Events & Publications

The COP23 Conference: What Happened in Bonn?

The Bonn conference ended up in a mixed result. Some progress was achieved, but differences on financing, implementation and coal phase-out remain. The U.S. appears increasingly isolated, Will the world be ready one year from now to take concrete stepts to achieve the Paris Agreement goals?

COP23 Bonn


After twelve days of negotiations carried out by world governments’ delegates it is time to see if the main challenges faced by the Cop23 Conference in Bonn were met.
The main task was to identify the key steps to be taken from now on to attain the objectives set in the Paris Climate Change Agreement and achieve the goals set in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In fact, implementation is key, as well as timing.
All parties agreed on the urgency required to drive climate change action, to avoid delays in reaching the goal of limiting the rise in global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial level, and ideally even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Deeper in the Details of Implementation

The Ad Hoc Working Group of the Paris Agreement oversaw the progress of a Paris “rulebook” containing the technical rules to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
The negotiation covered several areas, including the framework of nationally determined contributions (NDCs), reporting of adaptation efforts and monitoring of compliance.
As the deadline for the rulebook is next year’s Cop in Poland (to be held in December 2018) it is still a work in progress, and the goal in Bonn was to create a draft of these implementation guidelines.
Regarding NDCs, the group created a document collecting the positions of the parties on the information needed to draft NDCs. There are still, however, many differences among the parties on how the NDCs should be drafted, delivered and updated.
On the bright side there was more progress in the discussion on the global stocktake – a proposed five-year review of the impact of countries’ climate change actions to start in 2023 – especially regarding its scope and the equity issue and also regarding transparency, meaning how compliance will be monitored.

On Climate Finance

The biggest achievement on finance issues regarded the Adaptation Fund, a multilateral fund for small-scale projects currently serving the member countries of the Kyoto Protocol.
The fund received more than $ 90 million and it was formally agreed that it “shall” serve the Paris Agreement.
Also, following the US decision to cut funds to the IPCC, France ensured that Europe will cover any shortfall in funding and the UK pledged to double its contribution.

The US Delegation(s)

Only a few months after the U.S. communicated its decision to leave the Paris Agreements, and on day two of the Cop23, Syria announced its decision to sign the treaty, leaving the U.S. even more isolated.
In this context, the U.S.role in Bonn did not really improve its position.
While keeping in general a rather low profile, the U.S. main intervention at the conference was entitled: The role of cleaner and more efficient fossil fuels and nuclear power in climate mitigation.
Absurd as it might seem, it is exactly as it seems.
The U.S. at a climate conference used its official appearance to state that fossil fuels were vital to saving jobs domestically and reduce poverty abroad.
Protesters disrupted the event for several minutes.

It is worth mentioning that besides the official delegation there was a second group from the U.S., the “We Are Still In” delegation, made of several major personalities against the Trump’s administration climate policies.
However, this second group did not do as much as the official delegation to strengthen international disapproval of Trump’s stance on climate issues.
In fact, following the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Cop21 Agreement, several world leaders distanced themselves from the U.S. and strengthened their commitment toward climate change policies.
The ‘clean coal’ at Cop23 had the only effect of widening further the divide between the U.S. and the rest of the world.

Coal phase-out  

Shortly after the U.S. was discussing clean coal, more than 20 countries joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance, an initiative of the UK and Canada to lead world countries to phase-out unabated coal[1].
Both the UK and Canada committed to phase-out unabated coal, by 2025 the former, and by 2030 the latter. They showed the willingness to bring their domestic efforts at an international level as leaders, and their initiative was very enthusiastically received.
Among the many signatories there was Italy too, which in its recently launched National Energy Strategy, expressed the decision to phase-out coal by 2025.
The Alliance – which is not binding – stresses how coal phase-out is necessary in OECD countries by no later than 2030 and in the rest of the world by no later than 2050. However, the initiative does not set any specific date for signatories to phase-out unabated coal and does not even commit them to end the financing of the plants, but just to restrict it.
Even at these mild conditions many countries – among which Germany, Australia, China, India – decided not to join the Alliance.

As Deadlines are Approaching it is Time to Take Stock

Already in Paris countries decided that there had to be a moment in 2018 to take stock of progress on climate action.
This one-off process, originally called facilitative dialogue, was renamed under the Cop23 Fiji Presidency, Talanoa Dialogue (Talanoa is the Samoan word for conversation or talk).
In December 2018 this process will end and during the COP in Poland the Paris “rulebook” will have to be agreed.

The Paris Agreement was a turning point since it inaugurated the beginning of bottom-up climate action, initiated not by international institutions, but from national governments and non-state actors.
This has the potential of advancing climate policies rather quickly, but time is running out before implementation details have to be decided and if countries want to achieve a real change, they’d better put their money where their mouth is.





[1] Unabated coal is the generation of electricity from a coal plant without any treatment to reduce substantially the emissions of carbon dioxide.