Talk Summary: UN Climate Change Talk

This is a summary of a recent talk organised by the Oxford Climate Society which hosted a panel discussion on the proceedings of the most recent annual UN Convention on Climate Change.

First up, here is a direct link to the event: (click on the ‘view details’ button at top right of page).

The talk had a fairly cryptic title for non-experts: “After the COP: What Happened in Bonn?”…

The COP stands for Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It took place on 13-14 November 2017.

… you can see why people opt to shorten it to COP! This was the 23rd such conference (first being in 1992) and the Paris Climate Agreement was agreed two years ago at the 21st COP, so it can be a fairly important event. The panel mentioned some recent impacts of climate change to highlight the relevance of such discussions:

  • a 1 in 100 year flood in Bangladesh
  • flooding in Texas, USA
  • an abnormally severe hurricane season in the Carribean
    • resulting in the majority of Barbuda’s population living with family and friends on Antigua until their houses are repaired (when, they don’t know)

The panel discussed how the COP convention was broadly split in to two parts:

  • the ‘boring’ ‘Bula’ negotiation zone where the finer details of the Paris Climate Agreement were pulled together
  • the ‘fun’ ‘Bonn’ zone where climate action events were discussed: projects for reducing human impact on the planet

Though this years COP was held in Germany, Fiji held the presidency for this conference:

Fiji encouraged a dialogue imbued with the spirit of “Talanoa” – a generic term (shared by Tongans, Samoans, and Fijians) referring to a conversation, chat, sharing of ideas and talking with someone.

This approach was taken to ensure that each nation had their say. This approach is reflected in the negotiation process, where each of the 195 nations must agree to motions (yes, the only nation that isn’t a member is the USA). Indeed, this proved challenging and the negotiations continued past the Friday deadline in to the early hours of Saturday morning.

One member of the panel, Saleemul Huq, advises the 48 least developed countries on the impacts of climate change, adaptation to it and loss or damage compensation. The Fijian presidency made loss and damage a priority for discussion at this year’s COP however many felt that aspirations for progress in this area were not met.

There already exists the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts. At this COP, richer nations were happy to discuss nothing more than insurance for countries against the effects of climate change. However Saleemul argues that members of the poorest nations (who frequently stand to be the most affected by climate change) cannot pay for this. Members of the panel said that representatives of some nations dragged their feet during negotiations and a noticeable fault line emerged between rich and poor countries in the process. Panellists discussed that to date, there has been very little repayment from richer, polluting or previously polluting countries to poorer countries who are suffering the impacts of climate change.

There are big COPs and there are small COPs; this was a small COP

From the ‘Bonn’ zone where climate action events were discussed, one panelist noted that it was clear implementation doesn’t entirely depend on governments and often projects can be set up on a smaller basis involving organisations and the public acting of their own accord. However it was later mentioned that divestment (selling off business interests or investments) from fossil fuel based industries stands to make the biggest reduction to climate change. One project mentioned that may prove effective on this front was the green finance initiative. Furthermore, transparency is key to enforcing divestment and the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures was touted as progress in this direction though being industry led it was criticised as may be necessary.

Panellists noted that the economic viability of coal is gone

Indeed, panellists suggested that despite the efforts of the USA which sent a delegation to discuss ‘clean coal’ (which according to the panel failed – all conference attendees walked out and protesters and the media marched in), it is clear that humanity is moving away from coal as an energy source. Having said this however, it was also mentioned that plenty of coal was distributed around various talks in the conference to highlight the new coal mine that has been built just 50km from where the conference was held in Bonn, Germany.



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