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Mardi 12 Décembre 2017
Not only are the years 2015, 2016 and 2017 set to be the three hottest years ever recorded, but they have been punctuated by extreme weather events
La COP 23 sous présidence fidjienne. Attention danger

“The sea is swallowing villages, eating away at shorelines, withering crops. Relocation of people... Cries over lost loved ones, dying of hunger and thirst.  It's catastrophic. It’s sad…but it's real. My home, my school, my source of food, water, and money was totally destroyed. My life was in chaos.” [1]

At the beginning of November 2017, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) highlighted the danger: the pledges to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions made so far by states worldwide will result in a temperature rise of at least 3°C by 2100.

The executive director of UNEP did not hesitate to describe the gap that exists today between the efforts needed to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C and the commitments made at the 21st Conference Of the Parties (COP) in Paris as extremely worrying. In this respect, the answers provided by the COP23 appear both disappointing and opaque. Nevertheless, this new COP fulfilled its role.

The COP23 and the “Paris Rulebook”

The Paris Agreement can only be implemented if the international community agrees on the guidelines for its application, the so-called Paris Rulebook. This includes the composition and mandate of the different committees, the rules for collecting and redistributing funding, the transparency to be observed by the different states, etc.

The parties decided in Marrakesh in 2016 to adopt this rulebook by 2018. During the COP23 in Bonn, its preparation gave rise to important negotiations – unfortunately away from the watchful eye of the media – regarding hundreds of pages. Finalising the guidelines still requires extensive discussion: each country will want the final text to reflect the measures that seem important to it and will sometimes seek to amend them beyond the international consensus established in Paris. The adoption of the Paris Rulebook will be one of the main issues for 2018.

The COP23 paved the way for strengthening national commitments

UNEP's assessment of the efforts announced so far by the various countries as insufficient comes as no surprise. It is part of the very logic of the Paris Agreement, which aims to organize meetings every five years to allow each country to decide to strengthen its own objectives in the light of the global effort.

The COP23 outlined the details of this process, which should see the national contributions, expected for 2020, revised. This meetings, now known as the Talanoa dialogue, will begin in January 2018. An initial technical phase will take place according to rules inspired by Pacific Islander traditions regarding comprehensive and transparent dialogue, undertaken in a desire for mutual understanding.

It will be open not only to states but also experts and civil society representatives. A seminar will be held in May 2018 to provide answers to three key questions with respect to the global fight against climate change: Where are we? Where do we want to go? And how do we get there? A second political phase will take place during the COP24. It will take into account the conclusions of the September 2018 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) regarding the consequences of a global warming of 1.5°C, which the planet will undergo before 2050 if the current pace of warming continues unabated.

The Kyoto Protocol revived by developing countries at the COP23

In the minds of all concerned, the period covered by the Paris Agreement does not begin until 2020. The actions carried out before are as a result like to be ignored. In Bonn, developing countries took the opportunity to remind developed countries of the inadequacy of their efforts.

Acting on behalf of the LMDCs and supported by India and China, Iran opposed the adoption of the proposed agenda from the outset of the conference and requested that pre-2020 ambitions should be included. India highlighted the inconsistency between the Paris Agreement goals and the reduction pledges of the current period up to 2020, which, despite decisions made at Cancun and confirmed in Paris, have not been enhanced.

India therefore proposed reviving the process of adopting the second period of the Kyoto Protocol, decided on at the Doha Summit in 2012. In his speech, António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN, went even further, recommending not only implementing this second phase but also reducing global emissions by at least 25% by 2020. In practice, the official implementation of a second period of the Kyoto Protocol up to 2020 is of little interest: the time it takes for it to come into effect means it is likely to have a limited impact. What’s more, several European countries, including Poland, and the European Union itself have not yet ratified it.

Nevertheless, developing countries feel more effort should be made to avoid cutting the global carbon budget – i.e. the maximum total amount of GHG emissions compatible with the ambitious objectives of the Paris Agreement – and to building the confidence essential to achieving the objectives. In accordance with their wish, the final text of the COP23 decision calls for the implementation of a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol. It also stipulates taking stock of actions carried out before 2020 at the next two COPs in 2018 and 2019.

No real answer with respect to the necessary reduction in global emissions

The real problem facing the international community, however, remains the insufficient level of post-2020 pledges to reducing GHG emissions. As the parties were well aware of in 2015, it’s not only necessary to enhance these commitments but also to question the feasibility of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2° C, an objective that is explicitly mentioned in the Paris Agreement. The year 2018 will be crucial from this point of view for the UN process and for the planet. Both the IPCC in its future report on the 1.5°C goal and the COP24 will be tempted to postpone the burden of the required effort to future generations through a choice between the following redoubtable options:

  • Recognize the impossibility of limiting the rise in temperature to significantly below 2°C, with the risk that the states most vulnerable to climate change rebel against a Paris Agreement – and the European Union – which gave them hope of escaping extreme weather events
  • Keep the target of 1.5°C, which implies forcing future generations to do something we cannot technically achieve today – devise means to capture greenhouse gases in the atmosphere on a large scale and store them in quantities greater than emissions

Regardless, the forthcoming COPs and the climate summit to be held in New York in 2019 should invite all states to increase their reduction pledges by a significant extent by 2030 or even 2020. The Secretary-General of the United Nations has advocated as much to limit the rise in global temperature.

The One Planet Summit can provide momentum for the Paris Agreement

In this rather uncertain context, the One Planet Summit on climate finance, organized by France, the United Nations and the World Bank on December 12, 2017, on the second anniversary of the adoption of the Paris Agreement has the potential to lend the process a new impetus, not simply to raise the $100 billion a year promised to developing countries but, more generally, to mobilize all of finance for green investment.

If the Paris Agreement is indeed a dynamic process, the entire international community must come together to breathe life into it. Failing to do so will be at the peril of future generations.

[1] From a speech given at the COP23 by 12-year-old Fijian boy, Timoci Naulusala, whose village was destroyed by cyclone Winston in 2016.


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