Climate Action Momentum Continues at COP23: What’s Next?

Leaders concluded the negotiations in Bonn, Germany with stronger actions and a clear-eyed focus on the additional steps that need to be strengthened in the coming years. The train (or the zero emissions vehicle) is leaving the station and the Trump Administration is standing alone on the platform.

Early this year most attention was focused on one question: “whether Trump would withdraw from Paris or not”. While that question was dominating the news stories at the beginning of the year, the world continued to press ahead with a plethora of actions. Leaders concluded the negotiations in Bonn, Germany with stronger actions and a clear-eyed focus on the additional steps that need to be strengthened in the coming years. The train (or the zero emissions vehicle) is leaving the station and the Trump Administration is standing alone on the platform.  

The 23rd meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP23) was held one-year after the Paris Agreement entered-into-force and six months after President Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The meeting was also held with a backdrop of a series of reports highlighting that the world hasn’t yet done enough to put us on a climate safe trajectory. With that backdrop, the key to success at COP23 was around three key things: (1) how countries would continue to show that they were implementing the Paris Agreement; (2) are countries taking stronger action at home; and (3) would the world continue to move forward despite Trump’s efforts to take us backwards. On each of those fronts there were clear actions that drew headlines (and some you probably missed). Here is my run-down of some of the key things that occurred during the annual climate meeting of world leaders.

Implementing the Paris Agreement – the rulebook and strengthening ambition

Critical to the continued success of the Paris Agreement will be ensuring that the “rulebook” helps to ensure that countries meet their targets and creates incentives for countries to beat their targets. At the climate negotiations in Germany, countries rolled-up their sleeves to help ensure that leaders can finalize the details of the Paris rulebook next year. The current negotiating text is long and messy, but we’ve been here before (like before Copenhagen, Cancun, and Paris) so I’m confident that countries will be able to ensure that the final rules establish the framework that our children and grandchildren will be proud of.

Countries created a specific technical and political process to focus on assessing progress towards the Paris objectives. This "Talanoa Dialogue" -- named after a consultation process in Fiji (the country hosting the conference) -- will hopefully encourage leaders to take even stronger actions in the coming years.

And in other signs of progress, the Paris Agreement remains strong as no countries have signaled they will leave the agreement after the decision of the Trump Administration. In fact, more countries continue to join as even Syria has recently become an official Party to the agreement – further isolating the Trump Administration on this issue.

Stronger action emerging in key countries and sectors (action, action, action)

As we documented in a series of new papers, 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. One year after the Paris Agreement became official, key countries and sectors have shown that they are stepping up their domestic action. Here are some highlights of new things that emerged the last two weeks:

  • India continues to move towards a low-carbon electricity sector. India announced a new “National Power Portal” which shows that 34 percent of India’s installed power capacity already comes from fossil-free sources, putting India well on its way to achieving its Paris Climate Agreement target of 40 percent by 2030. This comes on the heels of announcements earlier this year to cancel 13.7 GW of planned coal plants and shelve plans to build any new coal plants until at least 2026. And there is a lot of good news on India’s efforts to spur more renewables in the country.​
  • Reducing emissions through better lighting. Developing and emerging economies could save $40 billion worth of electricity and prevent 320 million metric tonnes of carbon pollution annually simply by transitioning to LED lighting, according to estimates from United Nation’s Environment. At COP23 I had the pleasure to announce that NRDC, along with key partners, have developed a model regulation to phase out inefficient incandescent light bulbs and establish minimum performance requirements for the LED bulbs to replace them in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

  • Better air conditioners spurred through the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. With a rapidly growing demand for air conditioning, it is important that countries phase-down the “super climate gases” called HFC and redesign room air conditioners to be more efficient. The technical body of the Montreal Protocol recently estimated that it is feasible to achieve air conditioner efficiency improvements of 30-40 percent beyond the currently best available technology in the world. So it is a good sign that 19 countries have ratified the Kigali Amendment as we only need 20 for the agreement to enter-into-force.
  • Powering past coal – new alliance (plus need to shift public financing towards clean energy). A global alliance – the Powering Past Coal Alliance – of over two dozen countries, provinces, states and cities has formed to declare a phase-out of coal. These signatories committed to phasing out coal power that produces carbon emissions and supporting clean power policies and investments, while restricting financing for coal plants. Maybe this new coalition can pressure Japan and South Korea to shift their overseas public financing of coal towards renewable energy. According to our new data, from 2013 – 2016, export-credit agencies from industrialized countries were financing five times more coal than renewable energy.
  • Greening the Belt and Road Initiative. NRDC and partners including Greenovation Hub, WWF, and GEI who are part of the Belt and Road Green Development Partnership held a series of side events at the COP focused on how China can work with other developing countries to develop renewable energy and low carbon projects as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, helping these countries to achieve their goals under the Paris Agreement. Government, NGO and business representatives from Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia and China presented on the potential and need for expanding Chinese renewable energy investment in these countries, and the importance of greening finance to support these low-carbon investments.

US states, cities, and companies (with countries ignoring the Trump Administration)

We witnessed a resounding revolt in the U.S. to the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and that revolt was visible during the climate meetings in Germany. Governors, Mayors, business leaders, and citizens showed up and said: “we are still in” and here are the actions we are taking to keep the U.S. on track towards the goals of the Paris Agreement. The only U.S. side-event witnessed a walk-out as the Trump Administration tried to sell the world on the idea that more coal is good for the Paris Agreement. In a clear sign that the world is moving on, the Trump Administration was mostly ignored. Unfortunately, this is a 180-degree shift from the leadership role that the U.S. played the last couple of years, but there are clear signs that other leaders aren’t going to let the Trump Administration slow-down their efforts to a low-carbon society around the world. The Trump Administration efforts were like opening day at a new store with no customers and then realizing that consumers don’t want anything to do with what you are selling.  

Climate action is chugging ahead and more passengers are jumping onboard

The last two weeks have reinforced that countries are choosing to jump on the clean energy and climate action train. Leaders are getting creative, building new alliances, and mobilizing stronger action. We need stronger actions to put us on a climate safe trajectory, but the momentum keeps building.

We are likely to face set-backs along the way (like with the Trump Administration decision on the Paris Agreement). So, our course may appear to diverge occasionally but the ball is rolling downhill and it is headed in the right direction.

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