Contributed by Robert Lyman © Nov. 2017
Robert Lyman is a former public servant of 27 years and a diplomat for 10 years prior to that. He is an Ottawa energy policy consultant and frequent contributor to Friends of Science.
The 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP 23) to the United Nations Climate Change Convention ended in Bonn on November 18 with a flurry of announcements about “progress” towards meeting the goals that were established at COP 21 in Paris in December 2015. In case everyone forgot, COP 21 agreed not to agree. The Paris “Agreement” failed to establish quantitative greenhouse gas emission targets or to ensure that participating countries might be held accountable in any way for achieving emissions reductions. It established only two real commitments (and those only for the wealthier countries) – to put in place national plans to reduce emissions and to contribute to the Green Climate Fund.
The Green Climate Fund is the fund that is supposed to help developing countries finance their climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. In principle, it is to be funded at the level of at least U.S. $100 billion per year by 2020. COP21, however, failed to establish a formula to determine each country’s contribution obligations or recipient rights, leaving a rather large set of issues unresolved.
In the words of the concluding press release, the alleged purpose of COP 23 was, “to raise the current global ambition to act on climate change” and “to drive us further, faster and together to this destination”. The press release did not mention that the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the United States, has decided to withdraw from the COP 21 Agreement, such as it is.
So what exactly did the COP23 Conference achieve? Did it substantiate or refine any of the loose commitments made at COP21? No. Did it result in any firming up of commitments or agreed-upon rules governing the Green Climate Fund? No. Its “achievements” come down mainly to these:
- A number of European countries (Germany, the United Kingdom, Norway and Spain) announced financial contributions to various new UN funds – an “InsuResilience Initiative”, an Adaptation Fund, a water in developing countries fund, a forestry fund, and a few others)
- HSBC announced that it will organize $100 billion for private “green investment” by 2020
- The International Energy Agency will establish a 30 million euro “Clean Energy Transitions Program”, with the sources of the fund not identified
- Various countries agreed that they would do better to “coordinate climate action”
- 50 mayors pledged that their municipal governments will “implement more ambitious climate action”
- A new “Powering Past Coal Alliance”, including 25 countries, promised to work together to accelerate the phase-out of coal use.
None of the largest producers or users of coal are members of the alliance.
The final communiqué also noted the following “highlights”:
- A Gender Action Plan will be created to formally support the “crucial role of women in combating climate change”
- A Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples’ Platform will be established. This was described as “a political and practical achievement that aims to support the full and equal role of indigenous people in climate action, while recognizing the responsibility of governments to respect the rights of indigenous peoples in these decisions”.
- Launch of the Ocean Pathways Partnership that by 2020 “link climate action with healthy oceans”.
The Powering Past Coal Alliance, Gender Action Plan, and Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples’ Platform are all initiatives that bear the fingerprints of the Canadian government and especially of the “crusading” Minister of Climate Change and the Environment, Catherine McKenna. The COP 23 agreement endorsed all the well-known progressive political themes.
Reading this list of “accomplishments” should make one recognize that the international climate discussions have become far more about virtue signaling of the participating governments to their domestic political bases than they are about resolving any of the difficult financial and economic issues that confront any serious attempt to transform the world’s energy system. At the rate at which new processes and international institutions are being established, we can be sure that international conferences will proliferate in future.
Except in a few industrialized countries like Canada and Germany where damage will be needlessly done to coal producers and consumers, the decisions made at COP 23 won’t result in major, seriously costly, action to reduce emissions. That is actually the good news coming out of COP 23.
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