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Climate talks end without agreement on money

The negotiations failed a major test but there were some successes

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Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr António Guterres in Bonn (Image: UNclimatechange)

The annual UN climate summit ended in Bonn, Germany, on Friday with no agreement on providing money to developing countries, but a promise to talk about the issue again next year.

Despite working overtime and through the night, delegates from 195 national governments failed to break the deadlock at the summit. Frank Bainimarama, Fiji Prime Minister and President of this year’s COP (Conference of Parties), was finally forced to say, “discussions will continue”, and gavel that through as a resolution.

There was some positive movement on finance. It was decided that the Adaptation Fund, which is designed to help poorer countries deal with the effects of climate change, would now be under the aegis of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Industrialised countries had been opposing this because they feared it would compel them to put money into the fund, which is almost bankrupt.

Working behind closed doors, delegates also managed to finalise the design of a meeting called the Talanoa Dialogue, which is slated for next year’s summit. That dialogue was originally meant to raise national pledges to control greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, developing countries have pushed in a discussion of the support they should receive from developed countries.

While delegates from rich countries did not agree to provide detail on how much financial support their governments would provide poorer countries under the Paris Agreement, they did agree to report regularly on how much they were providing. Many developing country representatives saw this as a step forward.

In a year that has seen a record number of extreme weather events, such as storms, floods and droughts, there was little progress on how to manage the financial aspect of the loss and damage that results from such events. Industrialised countries insisted that the matter be left to insurance firms, while developing countries kept saying that insurance did not cover many of the catastrophes. The issue will continue to be discussed next year.

Positives

There were positives at this year’s summit, with governments making progress developing a “Paris rulebook” that will operationalise the agreement, which comes into force in 2020. And developing countries secured a discussion about what industrialised countries are doing to combat climate change before 2020.

Two other long-standing issues were resolved. A Gender Action Plan was finalised that will bring greater attention to the disproportionate impacts of climate change on women, especially when global warming is making water availability less certain. There is also a plan to develop fuller participation of indigenous communities in global climate decision making.

Mixed reactions

While many developing country delegates came out of the summit muttering about “unfinished agenda items” and “kicking the discussions forward”, some observers did have some positive takeaways.

“COP23 delivered on what it set out to do,” said Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation. “We now have the processes in place to conclude the Talanoa Dialogue and the Rulebook for Paris at COP24 in Poland. There really is no time to lose. We have been painfully reminded of the urgency to scale up our collective climate action by the devastating climate impacts across the world this year.”

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of UN Climate Change, was pleased by the summit's developments on a gender action plan. "We know from experience that putting women at the heart of tackling climate change can result in more impactful, equitable and sustainable actions. The plan is designed to do just that. It highlights and supports the role women can and do play in building resilience and adapting to the impacts of climate change. It focuses global attention on how we can turn words into deeds."

Despite President Trump's announcement earlier this year that the US would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, “governors, mayors, business executives and citizens made clear their commitments to climate action", said Nathaniel Keohane, vice president for global climate at the Environmental Defence Fund. "The story of these climate talks was that however much Donald Trump wants to take us backward on climate change, the rest of the US – and the rest of the world – is intent on moving forward.”

While some gains were made, many delegates were concerned about the lack of progress made to ramp up financial and capacity-building support to help developing countries deploy clean energy. 

“Developing countries don’t want to be left with the polluting fossil fuel systems of the past that drive climate change, but they need the promised financial support from richer nations to switch tracks and make the most of clean energy resources.” said Mohamed Adow, Christian Aid’s international climate lead.

ActionAid International also expressed disappointment on the last day of the climate negotiations. “We expected much more leadership from countries who pulled together when the US declared they were leaving the Paris Agreement," said Harjeet Singh, the organisation's lead on climate change. "We had assumed they would come keen to get the job done but once the talks started, the EU, Canada and Australia slunk back to their comfort zones – siding with the US – instead of driving real change. Though vulnerable communities were in the spotlight, this hasn’t translated into the support they need.”

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