Bonn climate talks flag need for ‘immediate action’

Ireland keen to reconcile the need to decarbonise with sustainable food production

Shanghai endures the smog. Analysts predict a surge in the price of carbon permits, the emissions allowances traded among industrial polluters. Photograph: Getty Images

Shanghai endures the smog. Analysts predict a surge in the price of carbon permits, the emissions allowances traded among industrial polluters. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The 23rd annual “conference of the parties” (COP) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is moving into the hard negotiation phase of its annual two-week gathering in Bonn.

Finalising the rules to make the landmark Paris agreement of 2015 work, and firming up governments’ commitments on actions to tackle global warming, will dominate the business end of COP23.

Tensions were evident this week from the continuing failure of developed countries and the world’s biggest emitters of CO2 to add to their commitments since Paris, and a shortfall on current pledges in an agreement signed by close to 200 countries. Discussions are being underlined by the urgent need for “faster, immediate action”.

The agreement this week by EU negotiators to overhaul the region’s carbon “cap-and-trade” systems will bring some reassurance. A plan to bolster carbon prices and adjust the emissions market to more ambitious climate goals in the next decade is now realisable. It means industry faces higher costs for greenhouse gas emissions.

The provisional deal reached on Thursday between member states and the European Parliament follows more than two years of uncertainty over the fate of the Emissions Trading System after 2020. The challenge was to find an economically and environmentally sound compromise among 28 member states with differing energy sources.

Analysts predict a surge in the price of carbon permits – the emissions allowances traded among industrial polluters. As a result, the economic incentive for companies to reduce their carbon footprints has been increased.

The reality check of a year of extreme weather events; US president Trump withdrawing the United State from the Paris accord; and the latest global temperature charts has sharpened resolve.

“The past three years have all been in the top three years in terms of temperature records. This is part of a long term warming trend,” World Meteorological Organization secretary-general Petteri Taalas told delegates. “We have witnessed extraordinary weather, including temperatures topping 50 degrees in Asia, record-breaking hurricanes in rapid succession in the Caribbean and Atlantic reaching as far as Ireland, devastating monsoon flooding affecting many millions of people and a relentless drought in east Africa.

The US has become isolated as the only country outside the global pact on climate change, as Syria this week and Nicaragua last month indicated their support.

COPs are run by a designated nation – on this occasion Fiji – the first time by a small island nation; one that is at immediate risk from rising sea levels and ferocious storms associated with climate change.

Its prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, said at the opening ceremony he hoped the principles of “Talanoa” would be the ingredient for fruitful discussions and a meaningful outcome. Talanoa is a Fijian term for discussions aimed at building consensus and embarking on new projects and has been a catalyst for collective action among its people living in a network of small islands.

It appears as if the unusually small US delegation – full withdrawal is not possible until November 2020 – is deploying the antithesis of Talanoa. The White House confirmed it would promote “efficient” use of coal, nuclear energy and natural gas as an answer to climate change in a presentation to delegates.

A US Climate Action Center, being referred to as the “we are still in” pavilion, has been set up for delegates representing the climate change priorities of several thousand US cities, states, tribes and businesses. It is in the “Bonn Zone” in the city which is showcasing global climate action initiatives.

Minister for Climate Action Denis Naughten, who will lead the Irish delegation, will be present from early next week for the discussions. Key themes will be “reaffirmation by the parties, supporting the UN process and Paris Agreement, particularly in light of the US withdawal” and supporting the essential role of “non state elements” such as cities, according to Brian Carroll, assistant secretary-general of the Department of Climate Action and Environment.

There would be a commitment to finalise the Paris rulebook by COP24 in Poland next year. While 2020 was important at EU level, consideration of a global stock-take of efforts in 2023 and of possible adjustments that may be required was more to the fore, he added.

During COP23, Ireland will have a particular interest in transparency in monitoring and verifying progress, and on agriculture and land use; notably reconciling the need to decarbonise with sustainable food production, said Mr Carroll.

Trócaire policy adviser Cliona Sharkey, who is in Bonn, said that while this COP23 was supposed to be a technical one on agreeing the rule book for implementing the Paris pact, the big picture issue that has emerged is on “what is going to be done pre-2020”.

Former US vice- president and Nobel Laureate Al Gore at the UN Climate Change Conference COP23 in Bonn, Germany. Photograph: EPA
Former US vice- president and Nobel Laureate Al Gore at the UN Climate Change Conference COP23 in Bonn, Germany. Photograph: EPA

Actions were required to ensure “a peaking and levelling off” of carbon emissions by that date, she said, on the basis that this was “the only realistic way to deliver on Paris” and to keep global temperature rises this century to 1.5 degrees.

Vulnerable developing countries said such actions were essential “if 1.5 degrees is to remain viable” and called for them to be pushed up the agenda. Former president Mary Robinson, a climate justice campaigner, is to participate in a debate on pre-2020 actions in Bonn on Tuesday.

Indications that current pledges would mean at least three degrees of global warming and severe damage across the planet has focussed minds. The Paris accord fell short of what scientists said was required; the deal was on the basis that targets would be firmed up. Two years on and the world’s biggest emitters have yet to agree on how a ratchet mechanism might operate.

A $100 billion support fund for developing countries is not yet in position, and what was provided was going into mitigation measures to reduce CO2 rather than for adaptation to better prepare for the consequences of a warming world, Ms Sharkey added. Specifically, Europe had promised to increase its commitments up to 2020 which had yet to happen – within that context Ireland was even further behind, she noted.From Trócaire’s perspective, climate impacts being experienced today are “already too much for the people we serve”.

Green Party leader Eamonn Ryan, who is part of an Irish parliamentary delegation, said COP23 should hold the Government accountable on its commitments to tackling climate change and honouring the Paris agreement. Ireland in negotiating 2030 targets had been lobbying hard for opt-outs and was “not thinking long-term”, he said. This was reflected in its domestic policy, which lacked ambition. The positions Ireland was adopting “are not putting us on a low-carbon trajectory”.

Legal instruments provided under the Paris agreement would enable the Government to be held to account under the review and monitoring process, Mr Ryan said.

While differences may sharpen next week when countries start to discuss financing plans and the balance between mitigating emissions and adaptation, there is a sense of pushing on with Paris.

“We are seeing 196 parties trying to move forward and put the Paris accord into effect. They don’t want to let the US impede that progress,” said David Waskow of the World Resources Institute.

– Additional reporting: Guardian

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