‘What’s the deal?’ Six takeaways from the UN climate summit

The UN climate summit which opened today in Bonn produced more of a series of boxes for government heads to tick, no difficult decisions This conference in Bonn didn’t meet one of the goals…

'What's the deal?' Six takeaways from the UN climate summit

The UN climate summit which opened today in Bonn produced more of a series of boxes for government heads to tick, no difficult decisions

This conference in Bonn didn’t meet one of the goals set at the climate summit in Paris two years ago: “meaningful action” by countries that would put the world on track to hold global warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels. But here are six takeaways from the summit that CSPM and 9to5 projects will bring home to the public.

Singapore’s contribution is strategic

Singapore is the world’s largest voluntary carbon disallowance nation. But Singapore is an astute enough actor in the climate arena to put up this contribution so high up in the conference agenda that it means more than just having a summit in Bonn. It highlights an attitude towards climate change amongst government leaders, despite all their public statements of concern about climate change. China too issued its clearest statement of intent yet: it committed to peaking emissions by 2030, with annual emissions peaking before 2030.

Political context

The UN climate summit in Paris was a different meeting, for a couple of reasons. It was the first time the majority of developed and developing countries came together in an attempt to secure a new binding agreement – a much more uncoordinated meeting compared to this one. Also, the Paris agreement was formalised during that summit in 2015, creating specific mechanisms and targets (and even one number) to measure the progress of the meeting’s most important participants. This means that countries now know how much of a difference they have to make, and the threat of increased climate variability is more real now than it was before.

The costs of failure

Speaking at the opening of the UN conference in Bonn, the OECD’s climate unit chief Carlo Calenda said that “offering too much guidance to countries to be able to achieve their goals in the long run would undermine efforts to keep global temperature rise below 2C”. Countries were hearing “people before profit”, he added.

This doesn’t mean it was irrelevant that Paris didn’t contain legally binding constraints. CSPM thinks this is a waste of time because countries already use voluntary measures and increasingly see compliance as a cost of their growth. What’s more, the Stern Review explicitly says it would be more likely to see countries escape if they did as the UK has done, if they toughened up voluntary climate goals to a “ratchet ladder”. For the more developed countries, it doesn’t actually make any difference if they make voluntary progress, as this is offloaded onto their development partners.

What’s the deal with each country?

Of course, some countries went in with a commitment to do something beyond their national commitments, and this was brought home with a concerted effort by NGO-backed climate change alliances to develop objective benchmarks for progress for other countries. As part of the platforms and pre-arranged deals, the international community will meet again in December 2018 in Poland.

How will we pay for all this?

One of the most likely long-term solutions for meeting climate goals is to create a carbon fund for the world’s poorest countries, to avoid the growing clash between climate and poverty. Yesterday, 30 NGO-led alliances formed Climate Aid (called Gap for Action), a new coalition funded by Oxfam, involving 1,150 organisations from 189 countries, including the Guardian, to press for new global climate finance. Unlike the renewables investment loop, which pits the private sector against the public sector, this funding will have to come from government. Climate aid falls far down the list of sustainable investment, given that it only brings 0.2% of annual GDP.

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