COP23 in Bonn: It’s in the details

The climate conference in Bonn, that takes place from the 7th till the 17th of November, is in full swing. Not that many people will be particularly concerned by this event, however it is quite interesting. The conference, also known as the COP23, is organized by the United Nations. Ministers that have signed the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 gather here to discuss the climate goals. Practical agreements to ensure compliance of the objectives will also be developed during the conference. The COP23 will not lead to spectacular results, but to realize the climate deal, the details should not be left behind.

“The climate goals that were set in 2015 need to be translated in policy intentions and concrete measures on a national level.” This statement can be read on the website of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), the government research institution that is responsible for strategic analyses on environmental policies. According to the PBL, the joint measures that are taken by the countries are not sufficient to realize the Paris Climate Agreement. This notion is emphasized in ‘The Emissions Gap Report 2017’, a study conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The study concluded that there is a large gap between the expected emissions in 2030 as a consequence of current climate policies and the goal to keep global warming way below 2 degrees Celsius, as was agreed upon during the infamous COP21 that took place in Paris in 2015.

0 CO2 emission

The COP23 will however not focus on the individual climate policies of the countries that signed the Paris agreement. “Each country is allowed to realize the goals of the climate agreement in their own terms. They can decide to implement an emission trading system (ETS) or CO2 emission taxes”, says Sible Schöne, director of the Foundation for Climate Friendly Procurement and Business (SKAO) and HIER Klimaatbureau. The climate conference is meant to negotiate the climate goals, the monitoring of objectives and the flexibility provided to achieve the goals, Schöne explains.

“If we would add up the current policies and intentions of all the countries, then we can conclude that not enough is being done to stay within the limits of 2 degrees Celsius. If we want to limit global warming to 1,5 degrees Celsius, then there should be zero CO2 emission from 2020 onwards, which is impossible. This is why many people are sceptic about the climate goals. The global temperature rises with 0,2 degrees Celsius every ten years. This temperature rise will only speed rather than decline due to many reasons. Only if the CO2 emissions drop to zero within thirty years, will the global temperature rise stay within the limit of 2 degrees Celsius.”

The Dutch government has recently set an objective to reduce CO2 emissions with 49 percent by 2030. A report by PBL has shown that this goal is in line with the ambitions of the Paris agreement, to ensure that the global temperature will not rise higher than 2 degrees Celsius. However, more concrete measures must be taken to actually reduce the emissions in the Netherlands with 49 percent. According to an analysis by PBL, the Dutch government can increase their chances of achieving the CO2 reduction objective by closing down coal-fired power stations and implementing a minimum price for CO2 in the utilities sector.

Climate change developments

Schöne: “Technical details about monitoring and reporting obligations of the countries will be discussed during the COP23. Possibilities to finance climate mitigation and adaptation strategies in other countries will also be discussed during the conference. In 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will publish a report about confining the global temperature rise within the boundaries of 1,5 degrees Celsius. After this, the COP24 will be organized wherein new negotiations will start to strengthen the ambitions of the climate agreement. The year after that the IPCC will publish a report with insights about sea level rise. This report can give the new round of negotiations a boost. If this report states that we are heading towards a sea level rise of 2,5 meters or more by the end of the century, then cities such as New York will be under water. This makes climate change more urgent for all parties involved.”

The director of SKAO compares the climate change situation with the flood of the Dutch river Maas that took place in 1993. The flood was caused by heavy rainfall and many villages in the province of Limburg were heavily hit by the flood. “People will only realize the urgency of climate change when the worse has already happened, but by then we’ll be too late. In spite of that the urgency of climate change will possibly increase in the coming years due to the estimated sea level rise. According to the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), the sea level will possibly rise from 2,5 up to 3 meters when the global temperature rises up to 3 degrees Celsius. This estimation does not even take West Antarctica into account. Right now, we are heading towards a global temperature rise of 3 degrees with the current policies. This is quite disturbing. With the alarming estimations of sea level rise, it might mean that both the United States and China must also take climate action.”

The fine prints might not be so exciting, yet they are important

Schöne concludes that the COP23 is an intermediate round and particularly important to set the details. "It is comparable to the CO2 Performance Ladder. Details such as quality demands and methods to calculate the CO2 footprint of a company are important. This makes the ladder a thorough and applicable management instrument. Due to the agreements that are made within the system, it becomes more difficult to find loopholes within the variables. But if we want to tell a story about the CO2 Performance Ladder to a large audience, then we do not go into the details. We then talk about the ecological impact of the system, namely CO2 reduction”, says Schöne. “This is similar to the climate conference in Bonn. The negotiations about measures and elaborations of the climate deal are not spectacular. However, it is important to discuss the fine prints.”