Editorial / 03 Nov, 2017
Time to go Further, Faster - Together

By Nick Nuttall, UN Climate Change Director of Communications and COP23 Spokesperson

Bonn. In a few short days, more than 20,000 delegates from across the globe will be in Bonn for the annual two-week UN climate conference called COP23. It is cause for celebration but also for angst and urgency.

Celebration, because two years after the adoption of the landmark Paris Climate Change Agreement the world is truly gaining momentum to address the biggest existential threat facing this and future generations.

To date close to 170 parties or countries to the Agreement have ratified it — the speed and scale of support by nations is unprecedented

In October, for example, the European Investment Bank announced an 800 million Euro partnership with India to boost renewable energy under the International Solar Alliance

The Under2Coalition, whose founding members include Baden Württemberg and California, is committed to cutting emissions by up to 95 per cent by 2020.

By September 2017, its membership has grown to 188 regions, cities and states on six continents representing 1.2 billion people and close to $30 trillion in GDP

Over 100 major corporations have committed to going 100 per cent clean energy under the RE100 initiative — including the BMW Group; China’s Broad Group and UK fashion chain Burberry

Urgency, because time to achieve a safer, better future is running out with every year that ticks by.

In March this year the UN’s World Meteorological Organization announced that 2016 was the hottest year on record — 1.1 degrees C above pre-Industrial levels—with sea level rise also breaking records

The maximum Arctic sea ice cover, another key barometer, was at 14.52 million square kilometres assessed as the lowest in the 1979-2016 satellite record

Recent extreme weather events, bringing human misery and economic damage across the Caribbean, Asia and the Americas, have underlined the rising risks we are all running. Josephine Gumbs-Connor, a lawyer on the island of Anguilla, likened the impact of the Category 5 Hurricane Irma to being hit by a nuclear bomb. Forest fires in the European Union have more than doubled this year with some researchers predicting that soon more countries will be at risk including Germany and Switzerland.

With COP23 being presided over by the Prime Minister of Fiji — the first time a small island has held this post — the need to make rapid progress towards the goals of the Paris Agreement will take on even greater urgency. Last year Fiji, along with Vanuatu, Tonga and parts of Australia, was hit by Tropical Cyclone Winston—the first recorded Category 5 cyclone in the Southern Hemisphere. The Paris Agreement of 2015 is clear about what needs to be done. Keeping an average global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius but better still for the vulnerable, at no higher than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

It is sometimes tough to see how a few degrees — or even tenths of a degree Celsius—are important. But a rise from 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius could be the difference between a world largely without coral reefs and with ice-free summers in the Arctic. On current trajectories, temperatures could rise by 3, 4, 5 or more degrees Celsius this century — for the human body, a rise of a few degrees C can be difference between a day off work with a fever and life and death.

To achieve the Agreement’s temperature goals three things have to happen. Firstly, global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak now, or as soon as possible — there some hopeful indications.

In March the International Energy Agency reported that global, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions were flat for a third straight year in 2016 even as the global economy grew

Economists say China, one of the world’s biggest emitters, has already peaked its emissions from coal-fired power stations

Secondly, nations assisted by business, local and regional governments and citizens, need to embark on a decarbonization of the global economy. Thirdly, in the second half of the century emissions need to be so low they can be easily absorbed by the earth’s nature-based ‘infrastructure’ such as forests, soils and coastal systems such as mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes allied to leaps forward in technology.

It is nothing short of restoring the balance of planet Earth to what prevailed before the Industrial Revolution but in a 21 C setting of more clean and green energy, sharply rising levels of energy efficiency in industry, offices, transportation and homes and smarter ways of producing food. So how can the UN’s 2017 conference in Bonn contribute to this long-term aim and support the wider UN Sustainable Development Goals?

In advance of Paris nearly every country put down national climate action plans or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). These spell out in how they plan to meet their targets with many developing countries outlining how they can go further with support while building more economies resilient to climatic impacts.

The totality of these plans, while better than what was on the table prior to Paris, do not to date, add up to keeping the world well below a 2-degree C rise. In Bonn, governments will begin the first moves towards assessing how far they have come and how much further collective, national ambition needs to rise to meet the Agreement’s internationally-agreed goals. The Paris Agreement also needs an operating system so that its promise and potential can be fully realized and trust between nations maintained and fostered.

Think of it as a shinny new laptop, full of megabytes, high-end cameras and surround-sound systems or the latest electric concept car, bristling with design, full of the latest, light-weight, eco-friendly materials. But what is missing a clear, concise, manual that tells you how to make the most of your new computer or how to this thoroughbred car will be propelled into a better future.

Countries, from large economies like Germany or Japan to smaller ones like Kenya or Nepal, need to know that a clear system of monitoring, reporting and verification underpins the Agreement so that everyone is confident that everyone else is walking the talk.

Governments have agreed to complete the operating manual by the next UN climate conference scheduled in Poland in 2018 — Bonn needs to make real progress here if the deadline is to be met. Issues of finance are also going to be high on the agenda in Bonn. Rich countries have pledged $100 billion a year to poorer nations by 2020 and many will be checking on progress Eventually the entire financial architecture is going to have to align so that the trillions of dollars currently invested in unsustainable, high emitting infrastructure flows faster and at scale into the new green and lean global economy.

This is going to require central banks and others to adopt regulations that better price in climate-related risks and foster long term rather than short-termism among investors. Bonn 2017 will also be a massive festival of inspiring ideas with city and regional leaders, business CEOs, investors and civil society showcasing their achievements and pledging new ones. Watch out for more cities and companies setting renewable energy targets; announcing switches to electric vehicles or greening their supply chains within countries and across continents.

An initiative, aimed at supporting some 400 million poor people at risk from extreme weather events with affordable insurance and being advanced by Germany with partners in the G7 and G20, is also eagerly awaited. Hundreds of cultural events, within the UN conference and throughout the city, should make Bonn a very lively and exciting place to be in November. Some may wonder if confidence in climate action is misplaced, given the recent announcement by the President of the United States about pulling out of the Paris Agreement.

But the rest of the world has stood shoulder to shoulder and in the US, many states, cities and businesses say they will power ahead regardless. It underlines that the Agreement is not a chain, broken by its weakest link, but an ever deepening and widening web of influence that is fast becoming a Global Coalition of all sectors of society. Bonn is not the beginning of the climate story — that began 25 years ago, with the establishment of the UN Climate Change treaty and was given a triple, rocket booster two years ago.

Nor is Bonn the end of the journey — that is still some 40 years away in the second half of the century. But the 2017 UN climate conference must play its part and take ambition to new levels remembering that the future of this generation, let alone the next, will depend on the decisions taken here in November 2017 and over the years to come. Indeed, only by going Further, Faster, Together in Bonn can the world write the next chapter of decisive and defining climate action and the hope of a better, prosperous and more secure world.


This article was originally published by General Anzeiger on 3 November 2017.