Climate-vulnerable countries push for a tough climate action from Paris to Bonn and beyond

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Millions of people are on the frontline of climate change – they face rising seas, increasing temperatures, frequent flooding and extreme weather events such as typhoons and droughts. With the changing climate, their problems are intensifying as vulnerable communities often forced to live in temporary shelters or in areas prone to flooding and landslides, some even losing their livelihood.


For the past two weeks, the international community has been meeting in Bonn, Germany with delegations of to the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23) from more than 190 nations expressing a renewed sense of urgency and a need for greater ambition to tackle climate change.


Governments focused on how to maintain momentum two years after the adoption of the Paris Agreement on climate change in the context of the recent announcement by the United States of its decision to withdraw from the accord.


Under the Paris agreement, nations have pledged to hold global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with an “aspiration” not to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius. The agreement risks failure unless countries step up with more ambitious and detailed plans to cut greenhouse gas.


At the latest round of climate talks in Bonn, all eyes were on the US delegation as it was the first set of negotiations since the US president Donald Trump announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.


While the climate change is immense, so too, is the opportunity for nations around the world to show their ambition for climate action and their determination to achieve the goals set out in Paris.


United Nations Secretary General António Guterres stressed that more ambition required action coalitions across all key sectors and by all actors. “We must engage all actors – national, regional and local governments, philanthropists and investors and consumers – in the transformation to a low-emission economy,” he said.


Guterres said countries need to do more on five ambition action areas: emissions, adaptation, finance, partnerships and leadership.


Senator Loren Legarda, head of the Philippine delegation to the climate talks said in her speech, “We come to COP23 with a strong call for climate justice: that those who are most vulnerable, who suffer the most from the adverse effects of climate change and who have contributed the least to climate change are empowered and enabled, in terms of capacity and finance, to fight back.”


“This necessitates not just enhanced ambition, but the steely resolve to act now. The window of opportunity on achieving the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal of the Paris Agreement is fast closing and any delay will result in the irreversible,” Legarda added.


The Philippines is one of the prime movers of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, an informal and non-negotiations bloc that serves as a platform for vulnerable developing countries to drive ambition to avoid average global temperatures going beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, to have one common voice in international negotiations and to share lessons learned on mitigation and adaptation.

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Legarda said the Philippines, have mainstreamed climate and geo-tagging into the budget processes, set-up a People’s Survival Fund that provides over a billion pesos each year for local government and community initiatives to fight climate change. She likewise said in her speech before the delegations that the country has enacted a Renewable Energy law and a Green Jobs Act.


Climate finance, the sticking point


One of the main concerns at the climate talks is that rich countries had not yet delivered the promised US$100 billion per year in climate finance by 2020 which was agreed in 2009. As of September 2017, they had pledged US$10.3 billion.


While the biggest sticking point in COP23 has been on climate finance, the following are some of the major announcements to support the poorest and most vulnerable nations:

  • Adaptation Fund stands at US$ 93.3 million 2017 target with the Germany’s contribution of 50 million euros and Italy’s contribution of 7 million euros
  • Green Climate Fund and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development signed up to free US$37.6 million of GFC grant financing in the US$243.1 million Saiss Water Conservation Project to make Moroccan agriculture more resilient
  • World Resource Institute announced a landmark US$2.1 billion of private investment earmarked to restore degraded lands in Latin America and the Caribbean through Initiative 20×20
  • UNDP, Germany, Spain and EU launched 42 million euros programme NDC Support Programme to help countries deliver on the Paris Agreement
  • 13 countries and the International Energy Agency launched 30 million euros to IEA Clean Energy Transition Programme to support clean energy transitions around the world


Another thing is that with the Fijian presidency of the COP23, a facilitative dialogue, dubbed as the Talanoa Dialogue, will set the stage for nations to assess progress towards on climate action. Through the dialogue, nations will verify the current situation surrounding global emission cuts, and will be encouraged to raise their reduction targets to keep a rise of global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.


Coal phase-out


In the latest round of climate talks in Bonn, 25 countries have joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance led by the UK and Canada in pushing OECD countries beyond coal by 2030 and by 2050 for the rest of the world. The alliance comprised of Denmark, Finland, Italy, New Zealand, Ethiopia, Mexico and the Marshall Islands; as well as the US states of Washington and Oregon aims to encourage more members by 2018.


In response, civil society groups released a statement saying that the alliance will fast-track the drive to abandon the use of coal and fossil fuels, recognizing its historical role in global warming and its exacerbating effects on the deteriorating climate.


“The target to fully phase out coal in 2030 and consequently to fully decarbonize exerts the appropriate pressure on governments of the world to enact and implement policies retiring the use of operating coal-fired power plants, as well as discouraging the establishment of new coal projects and investing on it,” the statement said.


“We reiterate the Southeast Asian peoples demand for the UK, Canada and other developed countries, including the US, EU, Japan, to raise their ambition further. We call for an immediate end to the financing of new coal power plants and coal mining projects in the region,” it added.


Saying that at present, there are around more than 120GW of proposed coal plants in the region, and 90% of the global coal plant expansion in the Asian region, the group composed of more than 10 civil society organizations urge governments of the Powering Past Coal Alliance “to immediately stop and curb funding from both public and private finance from their countries to corporations, banks that are behind this massive coal build-up in Southeast Asia and in Asia in general and called for the delivery of climate finance to developing countries for the swift and just transition to 100% renewable energy for people and communities.”


In the Philippines, as well as in other countries in the region, the competitiveness and viability of renewable energy sources can no longer be denied, the statement said. Slow onset effects of climate change and the vulnerability of Southeast Asian peoples will only be exacerbated if the threat of coal expansion is disregarded.


“We further call on East Asian countries like China, Japan, and South Korea to back down on their financial and political support for coal in Southeast Asia. While some of these countries have already taken steps to retire and abandon coal in their own territories, they still play a large role in supporting coal and fossil fuel investments in the region,” the statement said.


COP23 will be followed by a series of summits and conferences on climate change which are scheduled ahead of the UN Climate Summit in September 2019, including the ‘One Planet summit’ to be convened by France next month and focusing on financing, a gathering in California, bringing together non-State actors, and the COP24 in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018. Brazil has offered to host COP25 in 2019.


photo credit: UNFCCC