The annual UN climate summit ended in Bonn, Germany, with no agreement on providing money to developing countries – but with a promise to talk about the vexed issue next year. Despite working overtime and through the night, delegates from 195 national governments failed to break the deadlock.
There was, however, some positive movement on one other long-debated financial issue; it was decided that the UN’s Adaptation Fund – meant to help poorer countries deal with climate change effects – would be under the aegis of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Industrialised countries had been opposing this movement because they feared it would compel them to put in money to the fund, which is now almost bankrupt.
Working behind closed doors, delegates also managed to finalise the design of a meeting – called the Talanoa Dialogue – slated for next year’s summit. The dialogue was originally intended to raise national pledges to control greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but now developing countries have pushed in a discussion of the support they should receive from developed countries.
While delegates from rich countries did not agree to state how much financial support their governments would provide poorer countries under the Paris Agreement, they did agree to report regularly on how much they were providing. Many developing country representatives saw this as a step forward.
In a year that has seen a record number of storms, floods and droughts, there was little progress on how to deal with the financial aspects of the loss and damage caused by such natural hazards. Industrialised countries continued to insist that the matter be left to insurance firms, while developing countries said that insurance does not cover many of the catastrophes. The issue will also continue to be discussed next year.
There were other positives at this year’s summit, notably in two areas. Governments made progress in developing a “Paris rulebook” that will enable the agreement – which comes into force in 2020 – to be implemented. Developing countries also got their wish to discuss what industrialised countries had done and are doing to combat climate change now, before 2020.
The summit also finalised a gender action plan to put more focus on the disproportionate impacts of climate change on women, especially when global warming is making water availability less certain. It also prepared a plan to have more meaningful participation of indigenous communities in global climate decision making.
While many developing country delegates came out of the summit muttering about “unfinished agenda items” and “kicking the discussions forward”, some observers did have some positive takeaways.
“COP23 delivered on what it set out to do,” said Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation. “We now have the processes in place to conclude the Talanoa Dialogue and the Rulebook for Paris at COP24 in Poland. There really is no time to lose. We have been painfully reminded of the urgency to scale up our collective climate action by the devastating climate impacts across the world this year.”
Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of UN Climate Change, was pleased by the summit’s developments on a gender action plan. “We know from experience that putting women at the heart of tackling climate change can result in more impactful, equitable and sustainable actions. The plan is designed to do just that. It highlights and supports the role women can and do play in building resilience and adapting to the impacts of climate change. It focuses global attention on how we can turn words into deeds.”
Despite President Trump’s announcement earlier this year that the US would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, “governors, mayors, business executives and citizens made clear their commitments to climate action”, said Nathaniel Keohane, vice president for global climate at the Environmental Defence Fund. “The story of these climate talks was that however much Donald Trump wants to take us backward on climate change, the rest of the US – and the rest of the world – is intent on moving forward.”
While some gains was made, many delegates were concerned about the lack of progress made to ramp up financial and capacity-building support to help developing countries deploy clean energy.
“Developing countries don’t want to be left with the polluting fossil fuel systems of the past that drive climate change, but they need the promised financial support from richer nations to switch tracks and make the most of clean energy resources.” said Mohamed Adow, Christian Aid’s international climate lead.
ActionAid International also expressed disappointment on the last day of the climate negotiations. “We expected much more leadership from countries who pulled together when the US declared they were leaving the Paris Agreement,” said Harjeet Singh, the organisation’s lead on climate change. “We had assumed they would come keen to get the job done but once the talks started, the EU, Canada and Australia slunk back to their comfort zones – siding with the US – instead of driving real change. Though vulnerable communities were in the spotlight, this hasn’t translated into the support they need.”