The twenty-third annual conference of the parties (“COP23”) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (“UNFCCC”) came to a close on 18 November 2017 (see our previous Law-Now). The preceding fortnight saw the parties negotiate technical details of implementing the Paris Agreement and methods of dealing with climate change more broadly. Following our previous Law-Now, we set out below some highlights from the event.

New initiatives

The conference saw the opening of the 2018 Talanoa dialogue, an inclusive and participatory process that allows countries, as well as non-state actors, to share stories and showcase best practices in order to raise ambition in nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Fiji, in its role presiding over COP23, also launched the Ocean Pathway Partnership to address the relationship between climate change and the oceans.

Other fresh initiatives emanating from the conference included:

  • Gender Action Plan: a commitment to increase the participation of women in all UNFCCC processes and develop gender-responsive climate policy at all levels of government.
  • InsuRelience Global Partnership: for Climate and Disaster Risk Finance and Insurance Solutions to bring affordable insurance and other financial protection to millions of vulnerable people around the world.

The US delegation

The US official delegation was at the centre of media coverage of the conference following President Trump’s decision in June to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement. On day two of COP23, Syria announced it would sign the Paris Agreement, leaving the US as the only country in the world not committed to the landmark deal. The Pan African Climate Justice Alliance called for the delegation to be barred from attending the negotiations. It was reported that the delegation maintained a low profile at the negotiations, with little change in its attitude from previous COPs, save for possibly perceived harder stances on issues such as “loss and damage” and finance.

The alternative “We Are Still In” delegation, established a more significant presence - the “US Climate Action Centre” pavilion - just outside the main COP23 venue. The network, which supports ongoing commitment to the Paris Agreement, claims to represent 127 million Americans and $6.2 trillion of the US economy. From this stage, California Governor Jerry Brown and Michael Bloomberg launched their America’s Pledge report, a separate initiative working in parallel with We Are Still In. The report assesses climate actions being taken, and identifies further actions that could be taken, by US states, cities, businesses, and other non-federal actors in support of the Paris Agreement.

Anti-coal alliance

The “Powering Past Coal” alliance was launched by the UK and Canada at COP23 in a bid to lead the rest of the world in committing to an end to unabated coal power. More than 20 countries have signed up so far and the goal is to have at least 50 member countries by the 2018 UN Climate Change Conference (COP24) in Katowice. Members have agreed to phase out existing traditional coal power and place a moratorium on any new traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage.

Major coal users like China, India, the US, Russia, Australia, Germany and Poland have not signed up. Commitments on coal were expected from the German delegation, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel went no further than to indicate that “social questions and jobs” need to be taken into account when considering the country’s energy mix.

Pre-2020 action

Pre-2020 climate action posed a significant conflict throughout the conference, with developing countries raising concerns that developed countries have not done enough to meet their pre-2020 commitments – in particular, having not yet delivered the promised $100 billion per year in climate finance. These commitments are separate from the Paris Agreement, which only comes in to effect post-2020. Whilst pre-2020 action was initially omitted from the COP23 agenda, insistence from developing countries saw that pre-2020 ambition and implementation ultimately formed a major part of negotiations, resulting in an agreement to add additional stocktaking sessions and reviews in respect of reducing emissions pre-2020.

China

The anticipated launch of the national emissions trading scheme in China (referred to in our previous Law-Now) appears to have been delayed. Chinese officials and experts in Bonn, who declined to be identified, indicated that the scheme may be ready for inauguration early next year. Whilst some expected China might take on a significant leadership role at COP23, a report published by the Global Carbon Project at the start of the fortnight indicated China’s economic growth and rebounding coal use would push greenhouse gas emissions to a record high in 2017.