COP23: 7 questions as UN climate talks resume in Bonn

(Pic: UN Climate Change)

Week one at UN climate summits generally drifts by slowly, mired in agenda fights and arcane squabbles over acronyms and finance.

Week two is a different beast. The ministers start to arrive, eager to demonstrate their climate leadership and all-round wisdom to what’s usually a fast-growing press pack.

Much of their time is spent on panels and presentations. A general rule of thumb is the less effective a minister, the more panels their civil servants try to get them on.

COP23 is not expected to deliver a headline new treaty, so the extent to which top officials can help may be limited, but there are some major questions that need answers.

#1 — Pre 2020

This snuck up on the talks and is now a big issue. The Paris Agreement comes into force in just over two years time. But what happens now?

Can developed countries — for the purposes of here that’s the US, EU, NZ, Australia, Norway, Japan, Switzerland and Canada — prove they’re meeting their obligations to lead on tackling climate change?

These range from providing more money (with a goal of $100 billion a year by 2020), sharing green technologies and cranking up their own domestic greenhouse gas cuts.

Delivery on these is mixed. For instance, the UK on track to meet its 2020 CO2 target, while Germany is way off due to its addiction to coal.

On finance, in 2015 rich countries estimated they were well on track to the $100bn; however a 2016 study by Oxfam reckons around $20bn a year is being provided.

Over and above this is the status of a 2012 UN deal called the Doha Amendment, where wealthy nations said they’d take the lead till 2020 pending a new, global pact.

That pact — the Paris Agreement — was agreed in 2015. But the Doha Amendment has not been ratified by all rich nations, undermining trust between rich and poor.

#2 — Show me the money

We saw a few small announcements on finance last week — notably Germany’s support for the Adaptation Fund — but will we see more big bucks this week?

Money keeps these talks flowing — and given Trump’s decision to cut support for the Green Climate Fund others will have to plug the hole.

It’s also possible some may save announcements till Emmanuel Macron’s 12 December climate summit in Paris.

#3 — What game will the US play?

This week we’ve effectively got three US delegations in town.

A cluster of State Department technocrats keeping their heads down, a group of largely Democrat governors and Mike Bloomberg making load of noise (#WeAreStillIn)and a small White House team.

Monday’s clean coal push with Peabody won’t endear the US to many here, but there are some countries who see this as a chance to gain access to technology on the cheap.

Will Bloomberg’s push for states and regions to get a seat at UN talks succeed? If it does that will strengthen the hand of those opposed to Trump’s swinging climate cuts.

#4 — Loss and damage

COP23 hosts Fiji needs to spend $4.5 billion on coping with climate impacts by 2030, a World Bank study released in Bonn last week suggested.

Meanwhile some insurance schemes set up to help countries cope with extreme weather are already collapsing.

Compensation is a toxic word, but unless some creative solutions emerge, calls for more money on the back of every extreme event will only get louder.

#5 — What to do about Poland?

Nasty scenes from Warsaw at the weekend, with the WSJ reporting 60,000 ‘Nazis’ paraded through the streets calling for a ‘White Europe’.

Poland’s PR is looking little better in Bonn: the logo of COP24, which it will host in Katowice, looks a bit like a lump of coal, and advertising of the event focuses on its industrial heritage.

The Poles pose a huge problem: how to keep a country that is fast lurching to the right and has a history of nobbling UN climate talks in check through 2018?

The reason the EU has not ratified the Doha Amendment? Poland. If plans are next year are not well-managed, the UN could have a mini-Trump running the show.

#6 — EU leadership

Brussels seems more important than ever, given the US vacuum.

China talks of setting the pace, but not on areas of compliance and transparency, where it’s happy to see a fudge and as little international focus on its emissions basket as possible.

Macron seems the obvious choice to take the baton forwards, with Angela Merkel stuck in tortuous coalition talks, Theresa May in a permanent state of crisis and Spain disintegrating.

Since 2011 Europe has tried to set the pace at these negotiations in an uneasy alliance with small island states — can he do the same here and ensure the Paris Agreement rulebook has teeth?

#7 — Will the talks finish on time?

Stupid question. Of course not. My bet is 11pm this Friday.