadership. Show courage in combating entrenched interests, show wisdom in investing in the opportunities of the future and show compassion in caring what kind of world we build for our children”.

The ceremony was concluded by the speeches of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, representing the hosting country, and the Secretary of  the UN General Assembly, Miroslav Lajčák.

The statements from UNFCCC national representatives, which are already going on, were opened by two European leaders: Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron.

By affirming that “we are facing the definitive challenge for humanity” the newly re-elected German Chancellor started her speech reminding that the Paris Agreement is only a start. She confirmed the EU commitment to climate mission and recalled the recent progress on the Emissions Trading System reform. Talking about the strategy undertaken by Germany to reduce GHG emissions she recognized that the target their chose is ambitious and therefore involves important economic social issues, such as jobs and the affordability of energy. Clearly referring to the ongoing internal debate on coal and the relative critiques received on these days, she affirmed “that Germany, as a country that still uses large amounts of coal, particularly lignite, naturally needs to play a major part in achieving the targets” but how exactly this will be done is still to be discussed in detail. Moving to climate finance commitment, Merkel said that further the 1.4 billion euros for developing countries’ adaptation provided in 2016, Germany is ready to provide another 100 million euros to the Adaptation Fund this year.

Finally, aware that “we will not be able to adhere to the 2°C or 1.5°C target with the current national commitments” she asked to “show each other transparently that we are making our contributions comparable. That is why this conference must send a message that we are serious as regards seeing the Paris Agreement as a starting point and that the work has only just started” whishing all to show great courage, willingness and energy.

In a heartfelt address, French President Emmanuel Macron told delegates that France is ready to do its part in the achievement of the Paris Agreement goals as “the point of no return has been crossed”. His whole message was clear, action will be undertaken to counteract those countries that show no commitment against climate change, implicitly addressing his words to the US President and his recent initiatives to step back on climate action. He started saying that science is crucial and the US decision of no longer financing the IPCC activities clearly threaten the work of the Panel. He got the loudest applause when proposed the Europe to replace America, with France meeting the US financial gap. IPCC “will not miss a single euro” he assured. The French President then recalled all the measures that France and his Minister of Ecological and Solidary Transition, Nicolas Hulot are putting in place. By stressing the “obsession” of his government with reducing country’s emissions, he also pledged to close all coal-fired power plants by 2021, even though, he specified, this would mean to keep many nuclear power plants in operation as part of the clean energy transition. As others before him, he also concluded by recalling that the deal achieved in Paris is a starting point, and that “we only have one horizon of planning and that is now.”

The high level segment is currently going ahead with a two-day marathon of UNFCCC country representatives’ stating their domestic actions and priorities.

The high level segment also inaugurated the final phase of these talks. The work of the negotiation streamings was finally completed on Tuesday with working groups closing the draft texts that will be at the base of the COP conclusions and decisions. Some agenda items showed to be more difficult than others. In particular, the discussion on article 6 family issues proceeded haltingly with developed nations and less developed ones accusing each others of respectively slowing or forcing the process. Also the discussion on financial issues, and the Adaptation Fund proved to be particularly thorny. Other draft texts saw a smoother process as Parties were able to reach an agreement. This happened to the issues connected to agriculture and, surprisingly, in two usually hard issues: the pre-2020 ambitious, which will be likely included in the Talanoa dialogue, and the loss and damage working group, where the agreement on an expert dialogue was found. In addition, the creation of a new platform for local communities and indigenous peoples was agreed to allow them to actively participate in the UN climate process.

The final days at COP23 will be crucial in finalizing decisions and defining if the first COP presided by a small island state will be remembered as a success.

(Image:Opening of the High-Level Segment of COP 23, November 15h, 2017. Credit: UN climatechange on Flickr).