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Paris Agreement Needs a Boost: Climate Talks Underway in Bonn With 193 Governments

Flooding in Bangladesh. SuSanA Secretariat / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Paul Brown

The global climate treaty, the Paris agreement, already ratified by a huge majority of the world's governments, is for the next 10 days in intensive care.

That doesn't mean it's in danger of expiring, but that it needs a hefty boost so that the countries which signed up to it in 2015 will make commitments that will give it teeth.


So talks aimed at ramping up international action to cut carbon emissions and speed up progress on the treaty have begun in the German city of Bonn, attended by representatives of 193 governments.

The talks last until May 10, and the basic agreements which the organizers, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, hope they will have reached by then will go to a summit meeting in December for approval.

Today the world is on course to heat up by 3°C under the impact of the increasing consumption of fossil fuels, double the amount that scientists say is likely to be sustainable by human civilization and the natural world. The talks are aimed at getting governments to be far more ambitious than their current national plans for greenhouse gas emissions cuts.

With 2017 already the costliest on record for climate-related disasters as well as the third hottest ever recorded for the U.S., the effects of climate change are already causing severe economic and political problems. The World Bank says 143 million people may soon become climate migrants.

With this background the grouping of Small Island States, currently led by Fiji, is starting a new conversation between governments and society, called the Talanoa Dialogue. The plan is to share ideas and methods of speeding up progress on combatting climate change. These ideas will then be submitted to the government ministers at the December conference of the signatories to the Agreement, known in UN jargon as COP 24, in Katowice, Poland.

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN Climate Change secretariat, said: "The Talanoa Dialogue is a key opportunity for all stakeholders to come together and share stories on how we can significantly step up climate action to prevent even greater human suffering in the future."

This first phase of the Fiji-led Dialogue will introduce a new element to the talks on May 6, when countries and other stakeholders, including cities, businesses, investors and regions, engage for the first time in what is billed as interactive story-telling around their ambitions.

Silver Lining

This will include many U.S. stakeholders who disagree with Donald Trump. He has repudiated the Paris agreement and seems unable to accept the scientific consensus that human activity is warming the world—a setback which seems to have redoubled some countries' efforts to act to reduce their own emissions.

There are hopes that, by COP 24, 30 more countries will have joined the 111 that have already ratified another agreement, the Doha Amendment, which is aimed at implementing extra emissions reductions for developed countries.

The Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, an international group of U.S.-based grass roots organizations, says there are only four years left to take the radical action needed if the Paris agreement's ambitious target of keeping global average temperature rise at no more than 1°5C above pre-industrial levels is to be achieved (Paris's other, more modest target is 2°C). It says countries must step up their action in both the short and the long term.

As ever, one sticking point in Bonn is finance, particularly how the rich countries that have largely caused the problem of climate change should help poorer countries adapt to rising temperatures and sea levels. Developed countries pledged in 2009 to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to help this adaptation, but they are far from reaching their goal—and President Trump has withdrawn a U.S. pledge of $2 billion.

Hopeful Signs

But there is some optimism at the talks. The giant strides that China and now India are taking towards adopting renewables and phasing out coal for generating electricity could not have been predicted five years ago. The world-wide programs by cities to clean up air pollution and introduce electric vehicles are also expected to have a dramatic effect on reducing emissions, and there are hopes that some countries will reach their Paris targets more easily than they expected.

The chair of the Least Developed Countries group (LDC), Gebru Jember Endalew, said, "Climate change is a critical issue and an urgent, global response is required. Lives and livelihoods across the world are on the line, particularly in the LDCs.

"We have a very small window of time left to develop a set of clear, comprehensive and robust rules to enable full and ambitious implementation of the Paris agreement before the December 2018 deadline.

"Keeping global temperature increase below 1°5C is a matter of survival … science tells us that even full implementation of current commitments under the Paris Agreement will not be enough to reach 1°5C."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.

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