COP23 developments to watch

COP23 developments to watch

GERMANY, BONN AUGUST 10, 2012: First plane of Sculpture depicting the head of Saints Florentius in front of the Bonn Minster
ShutterstockHoracio Garcia Martin
This sculpture of the head of Saint Florentius is a symbol of Bonn, Germany. Shown in front of the Bonn Minster.

As the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the U.N. Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) proceeds, it would be hard to exaggerate how different this year feels compared to recent years' meetings. There is no Paris Agreement to forge, as there had been two years ago. And then there’s the matter of the Trump administration's announcement of its intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, even as it will still attend COP23.

Negotiators continue to focus on developing the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement, including the reporting and review of countries' climate efforts; a new five-year cycle to assess progress and update parties' contributions; and the use of market-based approaches. Countries also need to leave the meeting with clarity on the facilitative dialogue, a process to take stock of the collective climate efforts of governments that will take place next year.

The United States government’s role at this year’s negotiations remains unclear, but some observers believe that its stance will prove to have carried limited weight as the private sector moves to fill the void.


Indeed, on Oct. 31, the United Nations Environment Program's (UNEP) executive director, Erik Solheim, said he believed the United States likely would achieve the Paris Agreement's aims regardless of the Trump administration's stance, noting that "all the big American companies" were moving to comply. States, cities and companies that make up more than half of the U.S. economy have declared support for the Paris Agreement. A highlight of COP23 has been efforts to demonstrate the continued engagement and ambition of non-state actors.

To that end, a coalition of U.S. cities, states, businesses and universities have launched the We Are Still In campaign featured across various aspects of the COP23 program. We Are Still In, which represents more than 127 million Americans and $6.2 trillion, is hosting a pavilion at COP23 highlighting the various facets of U.S. climate action. It is the first of its kind to be sponsored exclusively by non-federal U.S. actors.

On Sunday, board members of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy will host a press conference at COP23 to announce two important milestones: First, a new common global data standard framework for greenhouse gas emissions inventories reflecting the best practices for reporting city emissions data. Second is the aggregated collective impact of the more than 7,400 cities committed to the global initiative.

In a parallel action on the global front, on Oct. 31, the Climate Chance Association made public the final list of signatories of the Agadir Declaration (PDF), a world road map of non-state actors working to strengthen the action that rallies around "Stepping up climate action and goals together." It is the most widely signed declaration of its sort by non-state actors.

Emissions data

On Nov. 2, Thomson Reuters and CDP published the "Global 250 Greenhouse Gas Emitters" report (PDF). It finds that 250 corporations in oil, gas, mining, automotive, manufacturing and related industries such as cement are responsible for one-third of greenhouse gas emissions.

Ten percent of global emissions come from only 15 firms, led by PJSC Gazprom and Exxon Mobil. Overall emissions among these 250 giants remain largely flat but should be falling to meet Paris Agreement goals. The authors find hope here:

Companies such as Total, Ingersoll Rand, Toyota, Iberdrola and Xcel Energy, among a small but increasing group of others, are executing on strategies to diversify and decarbonize their business models in heavily carbon-intensive sectors. Their plans, begun a decade or more ago, have proven business results and provide a pathway to a profitable low-carbon future that stretches to 2050 and beyond.

Emissions gap

It’s a good thing so many entities around the world are apparently stepping up to the plate because the grim reality is we’re not doing such a hot job on meeting our existing goals. Indeed, a new report out from UNEP finds that there’s a huge gap between the Paris climate change goals and reality. The most recent Emissions Gap report — an annual audit of progress toward the Paris goals — found that current emissions reduction pledges are about a third of what’s needed to keep average global warming within 2 degrees Celsius.

The report lays out ways to get back on track, particularly in agriculture, buildings, energy, forestry, industry and transportation. Technology investments in these sectors — at an investment cost of less than $100 per ton of CO2 avoided, often much lower — could save up to 36 Gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalents (GtCO2e) per year by 2030.

Much of the potential across the sectors comes from investment in solar and wind energy, efficient appliances, efficient passenger cars, afforestation and curbing deforestation. Focusing only on recommended actions in these areas — which have modest or net-negative costs — could cut up to 22 GtCO2e by 2030. These savings alone would put the world well on track to hitting the 2C target and unlock the possibility of reaching the aspirational 1.5C target.

