Call to show more ambition and to move faster together on climate change

The opening of the high-level segment of the climate talks in Bonn presided over by Fiji saw world leaders calling on all Parties to show more ambition and to move faster together on climate change.

Prerna Bomzan

ADDRESSING the high-level segment of the climate talks in Bonn, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for 'more ambition' and said that Parties 'must go further and faster together'. He added that in the 20th anniversary year of the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol and the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Parties which had not done so should ratify the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol (to give effect to the KP's second commitment period). He also called on world leaders to 'ratify and implement the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons, which destroy the ozone layer'.

Guterres stressed that at least a further 25% cut in emissions (based on 1990 levels) is needed by 2020.

The high-level segment began on 15 November with about 25 heads of state and government and over 100 ministers.

At the opening event, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama gave the floor to 'a special child' Timoci Naulusala, who had travelled all the way from Fiji to share his story. Bainimarama said that he wanted to present the human face and dimension of climate change and no one could do that better than a child.

Naulusala shared how his life was in chaos when his island was hit in 2016 by Cyclone Winston, which he said was the strongest in the southern hemisphere. He called for leadership and action, saying that climate change deserves to be a huge priority. He referred to former US President Barack Obama who had said that climate change 'is happening here, and is happening now' and urged world leaders 'to walk the talk'.

Bainimarama then took the floor to say that 'future generations are counting on us like Timoci and we hear his cry, we hear his plea'.

The Fijian Prime Minister said that he felt a great sense of history as the first leader of a small island developing state to preside over a COP. He recalled the history of efforts to tackle climate change, from the formation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in the late 1980s to the signing of the mother agreement, the UNFCCC, in 1992 and achievement of the landmark Kyoto Protocol with major reduction targets in 1997. Then, after several COPs came the historic breakthrough in 2015 with the Paris Agreement, which entered into force in 2016, and now COP 23, which was crucial for the implementation phase of the PA.

Bainimarama reminded Parties that with only two days left at COP 23, deliberations must conclude on time, and that there had been progress in many negotiating terms, with key decisions ready to be adopted, highlighting the decision on pre-2020 action. He said Fiji was very proud to lead the process and to bring its culture to Bonn, including in framing the upcoming Talanoa dialogue.

UN Secretary-General Guterres said it was fitting that the conference was led by Fiji, a nation on the frontlines. 'In the battlefield, when the frontline is decimated, the whole army is lost. And the same would happen to the planet with climate change.'

'We need to do more on five ambition action areas: emissions, adaptation, finance, partnerships and leadership,' said Guterres. He stressed that at least a further 25% cut in emissions is needed by 2020, citing the latest UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report which shows that current pledges will only deliver a third of what is needed to stay in the safety zones of the PA. The window of opportunity to meet the 2C target may close in 20 years or less, and there may be only five years to bend the emissions curve towards 1.5C. He added that there has been a start on decoupling emissions from economic growth and that massive economies such as China and India are on track to surpass their Paris pledges. 'It is crucial for all countries to follow through on their Paris commitments.'

With regard to the second area of ambition, adaptation, Guterres said that the Green Climate Fund (GCF) can play a catalytic role and appealed especially to its donor members to bring the mechanism fully to life.

On finance, he stressed that greater ambition on emissions, adaptation and resilience is inextricably linked to funding, hence the need to mobilise the agreed $100 billion annually for developing countries. 'Upholding this promise is essential for building trust and confidence,' he underlined.

He further said that markets need to be reoriented away from the counter-productive and the short term when in 2016, an estimated $825 billion was invested in fossil fuels and high-emission sectors. 'I will be working to scale up international financing in renewable and energy efficiency projects to reduce at least 1 gigaton or more of carbon emissions by 2020,' said the UN chief. Infrastructure investment would be crucial and the world should adopt a simple rule: if big infrastructure projects are not green, they should not be given the green light. 'Investing in climate-friendly development is where the smart money is needed.'

He stated that carbon pricing is a key instrument for driving down greenhouse gas emissions and more than half of the nationally determined contributions of the PA cite the need for it. In 2016, carbon pricing initiatives generated $22 billion but to reach the Paris goals, at least 50% global coverage and a higher price on carbon is needed to drive large-scale climate action.

On the fourth ambition action area, Guterres said 'partnership - with the private sector, local and regional governments and civil society - will make or break efforts to implement the PA'. 'In particular, the only way to keep below 2oC and as close as possible to 1.5oC is to mobilise the private sector to move on an energy transformation.' He stressed the need to engage global technological giants, the oil and gas sector and the automotive industry so that their business plans are consistent with the Paris goals, including the need to engage the agricultural and forestry sectors to ensure climate-friendly land use.

