AFTER hurricanes, storms, and flooding caused destruction from South Asia to the Caribbean and the United States this year, headlines focused minds again on climate change. It is under that shadow that national representatives are meeting in Bonn, Germany, to work on implementing the agreement signed in Paris two years ago (News, 10 and 18 December 2015). The other shadow over the talks is President Donald Trump’s, since this is the first Conference of the Parties (COP) since his election.
One of the early storylines to emerge from the summit was how isolated President Trump had made the United States. On Tuesday, Syria announced that — despite all its other problems — it recognised the need for global efforts to tackle climate change and would be ratifying the Paris Agreement. This left President Trump the only world leader opposed to it.
Despite President Trump’s promising to pull his country out of the Paris Agreement, however, there are Americans in Bonn who point out that the US cannot formally leave until the day after the next presidential election, in 2020.
The campaign group 350.org, which is led by a Methodist, Bill McKibben, is helping to coordinate the US People’s Delegation. The US communications manager of 350.org, Thanu Yakupitiyage, said that there were plenty of states, cities, companies, and civil-society organisations working to make sure that the US still met its obligations.
She said: “The US People’s Delegation is at COP 23 to share loud and clear the message that communities back home demand a fast and fair transition to a world free of fossil fuels with 100 per cent renewable energy for all.”
One of the key areas of discussion in Bonn will be examining how countries can go beyond their initial pledges made in the Paris Agreement. Combined, those commitments will deliver a global average temperature rise of 3°C above pre-industrial levels, double the goal agreed in Paris of 1.5°. A 3° rise would lead to significant sea-level rise and flooding in large areas, and devastating heatwaves and droughts in others. Next year, countries will need to review their plans and ratchet them up if this temperature-rise curve is to be bent drastically downwards in the next few years.
This year’s meeting is also significant as the first COP to be presided over by a small Pacific island state that is hugely vulnerable to climate change: Fiji. It has called for the world to show solidarity with poor nations that are disproportionately affected by climate breakdown that they did not cause.
Specifically, this includes more immediate emission cuts from rich countries, support for countries having to adapt to the impact of climate change, and funding for “loss and damage” to help communities that suffer changes that cannot be adapted to. As people still rebuild their lives and communities after Hurricane Irma, and more than 40 million people have been affected by flooding in South Asia, there will be considerable pressure on richer countries to increase their support at this year’s summit.
Last week, new polling commissioned by Christian Aid suggested that 78 per cent of the British public believed that investing in companies that contributed to dangerous climate change was morally wrong, no matter how profitable it was.
As part of Christian Aid’s Big Shift campaign, supporters are writing to the CEOs of banks, calling on them to move their money out of “dirty energy”.
Joe Ware is Church and Campaigns Journalist for Christian Aid.