The agenda for COP23 climate talks in Bonn

World leaders will convene this week in Bonn, Germany for the Conference of the Parties (COP23), under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to talk about how to tackle climate issues.

Central to the conference is advancing the historic 2015 Paris agreement, in which 195 countries agreed to limit carbon emissions.

The event is organized and chaired by the presidency of Fiji, and between 20,000 and 25,000 people from 197 parties will attend.

On the agenda for COP23

Discussions in Bonn will primarily revolve around codifying the details of the Paris “rulebook,” which is to be finalized at COP24 in 2018 in Poland. These broadly include who does what, by when and with what kind of financial support. Other areas of focus include instituting processes of transparency and accountability in the agreement.

Also up for discussion is a further reduction of greenhouse gas emissions brought on by fossil fuels. COP23 participants will discuss how to reduce emissions effects by 2030 and the EU has pledged to cut them by 40 percent.

Another area of focus is what Wael Hmaidan, director of Climate Action Network, called the “1.5°c talk.” This means limiting global warming to 1.5°c or well below 2°c.

“It is going to be very hard to meet this element, but this is something that this talk is highlighting the importance of – staying below 1.5 – and having everyone understand that beyond the impacts are very scary and we cannot tolerate,” he told WikiTribune.

Another aim is to establish a global stocktake, which is a process for countries to examine and report on their progress every five years from 2020. An accountability measure, it is meant to identify best practices and areas for further improvement.

The Bonn conference will also prioritize the interests of island nations, as they are most at risk of rising sea levels, tropical storms and depleting fish stocks. Fiji, the first ever island to preside over the event, said it will put island-nations at the front of discussions.

This time round, the conference itself will be sustainable. Organizers aim to reduce greenhouse emissions and use renewable energy as much as possible. Use of public transport is encouraged and the food served will be mainly vegetarian.

What happens with the 2015 agreement?

The Paris agreement will feature front and center during COP23 with considerable attention given to Article 6, which seeks to reduce the effect of climate change by enabling societies to be a part of the solution. This includes placing importance on education, training and public awareness on a local and global level.

The right to health” acknowledged in the Paris agreement will also be given special attention with a focus on the least developed countries and small-island nations. The conference will assess current progress and “identify ongoing barriers to stronger action to protect and promote health while addressing climate change,” according to WHO.

Where does America fit in?

Earlier this year, President Donald J. Trump declared his intention for the United States to withdraw from the agreement, igniting global consternation. Though Syria is not signed onto the agreement, the U.S. would be the only country out of 195 signatories to have pulled out of it.

Trump’s insistence on his ‘America First’ agenda has endangered the climate change conversation. He has promised to put coal miners back to work, and has said, on multiple occasions, that global warming is a hoax.  The U.S. has experienced a series of hurricanes this year which some scientists say fits with a forecast of a greater frequency of extreme weather events, as reported by Reuters.

The U.S. will be joining the climate talks in Bonn, but the Trump administration is in the awkward position of negotiating a deal it has walked away from. Washington also cannot formally pull out of the agreement until 2020.

The U.S. withdrawal poses significant environmental challenges because the country is the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide after China. This could mean rising sea levels and melting ice sheets as it’s estimated an additional three billion more tons of carbon dioxide would be released into the atmosphere each year. The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) estimates the expected sea level rise under its very-high emissions modeling scenario (RCP8.5) to be 0.63 meters, or about 2.1 feet, by the year 2100.

Paradoxically, the U.S. exit has energized those countries committed to the Paris agreement, said Hmaidan, of Climate Action. “I think that Trump, if we want to measure the positive and the negative as the net positive on the climate debate, I think he energised the global community.”

He also added that the “beauty of the U.S. is that it’s not just one person, there’s a lot of people who have a say.”

“We see new action coming on non-state level, sub-national level in the U.S., which is great. We are still in coercion, all the work done by cities, businesses, states, government.”

Los Angeles, Boston and New York City have already outlined plans to advance the Paris agreement; and governors from 14 US states have said that they intend to keep the climate progress going.

India, China and the European Union (EU) are leading the battle against climate change now that the United States is pulling out. India has already developed one of the world’s most aggressive plans for installing solar panels and producing clean power. China views climate action as an economic opportunity and aims to create 13 million clean energy jobs by 2020. In 2015, it overtook the United States as the largest market for electric cars. The EU has said it aims to cut its emission substantially and turn Europe into a low-carbon economy by 2050.

Why Fiji?

Fiji is the first small south Pacific island to hold the COP presidency. The island is, however, too small to accommodate the number of people attending and consequently it is being staged in Bonn. The presidency rotates among five UN regional groups and COP23 scheduled for the Asia-Pacific region.

Though the conference won’t be held on the island, the Fijian spirit will be invoked by encouraging participants to engage in the concept of “talanoa,” which means building empathy and engaging in transparency.

Fiji, like other Pacific-island states, is most likely to face climate challenges in the future. Despite being one of the smallest contributors to global carbon emissions, it is highly susceptible to cyclones and floods. Since 1993, Fiji has recorded a 6 millimeter increase in its sea level per year. In 2016, Cyclone Winston ravaged the small island and took the lives of 44 Fijians.

The island’s president, Frank Bainimarama, noted Fiji’s “need for urgency” about climate change when he addressed the opening of the conference in Bonn.

The World Health Organization and Fiji are currently working on a project to record and implement actions in response to a 2015 study that examined the cause and effects of climate change. The study found that rising global temperatures exacerbated illnesses such as Dengue fever and diarrheal diseases.

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