With regard to the fifth area of ambition, leadership, he highlighted the 'need for heights of political leadership' and encouraged Parties to be bold in their deliberations and decisions in Bonn as well as at home. 'More immediately - in this 20th anniversary year of the adoption of the KP and the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the UNFCCC, I call on all relevant nations that have not done so to ratify the Doha Amendment' and on 'world leaders to ratify and implement the Kigali Amendment to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons, which destroy the ozone layer'.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that climate change impacts are felt more year by year, being the cause for crisis and strife, and this dramatic and urgent situation requires all to hurry up and act with resolve. He stressed that in this scenario, the fast-growing economies play an important role as they are among the largest emitters, singling out China as having a long way to go. Paris would be a breakthrough only if the agreement is followed by deeds, he said. In recent years, important milestones have been reached like the PA, the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030, and these success stories with occasional disappointment along the path are worth the effort.

President of the UN General Assembly Miroslav Lajcak expressed delight in a small island nation presiding over the COP, referring to how it is representative of people who are constantly wondering if and when their communities will be swallowed up by the sea. He said climate change is different from the threats which faced humanity when the UN was created and that it can only be abated through multilateral agreement and action. The PA in 2015 was the biggest multilateral event for climate change in history and 'this agreement will not be renegotiated'. He stated that only two months ago at the UN General Assembly, he saw the highest number of references to climate change on record (84%), highlighting it as priority.

He further stressed that 'putting words on paper is one thing, acting is another'. Therefore, action is needed urgently sticking to the agreements made. He also referred to the UNEP Emissions Gap Report, which validates that current pledges will not be sufficient to keep global warming below 1.5oC and in fact not enough even for the baseline commitment of 2oC, which makes the situation unacceptable. With the alarming rate of climate change impacts, there comes the need for both mitigation and adaptation. However, the shrinking finance is a clear message that it is not sufficient. 'We must agree to the goal of $100 billion by 2020 to support action in developing countries,' he said, adding that 'we have common but differentiated responsibilities.'

Following the opening of the high-level segment, several leaders spoke.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the common message is to protect our planet, hence the need to stand by the PA. The need is to stand together to implement it, and 'that is the rulebook on which the Conference is working', she said.

She further stated that in Europe, efforts are being made to reach an emissions reduction target of '40% by 2020, which is a legally binding obligation and we will do it'. The EU member states have agreed on how to reach this common goal with necessary rules, for example on emissions trading, the instrument being orientated towards serving the goal.

Merkel said that Germany has planned medium- and long-term strategies to underpin greenhouse gas neutrality by concrete measures aligning with 2020, 2030 and 2050 timelines. 'We still use a lot of coal, particularly lignite, and coal needs to be given particular attention.'

She said the G7 leading industrial nations had affirmed 'a path of decarbonisation' as industrialised countries have a specific contribution to make with necessary technology capacity. She added that 'we also have a historical responsibility to reduce emissions'. She stressed on initiatives guided by energy transformation, referring to a broad alliance of actors in the US supporting a commitment called 'America's Pledge', irrespective of President Trump leaving the PA. In Germany, Merkel said, the 'strongest pillar' in the energy mix is renewable energy, for which there is growing support and which there is no longer a need to subsidise.

She also made mention of creating necessary conditions to mobilise private finance and referred in this regard to an upcoming meeting in Paris in December 2017 to be hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron.

With a growing world population, increasing conflict over natural resources is inevitable, and hence, Merkel said, Germany has asked the UN Security Council to focus more on security aspects of climate change. She also referred to the provision of 100 million to the least developed countries to help adaptation. The German Chancellor urged everyone to do their part, accepting the PA as a starting point, and to match words with deeds, showing the necessary courage and goodwill.

French President Macron said that climate change adds injustice to an unfair world, focusing its effects on the already underprivileged, and is therefore by far 'the most significant struggle' for which all must come together to establish ambitious goals. 'The PA is a starting point which we are determined to observe,' he added.

He stated that at the international level, scientific work is vital and the IPCC is a major component of this work. This, he said, is however threatened today by the US decision to not give funding to the IPCC. He proposed that 'Europe replace the US' in this regard and appealed to member states to come together to compensate for the lack of US funding so that by 2018, it will have all the money it needs. Macron drew attention to the December climate finance meeting in Paris which would have the goal of mobilising public and private funds; a collective goal to compensate for the US gap and to promote innovative financing that will allow transformation of international assistance for adaptation to vulnerable countries which desperately need it.

The French President elaborated on priorities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Europe: bilateral cooperation between Germany and France on renewable energy; the need for a carbon 'border tax' to protect EU industries and economic interests against countries that do not respect its climate goals; and integrating environmental goals into trade and not entering into trade agreements with countries which do not respect these goals. He also said that France has a new commitment to withdraw from fossil fuels and to transform the energy model, including by banning all new permits for exploitation of hydrocarbons and closing all coal-fired power stations by 2021. 'We need European partnership to accelerate the closure of nuclear power stations.'

Macron said 'we are not stepping back from our commitments' and 'rich countries have a dual responsibility since we have been a part of the climate change problem'.

Many other world leaders also addressed the high-level segment, which would continue in the remaining days of the climate conference.

Prerna Bomzan is a researcher with the Third World Network.

*Third World Resurgence No. 326/327, October/November 2017, pp 29-31