COP23 winds up strong on direction, weak on milestones


The two-week UN Conference of the Parties on climate change (COP23) has come to an end, with a series of initiatives and undertakings, and general agreement that 'higher ambitions' by nations are needed to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.

The key official outcome of the conference was the adoption of the ‘Talanoa Dialogue’, inspired by the Pacific concept of constructive discussion, debate and story-telling, as the mechanism to set the stage in Poland in 2018 for the upward revision of national climate action plans that will be needed to put the world on track to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Overall progress on the development of the Paris Agreement 'rulebook' was limited, although it seems that a framework for the rulebook has been more or less established and the details will be negotiated over the next year, to be finalised at COP24 in Poland.

Negotiations throughout the conference were largely a wrangle between developing and developed nations on financing transitions to low carbon economies, financial support for vulnerable countries, compensation for loss and damage, and commitments by developed countries to report on their climate change activities in the lead up to 2020.

The Group of 77 (G77) developing nations pushed hard to ensure that developed nations report on their climate action performance over next three years and the Africa Group of Negotiators forced a last minute agreement that developed countries, as required under the Paris Agreement, report on how they intend to provide public funds to developing countries to fight climate change and to adapt to its effects after 2020. It was finally agreed that the detailed format of these reports would be finalised next year.

Throughout the conference, the involvement of the United States government delegation and the break away We Are Still In delegation led by New York Mayor and United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities & Climate Change, Michael Bloomberg and California governor Jerry Brown was a focus of media attention.

The US federal delegation appeared to participate as it has at past Conferences, despite President Trump's announcement that the US would withdraw from the Paris Agreement, effective from 2020. The official delegation chaired a working group with China on Nationally Determined Contributions, and contributed to the work of developing the Paris Agreement rulebook

The We Are Still In delegration released its Phase 1 report, America's Pledge: States, Cities and Businesses are Stepping Up on Climate Action, which maps current non-federal climate policies and actions and identifies promising areas to step up near-term action. The Phase 2 report will will aggregate and quantify the full range of potential U.S. non-federal action, including how these actions affect the ability of the US to reach the emission target set for the Paris Agreement.

The Australian Government kept a low profile throughout the conference, with Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg attempting to uptalk Australia's achievements on climate change despite its dismal ranking in the Climate Change Performance Index, and avoiding any suggestion of raising the nation's target, or winding back commitment to coal.

The only announcements made by the Australian Government during the conference were an allocation of $6 million to support protection and management of coastal blue carbon ecosystems in the Pacific, in partnership with Fiji and other Pacific countries, regional institutions and private sector organisations; and an additional $500,000 for the Nationally Determined Contributions Hub (an initiative of the NDC Partnership of which Australia is a member and represented on the steering committee) to support Pacific Island countries access public and private finance, low carbon investments and debt management.

Australia has previously committed $300 million for climate change and resilience activities in Pacific Island countries from 2016-2020, including $75 million for disaster preparedness.