UN climate talks in Bonn that drew to a close earlier this month saw incremental movement forward on the “rulebook” to govern implementation of the Paris Agreement, while Canada, the EU and China also worked to take up the climate diplomacy reins dropped by Washington.
In the wake of the United States’ decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement, sub-national governments at the state and major city level in the US, together with some 1,700 companies including Wal-Mart and Hewlett Packard declared commitment in the “We Are Still In” campaign.
Momentum on drafting a set of rules governing how the Agreement will be implemented, a document that is set to be adopted at next year’s UN climate summit in Poland, was expected. But perhaps just as important, major economic players China and the EU over the last year came together to in effect take over a climate diplomacy initiative that had been launched by the Obama administration intended to fast-track negotiations outside the formal UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) process. The Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) had been established by the US State Department under the former president as a way to more nimbly advance dialogue between major developed and developing nations compared to the more cumbersome UN process that requires a consensus from almost 300 nations.
The MEF had withered on the vine upon the election of Donald Trump, but in September, Canada and its two partners revived the process, but under a new name, the Ministerial on Climate Action, or MoCA. Inviting representatives from 34 major economies, including Brazil, Egypt, India, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Russia to Montreal for talks on implementation of the Paris Agreement, MoCA aimed to in particular address some of the thorniest topics. The idea is to step up from the diplomatic to the ministerial level, to ensure those in the room have the clout to follow through on commitments made.
Climate watchers in Bonn credited the informal MoCA process, which continued in the German city, with successfully lubricating the wider climate diplomatic discussion, notably on convincing countries on the importance of “pre-2020 action,” mitigation, adaptation and finance efforts ahead of the implementation of the Paris Agreement, which only goes into effect in that year.
The UN process itself headed into overtime, with diplomats extending talks by half a day over the ever-knotty question of climate finance—asking wealthy countries to commit more funds to help poorer nations make the clean transition. The two sides finally compromised: the Adaptation Fund from the Kyoto Protocol would now be incorporated into the Paris Agreement, but funds for “loss and damage”—UN jargon for compensation for unavoidable climate impacts—would remain outside the accord.
Canada together with the UK also spearheaded the creation of the Global Alliance to Power Past Coal. In Bonn, the two nations unveiled a list of 27 governments from the developed and developing world that have promised to phase out existing coal plants as soon as possible and to implement a ban on all new coal-fired generation if it comes without carbon capture and storage technologies.
Even as the US government was promoting coal in Bonn, both Washington state and Oregon signed up to the coalition. Notably absent was Germany, which has opened new coal plants in recent years to fill the gap left by its closure of nuclear reactors and seen its carbon emissions tick back upward. Japan, which is also eyeing new coal-fired generation in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, was also missing in action. The alliance aims to grow to 50 members by next year’s UN climate talks.
Energy economist Mark Jaccard helped design BC’s carbon tax, and he still supports it. But he questions just how politically viable a stringent tax—at the level needed to meet climate targets—can really be. So he also continues to explore how other policies that the public find more acceptable could work.