“Climate change is real, it affects us ALL. Do NOT be mistaken, just because it is not affecting you today, it is affecting someone, somewhere. Communities and entire islands right this second are hungry, homeless or sick because of climate change.” Daisy Kendrick, Ocean Generation Founder
In 2015, world leaders gathered to draft the Paris Agreement, a historic document tackling greenhouse gas emissions and adapting finance within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Two years after the momentous Paris summit, 25,000 world leaders, ministers, NGOs, private sector and civil society descended for two weeks on the quaint German town of Bonn, for COP23. A reunion to further facilitate dialogue and negotiate the technical operations of the Paris Agreement.
The 23rd summit presidency for the very first time was held by a country facing the existential threat of climate change, the small island developing state of Fiji. Despite being hosted in Germany, the spirit of Fiji was entwined in all aspects of the summit.
Talanoa, is a Fijian term meaning building consensus through discussions. This word embodied the spirit of COP23 and its mission to bring all parties and sectors together to address climate change. Fiji also emphasised that we are not in Bonn to simply negotiate words on paper, but to represent the interests of island people and the places they call home, which are rapidly disappearing under rising sea levels. Without being biased, Fiji ensured the voices of small island people, usually drowned out at other climate summits by technicalities and financials, were loud and clear. At the centre of the Fiji Pavilion at COP23 lay a drua, a traditional canoe that Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama referred to in a speech prior to the summit, “we are all in the same canoe together”.
After spending a few days in Bonn at COP23, here are some of the most prominent takeaways, in no particular order …
The 1.5 squeeze
The Paris Agreement has a goal of limiting the world’s average temperature rise from global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But, in July 2017, a climate action statement from the leaders of the Pacific Small Island Developing States, issued through COP23 Secretariat Fiji, called for the world to focus on a more ambitious target from the Paris Agreement. One of limiting global warming to 1.5 Celsius!
According to the UK Met Office and others, by 2015 global temperatures had already touched the 1 Celsius, halfway point of the target set out in Paris. The carbon budget for 1.5 Celsius will require immediate action, rapid decarbonisation and a transformation of the energy sector at a radical pace. This is an even bigger challenge when some of the world’s biggest emitters cannot agree on how to measure the future; will it be by adding more ambitious emissions goals to current commitments or calculated based on economic growth?
Many may ask what difference is 0.5 Celsius going to make and why the big deal? Well let me bring you to my next point …
People and livelihoods
The current global temperature increase has already resulted in mass migration because of flooding and droughts, rising sea levels, extreme weather events, problems in agriculture and threats to the very existence of some nations. 1.5 Celsius, which is 0.5 Celsius cooler than the previous target, is a matter of life or death. This is no dramatisation of the situation, this is the harsh reality of rising temperatures for 700 million of the most vulnerable people on Earth. The reason COP exists is because we are facing the definitive challenge for humanity. Communities access to food supplies, shelter, access to healthcare all decrease because of hazards and vulnerable climate situations.
“Resilience”: 2017’s friendlier word for adaptation.
Resilience is a more positive and empowering word evoking action. In the past, the international community deemed adapting to build low-carbon and sustainable infrastructure somewhat inconvenient and expensive, but that thought process was totally wrong.
The combined human and economic effects of extreme weather on poverty are far more devastating than previously imagined. Disaster losses disproportionately affect poor people, who have a limited ability to cope with them. A report by the World Bank announced last year at COP22 Marrakesh and emphasised again this year, estimates that impact on well-being in developing countries is equivalent to consumption losses of about $520 billion a year. This exceeds all other estimates by as much as 60 per cent.
The Caribbean region was particularly vocal about rebuilding resilient states at COP23, after suffering the brunt of two fatal hurricanes in September. In the space of two months since the disasters, the international community but particularly low-income countries, distributed $62 million so far to the affected Caribbean islands. But more contingency funds, affordable loans, and cheap insurance for high risk areas will be needed for next time. Accountability and transparency will also be key to building resilience globally, to ensure the poor are equipped with safer homes, schools, hospitals and communities as opposed to lining the pockets of wealthy individuals and corrupt politicians.
Most importantly, if we work towards building more resilient infrastructure for communities, will help diminish the growing frequency of “disasters”. What we cannot continue to do as the international community has previously done, by rebuilding volatile areas in an unsustainable way that will fall down next time a big storm hits. Resilience will reduce what we keep calling “disasters” and allow low-income volatile areas to better manage and prepare for changing climates.
Cheap Insurance Against Extreme Weathering
An international initiative with huge room for growth is cheap insurance for extremely vulnerable nations. This approach was heavily pushed by the Western nations, and along with large insurance companies and governments, the InsuResiliance Global Partnership was launched. Aimed at helping 400 million of the world’s most vulnerable people by 2020, the insurance schemes focus on the micro level and will incorporate innovative finance solutions tailored to the poor along with enhancing governments to prepare to manage and meet risks following natural disasters.
