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UN climate talks

Irene QuaileMay 13, 2016

UN climate talks resume in Bonn on Monday, the first after the key Paris agreement last December. With the first four months of 2016 the hottest ever recorded, delegates are under pressure to push implementation.

UN climate conference flag is hissed in Bonn
Image: DW/I. Quaile

Representatives from around the world have been dribbling into the German city of Bonn this week for the first official UN climate meeting since the Paris agreement and its signing in New York on 22 April. As the working meeting gets underway, the atmosphere is low-key compared with the hype surrounding the Paris Climate Conference. But the world climate agreement will be worthless if the world leaders do not succeed in transmitting it into actions in the very near future.

Time to deliver on promises

In a note to the participants of the Bonn talks, the President of the Paris COP21, French Environment Minister Segolene Royal, and the incoming President of COP22 Morocco's Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar, stress it is time for a shift "from a focus on negotiation to a focus on implementation and cooperation."

The challenge ahead, they say, is to "operationalize the Paris agreement: to turn intended nationally determined contributions into public policies and investment plans for mitigation and adaptation and to deliver on our promises."

Climate Agreement is celebrated by world leaders in Paris.
The Paris Agreement was hailed as a breakthrough.Image: Reuters/S. Mahe

There is no lack of evidence to support the urgent need for faster action on climate change. An increasing number of extreme weather events are being attributed to climate change. The CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is climbing steadily and is likely to cross the critical 400 ppm mark permanently in the not-too-distant future. The global temperature is already 1 degree Celsius higher than it was at the onset of industrialization. That means very rapid action is needed to keep to the agreed target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius and preferably keeping it below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The two-degree target

The Paris agreement was hailed widely as a breakthrough, with all parties finally accepting the need to combat climate change by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Countries have put pledges on the table, outlining their emissions reduction targets. But so far, the reductions pledged would still take the world closer to a 3-degree Celsius temperature rise.

Although many scientists are alarmed at the slow pace of emissions reductions, Hoesung Lee, chief scientist at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told the Guardian this week that it is still possible to keep to the 2-degree target.

The current UN climate chief Christina Figueres, who will hand over her leadership to Mexican Patricia Espinosa later this year, has said emissions would have to peak by 2020 if the limit is to be kept to. But Lee is keen to keep the options open, saying it would still be possible to keep to the limits if emissions peaked later. But he warned the costs could be "phenomenal." He believes expensive and controversial geoengineering methods may be necessary to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it.

Solomon Islands.
Some of the Solomon Islands have already vanished below rising seas.Image: picture-alliance/robertharding/M. Runkel

Aid for vulnerable countries

A report published this week by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says the cost for assisting developing countries to adapt to climate change could reach up to 500 billion dollars annually by 2050. This is five times higher than previous estimates, the report says.

UNEP has urged countries to channel more funds towards adaptation, saying the costs would rise "sharply" even if countries succeed in limiting global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius.

Mattias Soederberg, co-chair of the ACT Alliance Climate Change Advisory Group, told DW that the UNEP report, along with the alarming news about islands disappearing under rising seas in the Pacific, highlights the urgent need for action. "Climate change is not a matter of tomorrow, but a crisis we need to deal with today," he said.

No success without ratification

So far, 177 parties have signed the Paris agreement. But only 16 parties have ratified the treaty. It must be ratified by 55 parties representing 55 percent of total global emissions to be able to enter into force.

Paris Agreement signing ceremony in New York.
Many countries signed in New York, but few have ratified.Image: Reuters/M. Segar

Soederberg called on wealthy, industrialized countries to move ahead with ratification. "I am happy to see many of the poor and vulnerable countries moving fast with their ratification, and I hope other countries will follow soon. I am worried about the EU, which seems to be delayed," he said, adding that the EU could find itself on the sidelines.

Soederberg says refugees and migration have become a growing concern for many countries with increased interest at the climate talks in tackling the issue of compensation for loss and damage from climate change.

NGO representatives stress that the Bonn talks can only help kick off the series of measures necessary to halt global climate change. Greenpeace climate policy chief Martin Kaiser told DW, the main work had to be done within the countries themselves which have to work out their timetables to reach the goals agreed to in Paris. That means an early transition to a fossil-free future. Kaiser called on host country Germany in particular, often cited as a model for its shift to renewable energy, to come up with a binding exit strategy for coal by 2030.

"Without an exit from coal, Germany's signature under the Paris agreement is worthless," he said.

The world's top emitters, the USA and China, will also have to take major steps to halt climate warming. The delegates meeting in Bonn (16 to 26 May) face the sobering challenge of setting the framework for governments to implement the widely acclaimed Paris agreement and demonstrate whether it will indeed be the turning point in the struggle to prevent climate change from taking on catastrophic dimensions.