The twenty-third annual conference of the parties (“COP23”) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (“UNFCCC”) is taking place throughout the fortnight commencing 6 November 2017. For the first time, the event is being governed by one of the small island nations most at risk from sea level rises and extreme weather events characterising climate change – Fiji – but, for practical reasons, the physical location of the conference is Bonn. The conference gives representatives from both government and business an opportunity to come together to develop and showcase new commitments and leverage real-life case studies to step up international climate action under the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement

The objective of the UNFCCC is "the stabilisation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system". The Paris Agreement, made in furtherance of this aim, took effect in November 2016 and has now been ratified by 169 of the 197 parties to the UNFCCC (the withdrawal by the US announced in June 2017 cannot take effect until 2020).

The Paris Agreement sketches a framework for the global community to keep the average global temperature rise since the pre-industrial age significantly below 2°C. The key aspects of this framework include:

  • A requirement that each signatory nation must put forward a “nationally determined contribution” (“NDC”) representing its best endeavours in emissions targets and other climate-related measures, and continue to improve on this commitment throughout the life of the treaty.
  • High-level commitments on the range of support that is to be implemented for developing nations, including financial contributions, sharing best practice and the controversial issue of reparation (or at least insurance) for loss and damage caused by climate-related events.

COP23

The UN contends the that climate commitments made to date are unlikely to keep the global temperature increase below even 3°C, so prudent signatories will use the event to find ways to start improving their NDCs. However, the conference is primarily an opportunity to put some flesh on the bones of the Paris Agreement framework.

Events in the conference schedule include:

  • International negotiations – government representatives will start work on the detailed rules and guidelines for implementation of the Paris Agreement and promoting compliance. For example, industry will need common standards on issues including the measuring, reporting and verification of emissions reduction.
  • High-level presidency events – daily sessions in the second week of the conference in which panels of high-profile speakers will consider some of the big Paris Agreement issues including how to share risks and protect health in vulnerable developing nations and how to build on lessons learned on the early implementation of long-term climate strategies.
  • Marrakesh Partnership for Global Climate Action programme – a series of over one hundred events over the middle weekend of the conference, initially themed by core industry (energy, transport etc.), will bring together government and industry stakeholders to showcase climate action successes, provide a platform for new initiatives and identify barriers to enhanced implementation of the Paris Agreement.
  • Special side events – a broad programme of seminars throughout the fortnight for those with a limited voice elsewhere in the conference on ways to promote implementation of the Paris Agreement, enhance stakeholders’ ambitions and ensure developing nations receive the support they need, loosely grouped into thematic days including a Gender Day and an Indigenous Peoples Organisations Day.

Key conference developments

  • Disruptive influence of US – following Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, it will be interesting to follow the US delegation’s contributions to the event and see how the other signatories (along with the unofficial “We Are Still In” US delegation) pull together in support of the treaty. For example, representatives of US businesses are expected to give a presentation entitled “the role of cleaner and more efficient fossil fuels and nuclear power in climate mitigation”.
  • High-level segment – each signatory’s senior government representatives will be afforded the spotlight for three minutes to deliver a national statement on Wednesday 15 or Thursday 16 November, so we may see some new high-level policy commitments.
  • High-profile speakers – speakers confirmed for the conference include Nicola Sturgeon, Unilever CEO Paul Polman and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
  • Transport theme – while the majority of existing NDCs make some reference to the reduction of emissions from transport, few present tangible targets. The rate of emissions reduction in the transport sector has been much slower than in the energy sector; a number of events at the conference could be used to increase government ambition and catalyse the adoption of comprehensive shared action plans, including a showcase of lessons learned in Germany on Friday 10 November.
  • EU – provisional agreement to modify Emissions Trading System – after two years of negotiations, the EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy announced on 9 November measures including an increase in the annual rate of decline of emissions allowances under the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme from 1.74% to 2.2%. The launch of a national emissions trading system in China is also expected in the course of the conference.