At the start of the Paris Agreement, developed nations pledged $100 Billion by 2020 to help developing nations restrict their carbon emissions and adapt to climate change. Many nations this year at Bonn, questioned whether $100 Billion is even enough to meet the milestones proposed in the Paris accord. To add to the skepticism, the US, the richest nation and one of the agreements largest financial contributors, has pulled out of the accord under the Trump administration, leaving many wondering who will pick up the tab now.
President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US from the Paris Agreement will not take force until 2020. Therefore, the US delegation was still present at COP23 but at a much pared down scale than ever before. The US delegation has been focused on representing Trump’s interests, perhaps the most controversial at the summit, expanding access to fossil fuels and declining financial contributions. This resulted in many countries at COP23, questioning whether the US delegation should have even been allowed a seat at the negotiation table.
But Trump’s withdrawal caused an unparalleled wave of support for the Paris Agreement for concerned American citizens — over 130 million Americans have pooled together to champion #WEARESTILLIN, and leaders of the movement built the Climate Action Center. The Centre was a huge pavilion between official COP zones, serving as an alternative US office space from the official delegation, hosting a series of events demonstrating certain US states progress in opposition of Trump’s fossil fuel push. Championed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor of California Jerry Brown, it has access to over $50 million to help countries, including the US, shift away from coal power.
It was also a blessing not having Trump’s presence or ridiculous tweets, that could distract audiences from the hard work of COP23!
Syria Signs Paris Agreement
In 2017, Nicaragua and Syria were the only two nations not to sign the Paris Accord. After much resistance, claiming the Paris Accord was not ambitious enough, Nicaragua signed onto the agreement last month. Not wanting to appear the outlier, Syria declared their commitments to the treaty at the beginning of COP23. This now leaves the US totally isolated, as the only country in the world outside of the landmark deal.
For a country ravaged by brutal civil war, the gesture was largely symbolic as the road for Syria and its contributions towards the agreement of keeping world rising temperatures no more than above 2 Celsius limit will not be easy.
We have reached a historic moment in climate negotiations, where climate ministers have woken up and realised the Paris Agreement will not be successful without the private sector. New funding, new equity and new insurance were all facilitated by more open dialogue between the private and public sectors at COP23.
Science is showing that supply chains and world trade are being affected by climate change, especially the agrarian industry. Therefore innovation is a must across all the private sector, and has a particularly big demand by developing nations that need technological help to skip fossil fuels and move straight to renewable energy.
Kudos to the Swedish Delegation
Without knowing much about the Swedish Delegation or their operations, I did have the great pleasure of meeting the Swedish Youth Delegate for COP23, Kajsa Fernström-Nåtby. Sweden appointed a young woman specifically to represent the voice of youth at the summit, and this was not just a token place or for photographs. The delegate explained how she attends every single negotiation meeting, equivalent to all other ministers and personnel from the delegation and has the freedom of input where she sees fit. I really hope next year other countries take a leaf out of Sweden’s book and invite more young people to participate. The vision of the Paris Agreement is for the future of our planet and future generations, and it will be ultimately fall on youth to implement all the UN jargon and decisions being made at summits like COP.
With all the talk to reduce carbon to reach the 1.5 target, how could we neglect one of the world’s largest carbon captures, our oceans? At least one quarter of carbon emissions are absorbed by the oceans, but the increased intensity of greenhouse gasses have caused significant damage on our oceans and their ecosystems. The consequences include rising sea temperatures, levels and intense acidification causing severe coral bleaching and biodiversity loss.
Under CO2 mitigation strategies and innovative adaption, the ocean ability to absorb carbon provides the opportunity for nations and private sector to trigger the engagement and deployment of Ocean energy technologies to advance the global climate agenda.
Fiji’s presidency was also the voice for the most vulnerable small islands that depend on the oceans for their economies, cultural and social well-beings. The consensus to protect the oceans under the Paris Agreement was brought to the negotiation table under the title “Ocean Pathways”. It is great the oceans has a voice at COP23 but we need to make sure that the pathways initiative generates real action, rather than just another group of partners facilitating “soft” dialogue alone.
But just a word of caution — all of these great takeaways need to be implemented before we can celebrate. There is a risk that the Paris Agreement and these subsequent COP23 commitments won’t become reality. There are no consequences for Governments who fail to honour their commitments.
The past two weeks in Bonn have successfully set the global spotlight on the fact all nations and industries are affected by climate change in one way or another. It has become scientifically obvious that rising global temperatures are increasing the number of “natural disasters” occurring globally, and realistically these are no longer natural but manmade climate volatilities.
Building resilience may decreasing the frequency of “disasters”, better prepare communities and improve the quality of people’s lives. The livelihoods suffering in Small Island States can no longer be ignored by the international community. Remember the drua? We are all in the same canoe, paddling upstream in the fight against climate change, but we can get there if we paddle together.
The next phase of the Paris Agreement is the “Facilitative Dialogue” taking place in December 2018 in Poland.
Daisy Kendrick | CEO, Founder