In-depth


The no-decisions climate conference

Ulrich Glauber
06 November 2017 | updated 06 November 2017

Some 25,000 delegates from all over the world are gathering in Bonn for the next two weeks to attend the UN Climate Change Conference COP23. The U.S. is also taking part in the meeting, which will focus on the finer details of the Paris climate accords and financing climate action.

Frankfurt. There’s a big gap between what ought to be done and what’s actually happening. Under the Paris climate agreement, the parties committed to limit global warming to well below 2°C and to aim to limit the increase to 1.5°C. But according to scientific studies, Earth is currently on track for close to 3°C warming.

Decisions not expected

Despite the obvious time pressures, decisions will not be taken at the largest international conference ever held in Germany. 

“Ground-breaking decisions are not expected this year,” admitted the German government in a background paper to the climate change conference (COP23), which began on Monday in Bonn and will run for the next two weeks.

Targets fall well short

Two years ago in Paris, the parties committed to work together with their national climate protection plans towards a larger goal. However, there are no criteria with which to compare, control and make more transparent these targets. 

In addition, these voluntary commitments are to be reviewed every five years to set more ambitious targets. But so far, the climate commitments of the 195 signatory countries only cover a third of what would be necessary to reach the 2°C target.

Who will pay?

Even more important is the financing of the climate protection measures and addressing the consequences of climate change. Under the Paris agreement, the industrialized countries, which are responsible for the lion’s share of global warming, are to assist the developing countries beginning in 2020 with $100 billion each year. 

So far, only two-thirds of this sum has been secured. And since Donald Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the agreement, just how the finance promise will be kept is anybody’s guess at this point.

Fiji presiding over COP23

It doesn’t take much to be able to predict that COP23’s president Frank Bainimarama will put extra pressure on the financing question. The prime minister of Fiji represents an alliance of low-lying Pacific island states whose inhabitants have already had to leave their villages in some places due to rising sea levels.

But it’s clear to see just how differently the cards are dealt in the game of climate poker. Despite holding the presidency of COP23, the Fijian islands would have been overwhelmed by having to host a conference with thousands of participants. So Germany jumped in given that the UN’s climate organization – the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – is located in Bonn.

Washington’s uncertain role

On the other side of the table from the South Pacific islanders is the mighty U.S., which is still allowed to attend the conference despite announcing its withdrawal from the Paris agreement. According to the agreement’s fine print, its withdrawal will only take effect in two years – giving Washington plenty of time to throw a wrench into the works if it wants.

But on the Friday before the conference, 13 federal agencies unveiled a scientific report that directly contradicts Trump’s assertion that he’s “unconvinced” that humans are to blame for climate change. 

What’s more, a broad coalition of U.S. states, big businesses, mayors and multi-billion foundations are in Bonn under the motto “We’re still in!” to show that Trump doesn’t speak for everyone in the United States.