What went on in Bonn: COP23 week one round-up

An action-packed first week of international climate talks in Germany has come to an end, with a plethora of strong declarations and corporate commitments signifying a resolute collective intent to stick the path of the Paris Agreement.

Thousands of representatives from 195 countries are gathered in Bonn from November 6-17 to work on a “rule book” for implementation of the Paris Agreement. The two-week summit is seen as an essential step to ensure that the Agreement’s structure is finalised and ambitions raised.

A real sense of urgency surfaced in the immediate build-up, with a fresh UN warning that national pledges only bring a third of the emissions cuts needed by 2030 to meet Paris. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the week kicked-off with bold, unified calls for raised ambition.

There was was a poignant speech on the first day from the Prime Minister of Fiji, the small island state which has presidency of COP23. In a backdrop of human suffering caused by extreme weather events such as hurricanes, fires, floods and droughts, Frank Bainimarama reminded global leaders of their role to “respond to the suffering with all means available to us”.

“This means to meet our commitments in full, not back away from them,” he said.

Collaborative efforts

The opening day was characterised by demands for collaboration at every level, including governments, civil society and the private sector. Collective action will be the driving force for Fiji’s new ‘Grand Coalition’ which will be formed during the next 12 months, Bainimarama declared.

Meanwhile, members of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) outlined their business recommendations that should be considered by climate negotiators to create a holistic partnership with governments to deliver on the goals of Paris.

As part of the recommendations, businesses want to create a structured policy dialogue centring on the Marrakech Partnership, which provides a platform to showcase best practice approaches to reducing emissions.

Businesses are also pushing to provide input into the Facilitative Dialogue, which outlines what increased ambitions will be issued as part of the next round of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). 

WBCSD’s managing director asserted that the private sector will “be the force behind emissions reductions across global supply chains”. 

In her opening speech, UNFCC Executive Secretary Patricia expressed her pride that, “for the first time in history”, non-stake actors including corporate giants are aligning with a multilateral agreement.

Corporate commitments

Indeed, in the past five days alone, influential and international businesses from a wide range of sectors have committed to shape a clean economy. Earlier this week, UK-based HSBC pledged to provide €100bn in sustainable financing by 2025 as it joined RE100 with a commitment to source 100% renewable power by 2030.

This came before a flurry of business sign-ups to the Climate Group’s electric vehicles (EV100) and energy productivity (EP100) campaigns. The pledges were greeted as “smart business decisions” by The Climate Group’s chief executive Helen Clarkson.

“It’s fantastic to see continued leadership from companies on climate action – commitments like these are smart business decisions that future-proof operations and boost the bottom line,” Clarkson said.

Bloomberg finance

Business action also needs to be accelerated, with only 30% of the world’s top 250 listed companies setting strong enough goals to curb global warming.

Ahead of Water Action Day in Bonn, the World Water Council (WWC) reported that financial investment into water infrastructure needs to triple to €255bn annually to combat climate change and meet sanitation targets.

However, The World Bank’s subsidiary, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), notes that at least one trillion dollars are being invested globally in ways to reduce the threat of climate change,

This figure is set to increase in the near future. Yesterday, UN special envoy on climate change Michael Bloomberg, who is attending the Bonn summit, announced a $50m plan to expand a campaign to reduce the amount of fossil fuels in the global atmosphere.

The campaign, which supports legal action against coal-fired power plants, and has already helped see half the nation’s coal plants close since 2010, will now expand to Europe, the former mayor of New York confirmed.

We Are Still In

Bloomberg is heading up a delegation of US states and business that are pledging climate action in Bonn despite President Trump’s opposition. The We Are Still In coalition of more than 1000 companies has reasserted its support of Paris this week, while California – one of the many states setting its own emissions reduction and clean energy goals – is currently discussing ways to link its carbon market to the European Union’s.

The US administration’s status as a climate change pariah was emphasised on Wednesday when it became the only nation outside of the Paris Agreement, after Syria became the latest and last signatory to the global accord.

US representatives have still travelled to the latest round of climate negotiations in Bonn, although the White House confirmed that US delegates will endorse coal, natural gas and nuclear energy as a solution to climate change at a presentation.

But despite Trump’s inclination towards fossil fuels and nuclear, a global transition to 100% renewable electricity is not only feasible but more cost-effective than the existing system. That was the key finding of a pioneering study presented on the sidelines of COP23 on Wednesday.

According to researchers at Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) and the Energy Watch Group, existing renewable energy potential from solar and wind in addition to technologies such as storage can generate sufficient and secure power to cover the entire global electricity demand by 2050.  

We are already seeing a step-change in the transition towards more sustainable energy production. At Bonn, the International Energy Agency (IEA) announced the launch of the Clean Energy Transitions Programme, a new multi-year, €30m plan backed by 13 countries to support clean energy transitions around the world.

‘Compelling case’

With renewable energy outputs set to increase significantly in the upcoming years and decades, countries will have an opportunity to accelerate its deployment in line with climate objectives under the Paris Agreement.

In a separate report released in Bonn today, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) found that current national Paris agreement pledges and energy strategies can be substantially enhanced to meet global climate objectives.

Renewable energy deployment levels under current NDCs would bring online 80GW of renewable energy capacity globally each year, between 2015 – 2030, the report found. However, the current pace of deployment has seen countries install 125GW of new renewable energy capacity on average annually between 2010 and 2016, suggesting that NDCs can better reflect the global energy transition.

The report highlights that a more integrated approach would send a clearer message to the global investment community willing to invest in this sector.

“As the global community prepares for a new round of climate negotiations under the Paris Agreement, it is critical we go in with a clear understanding of the trajectory required to avoid the worst effects of climate change,” IRENA director-general Adnan Z. Amin said.

“Our analysis finds that the convergence of innovation, falling costs and positive socioeconomic impacts of renewable energy – together with the climate imperative – make a compelling case for accelerating action.”

Stay tuned for edie’s coverage of the second and final week of climate discussions in Bonn.

George Ogleby

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie