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

The second week of climate talks in Bonn came to a conclusion today (17 November), following a raft of new global alliances and climate pledges building momentum for the transition to a low-carbon future.

Government officials from almost every nation were under increasing pressure at the start of the week to keep the ball rolling with plans to implement a new Paris rulebook, which is set to be approved at next year’s COP24 in Poland.

The week began with a stark warning as scientists revealed that the burning of fossil fuels increased slightly in the past year. These figures appear to have dashed hopes raised in the previous three years that global emissions may have peaked before 2020.

But amid this gloomy backdrop, exacerbated by Donald Trump’s US delegation lending their support to coal and other fossil fuels, climate talks gathered pace.

Indeed, right up until the final plenary meeting on the last day of the Bonn summit, national representatives were engaged in intense discussions about the features of both the Paris rulebook and the Talanoa dialogue, which takes stock of the collective efforts of Paris participants.

International leaders took centre stage this week, with host Chancellor Angela Merkel telling delegates that climate change is an issue “determining our destiny as mankind”, while French president Emmanuel Macron described global warming as “by far the most significant struggle of our times”.

Some within the green community are still concerned that the ambitious language used by Europe’s top leaders is not yet being matched by action. On several occasions during Bonn, for instance, Merkel deflected calls for Germany to phase-out of its large fleet of heavily polluting coal power stations.

It remains clear that significant work needs to be done by the international community to place the world on course for a well-below 2C future. But while it may not go down in the history books as a defining moment for climate change action, the last five days of international climate talks have provided serious grounds for optimism. Here are the main highlights from the second week at Bonn.

Global alliance on coal phase-out

A new alliance of 19 nations, led by the UK and Canada, yesterday committed to quickly phasing out coal. New pledges were made by Mexico, New Zealand, Denmark and Angola for the Powering Past Coal Alliance, which was greeted as a “political watershed“, signalling the end of the dirtiest fossil fuel that currently provides 40% of global electricity.

Commenting on the announcement, WWF’s chief adviser on climate change Dr Stephen Cornelius called on all countries to shun coal and move towards a renewables future.

“This alliance is the first step in realising this ambition, but so much more needs to be done across the globe,” Cornelius said. “The science on coal is clear – we know that for our health, for our economy, and to limit the worst effects of climate change we must move towards a world free from this dangerous fuel.”

Shipping industry maps out climate action

The shipping industry made waves on Wednesday, as more than 150 industry leaders joined forces to forge a draft action plan that mapped out how the sector can contribute its ‘fair share’ of emissions reductions to limit temperatures to 1.5C.

Among key commitments in the action plan includes proposals to build demonstrator vessels for the trialling of new technologies, as well as a bid to push for both the urgent adoption of science-based targets and a much tighter Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI).

UK commits to combat Latin America deforestation

On Tuesday, the UK Government announced two new projects worth £62m will help tackle deforestation across Latin America by promoting sustainable new business models and sourcing practices. More than £40m will extend a programme looking to achieve zero deforestation in Colombia’s Amazon region to Brazil, while £19.3m has been aimed at businesses operating in Brazil, Colombia and Peru.

The announcement was made Bonn, where consumer goods firm and “Climate A Lister” Unilever’s chief executive Paul Polman was championing the role of forests in creating “resilient growth and climate justice”.

Philips delivers one billionth bulb

At a special ceremony in Bonn yesterday, Philips Lighting delivered its one billionth LED bulb, placing the firm halfway towards its goal to deliver two billion for 2020.

Significant progress has been made in the energy-efficient lighting sphere in recent times. Indeed, when Philips Lighting first called for the global phase-out of incandescent light bulbs in 2006, lighting accounted for 19% of global electricity consumption. This level was down to 15% in 2015 when the Paris Agreement was signed, and is on track to further decline to 8% by 2030.

“This milestone demonstrates that we can successfully drive the transition from conventional lighting technologies to LED, which can make a significant contribution to global climate change objectives,” said Harry Verhaar, head of global public and government affairs at Philips Lighting.

“Energy efficiency is the low hanging fruit – today, energy efficiency improves by about 1.5% every year but simply doubling this to 3% per year would set us on a sustainable path.”

New members for Under 2 coalition

On Tuesday, 16 states and regions committed the Under2 Coalition, the global pact of jurisdictions pledging to tackle climate change and help implement the Paris Agreement. Armenia and Chile joined up alongside Rio de Janeiro, and regional signatories including Wallonia in Belgium and Attica in Greece, to bring the coalition to 200 members representing almost 40% of global GDP.

This came after a report over the weekend found that more than 100 state and regional governments are making strong progress on climate change. Key findings from The Climate Group and CDP’s joint study showed that sub-national governments made 80% more climate actions in 2017, across sectors such as transport, buildings, energy and land use.

“The world needs to move faster to meet the demands of the Paris Agreement,” said The Climate Group’s chief executive Helen Clarkson. “So it is significant to see so many states and regions now stepping-up and joining together to create an even greater force for action.”

India and China stepping up to the plate

While US climate policy has been rolled back under President Trump, major polluting countries such as India and China have been moving ahead. China has committed to spending $363bn on renewable power capacity by 2020, helping to create 13 million new jobs. Equally, India has increased its climate action. In fact, the share of coal in India’s energy mix is expected to decline from three-quarters to less than half by 2040.

Actions in China and India have made a difference to the Climate Action Tracker’s (CAT) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions projections based on government policies currently in place, leading to a 0.2C decrease in projected warming—to 3.4C by 2100, compared with 3.6C in November 2016.

“It is clear who the leaders are here:  in the face of US inaction, China and India are stepping up,” said Climate Analytics chief executive Bill Hare.  “However, both need to review—and strengthen—their Paris commitments: our projections show they will meet them much earlier than 2030.”

The signs for the future are encouraging – the International Energy Association’s 2017 World Outlook report on Tuesday predicted that, over the next 25 years, a strong emphasis on cleaner energy technologies and reduced reliance on heavy industry and coal will catapult China to a position of global leadership in renewables.

Hydrogen potential revealed

Almost 20 key leaders from the Hydrogen Council coalition came together this week to launch first ever globally quantified vision of the role of hydrogen. In addition to being a key pillar in of the energy transition, the study shows that hydrogen has the potential to develop US $2.5tn of investment, contribute to 20% of CO2 emissions reduction targets and create more than 30 million jobs by 2050.

“The world in the 21st century must transition to widespread low-carbon energy use,” said Takeshi Uchiyamada, chairman of Toyota Motor and co-chair of the Hydrogen Council. 

“Hydrogen is an indispensable resource to achieve this transition because it can be used to store and transport wind, solar and other renewable electricity to power transportation and many other things.”

George Ogleby

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