As representatives of nations convene in Bonn, Germany from November 6 to 17 to determine a roadmap going forward that will translate the idealism of the Paris Conference into concrete change, the stakes of the negotiations have never been higher.
The Paris Agreement of 2015 was a landmark deal in which 195 countries committed to combat global warming and hold total temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius. The agreement, however, set-out the principles without details on execution; one diplomat compared it to having a remarkable new smartphone without an operating system. The Bonn conference, also known as COP23, will establish a set of ground rules for how exactly nations will meaningfully cut fossil-fuel emissions.
The stakes for COP23 are clear. From wildfires in the U.S. and Canada to hurricanes in the Caribbean and floods in India, extreme weather has taken its toll this year. “The need for urgency is obvious,” said President of COP23 and Prime Minister of Fiji Frank Bainimarama. “Our world is in distress from the extreme weather events caused by climate change—destructive hurricanes, fires, floods, droughts, melting ice, and changes to agriculture that threaten our food security,” he added.
The conference’s host, Fiji, which suffered damages of over $1 billion after Cyclone Winston in 2016, is placing particular emphasis on the contentious issue of compensation. Fiji argues that developing nations should be compensated by wealthy nations for “loss and damage” from the climate change they did little to cause. “The principle is one of compensation because the western countries developed their economies at the expense of the planet and of poor people,” says Dorothy Grace Guerrero, leader of the campaign group Global Justice Now.
A further point of contention is the United States’ role in the conference. After President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Agreement by 2020, he attracted backlash from world leaders, many of whom fear a setback in climate-protection efforts. U.S. representatives at COP23 are promoting coal, nuclear energy, and natural gas as inherent and necessary answers to climate change that cannot be understated or dismissed.
Their message clashes with that of America’s rival representative group, “America’s Pledge.” Backed by Governor Jerry Brown of California and former-Mayor of New York City and UN Special Envoy Michael Bloomberg, America’s Pledge represents the country’s enduring commitment to combatting climate change and to having a seat at the negotiating table. “The American government may have pulled out of the Paris accord, but the American people are still committed to its goals. And, there is not a thing the government can do to stop us,” Bloomberg said at COP23. In a strong endorsement from the conference’s leaders, Bainimarama said, “They may be non-state actors, but they are leaders in this process. America’s Pledge sends a powerful message to the world that America is still in the game.”
COP23 is a test to the willingness and ability of nations to translate hazy, lofty promises into tangible, concrete action and implement meaningful cuts to emissions. It will further test the unity of the international community to withstand rifts over compensation and the infighting caused by the Trump administration’s rejection of the Paris Agreement. The recent wave of climate-related natural disasters, however, reinforces the urgency to move full-speed ahead.