The report emphasizes, though, that we have to start now if we have any hope of avoiding catastrophic warming. Researchers calculate that for a reasonable chance of hitting the Paris goals, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2020 and the gap must be closed by 2030. The original country emissions reduction goals will be revised for the first time in 2020. If we miss that opportunity to get the numbers right, the report warns starkly, it "would make closing the 2030 emissions gap practically impossible."

Clean energy investment

COP23 has so far produced mixed news on clean energy investment. On the one hand, financial services giant HSBC pledged on Nov. 6 to provide $100 billion in sustainable financing investment by 2025 to combat climate change. With its announcement, HSBC follows a growing trend among investment banks that includes a $200 billion funding commitment from JP Morgan Chase.

While those are some big numbers, some context is warranted. According to advocacy group Banking on Climate Change, the world’s largest banks lent $290 billion to coal, liquid natural gas and environmentally sensitive oil projects from 2014 to 2016, with JP Morgan the third-largest lender and HSBC at No. 8. Nevertheless, the balance appears to be tipping increasingly in favor or cleaner energy.

That’s a good thing, too, because clean energy investments in emerging markets are dropping. On Nov. 5, Bloomberg New Energy Finance released preliminary findings from its annual Climatescope report, noting that clean energy investment in non-OECD countries fell by $40.2 billion to $111.4 billion in 2016, down from $151.6 billion in 2015.

Moreover, funds specifically deployed from the world’s wealthiest OECD nations to non-OECD countries to support clean energy build fell to $10 billion in 2016 from $13.5 billion in 2015. The drop comes one year after the Paris Agreement, under which wealthier nations affirmed an earlier commitment to provide $100 billion annually by 2020 to less developed nations to address climate change.

Clearly, the gap between promise and performance is large and growing. According to the New Climate Economy initiative, the world needs to double its current investment  —  to about $6 trillion — between now and 2030 just to meet global clean energy infrastructure needs. And according to a new report (PDF) by the IFC, the private sector needs to see climate change as a business opportunity and start mobilizing more capital to low-carbon solutions if that figure is to be met.

Forest day

Armed with new research, forest experts and indigenous leaders are at the Bonn climate talks to draw attention to the urgent need to protect and restore forests, which could get the world one-quarter closer to the Paris Agreement target of limiting warming to 1.5C. Since the signing of the New York Declaration on Forests in 2014, which pledges to end deforestation by 2050, consensus has grown among climate experts and advocates that international climate goals cannot be met if the world fails to take advantage of the unique role forests play in soaking up carbon.

A September joint study from the World Economic Forum and the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 adds additional support for forests' importance. The Commodities and Forests Agenda 2020 report (PDF) summarizes 10 priority areas that company executives, policymakers and civil society leaders should focus on in order to accelerate progress in addressing commodity-driven deforestation. Experts from Woods Hole Research Center and the University of Virginia, along with indigenous leaders from 14 nations, will highlight this and other reports to urge tropical forest conversation on Forest Day, Nov. 12.

Climate policy tracker

So, we’ve established two things. We’ve got a lot of work to do if we want to spare our planet some horrible stuff and the private sector seems to be stepping out where government is dragging its feet. As serendipity would have it, businesses can keep track of climate policies affecting their operations and supply chains using a freely available online tool, the Climate Policy Tracker, launched Nov. 1.

Businesses can use the tracker to search for the most relevant policies to them, filtered by geography and sector, revealing critical information to factor into their strategic planning. The tool currently includes business-relevant policies from the European Union, South Korea, India, Japan, China, the U.K., Brazil, the United States and South Africa. More countries, and eventually city and state policies, will be included over time to eliminate the need for companies to check multiple sources.

Bovine emissions

Lest this has all been a bit too somber, we leave you with cow farts.

FAIRR, a $4 trillion investor network campaigning on factory farming, is urging world leaders to put "cows over cars" by prioritizing livestock emissions at COP23. The livestock sector emits more greenhouse gases than the transportation sector, yet FAIRR research shows that not a single developed country has a concrete plan to tackle livestock emissions in its Paris goals.

The 10 largest agricultural emitters in the developed world create emissions equivalent to 1.6 billion barrels of oil, or 4.5 percent of global demand annually. FAIRR is hoping to change that.

Managing Editor Elsa Wenzel contributed to this report, which was updated Friday.