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Key Trends to Watch at COP23

By Jake Schmidt

It has been almost two years since world leaders agreed to the historic Paris agreement. Since then a lot has changed (both positive and negative). As leaders meet in Bonn, Germany for the next round of international climate negotiations there will be several key issues on the table. This meeting will set the tone for how leaders will come together in the era of President Trump and show that they are prepared to carry forward climate action.


Here are four key themes to watch at COP 23 (the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC):

1. U.S. Climate Action Continues Despite President Trump

While President Trump has announced his intention to pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement, we've witnessed a resounding revolt in the U.S. to that decision (as our new issue brief documents) by Governors, Mayors, business leaders and citizens. States are committing to expand renewable energy, energy efficiency, and cleaner transportation. Mayors are committing to go to power their cities with 100 percent renewable energy and are finding ways to use energy more efficiently. Business leaders are committing to power their companies with 100 percent renewable energy and to ensure that their supply-chains are helping solve climate change, not make it worse.

At the climate conference, we will see a much larger contingent of U.S. sub-national leaders than typically comes to these meetings. They are showing up in force with one clear message: Trump may be trying to pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement, but we are still in and committed to helping deliver on America's climate targets.

2. Countries Are Acting at Home

Key countries are showing that they aren't just waiting for the future to implement new actions to reduce their emissions and meet their Paris targets. While not all countries are yet on track to meet their targets, we have seen noticeable progress in some of the world's biggest emitting countries. Here are some examples (from our new issue briefs on key countries):

  • China has made significant progress towards its Paris targets. Coal consumption has remained relatively flat since its peak in 2013, and China's wind and solar energy deployment continue to grow at the fastest pace in the world.
  • India is on track to achieve and exceed its Paris climate commitments. In just one year, from 2016 to 2017, India increased its renewable energy capacity by 11.3 gigawatts (GW)—making critical progress towards its target to install 100 GW of solar, 60 GW wind, and 15 GW of biogas by 2022.
  • Mexico has been making progress on climate change policies both domestically and internationally, but the country must increase its efforts to transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy resources if it is to meet its target.
  • Japan needs to raise the ambition of its emissions reduction target and stop its rapid expansion of new coal power plants.
  • Canada unveiled the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change—Canada's first truly comprehensive climate action plan. However, enhanced climate policies are still needed to fulfill Canada's international obligations.
  • European Union is making progress towards its target through its 2030 climate and energy framework. While member states' carbon targets for 2030 are a step in the right direction, more action is needed to ensure the EU's target is realized and even overachieved.
  • Brazil has put forward some actions to help meet this target, but recent political developments in the country have led to a spike in deforestation rates and threats to protected areas, which may hamper national progress in mitigation.

And these actions are starting to show up in global emissions data. Prior to 2014, global emissions of carbon dioxide had been growing at a significant pace—adding roughly 0.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide (GtCO2) per year between 2005 and 2014 (with some occasional annual variation). But between 2014 and 2016, these emissions have remained essentially flat.

3. Paris Agreement "Rulebook" Matters a Great Deal

The Paris agreement established the essential foundations for how the world is going to advance international climate action for decades to come. Critical to its continued success will be ensuring that the "rulebook" for the Paris agreement helps to ensure that countries meet their targets and creates incentives for countries to beat their targets. Countries agreed to finalize the details of the Paris rulebook next year, so this year's meeting needs to ensure strong progress towards building a system of strong rules to help ensure that the promise of the Paris agreement is translated into reality in the years ahead. This includes making significant progress in Bonn towards defining rules around:

  • The detailed information that countries will provide as they announce future targets so that we can be sure that we fully understand the environmental implications of their new targets.

4. More Needs to Be Done: The Paris Targets Are the Floor, Not the Ceiling of Ambition

While significant progress is being made by many key countries to meet their target, stronger action will be needed in the coming years if we are going to be on a safer climate trajectory. A recent report from U.N. Environment states it clearly: "there is an urgent need for accelerated short-term action and enhanced longer-term national ambition, if the goals of the Paris Agreement are to remain achievable." Recognizing this dynamic, the Paris agreement created a dynamic process for countries to adopt more aggressive commitments starting in 2020. We were confident after Paris that countries would find that they could commit to strengthened targets in the coming years. Countries will need to be prepared to announce even stronger targets in the years to come. There are emerging positive signs that some key countries will be in a position to deliver even greater ambition than they promised in 2015.

Jake Schmidt directs the Natural Resources Defense Council's International program with a team of experts and partners working on climate change, clean energy, biogems, and sustainable development in India, Latin America, Canada, and at the international level.

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