Impact Climate

Bonn Climate Talks Are Next Week, and Here's Why You Should Care

International leaders will meet to discuss climate and policy amidst tensions about who should be at the table.
May 5, 2017, 7:30pm
Photo via Flickr user UNclimatechange

VICE Impact will be covering the proceedings with regular updates throughout the week.

Monday, May 8, 2017 marks the beginning of the 10-day Bonn Climate Change Conference, hosted by the United Nations in Bonn, Germany. The meeting will include discussions centering around the implementation of the landmark Paris Agreement on Climate Change reached at COP 21 by 195 countries in 2015, as well as which special interest groups should join delegates at negotiating tables.

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The Paris Agreement furthers the aims of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as established at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and for the first time, brings all nations together with the common cause of combating climate change and adapting to its effects. Its central aims are to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperature levels, to give countries the tools they need to deal with the effects of climate change they are already facing, and to ensure that "finance flows consistent" with low greenhouse gas emissions.

The United States, which produces roughly 14 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, currently has delegates registered to attend next week's conference.

Yet President Trump has promised on multiple occasions to withdraw from the Paris Agreement; two White House meetings on the topic have taken place in the past two weeks, indicating he may soon make a decision. These meetings come just six weeks after the president signed an executive order rolling back President Obama's Clean Power Plan, which was designed to steer the United States toward meeting its carbon emission targets laid out by the Paris Agreement.

As Paul Bledsoe, White House climate adviser under President Clinton and current lecturer at American University's Center for Environmental Policy, told the Washington Post, "The Trump team seems oblivious to the fact that climate protection is now viewed by leading allies and nations around the world as a key measure of moral and diplomatic standing. The U.S. would be risking pariah status on the international stage by withdrawing from Paris."

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Indeed, not isolated from Trump's position on global climate efforts, the leadership of other countries has already grown all the more pivotal in achieving the Paris Agreement's aims.

Chinese President Xi Jinping remarked at the World Economic Forum's January meeting in Davos: "The Paris Agreement is a hard-won achievement. All signatories should stick to it instead of walking away from it, as this is a responsibility we must assume for future generations."

As National Geographic energy reporter Christina Nunez reports, China—which has halted construction of coal plants, is investing $360 billion dollars into renewable energy, and may be ahead of schedule in curbing its carbon emissions—is poised to assume a global leadership role on the matter as the United States takes a backseat.

The Bonn Conference comes off the heels of COP 22 in Marrakech, which was the first annual Conference of the Parties (COP) dedicated to the Paris Agreement's progress, and precedes COP 23, which will also be held in Bonn in November. Next week, in addition to convening the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement, the 46th sessions of both the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI 46) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA 46) will also take place.

Topics to be discussed under SBI 46 include gender and climate change, action for climate empowerment, and the effective engagement of non-Party stakeholders, like representatives of inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as related industries. This latter agenda item includes reaching a consensus on whether lobbyists of the fossil fuel industry should be allowed to attend climate talks given their vested interest in the energy sector. The U.S., EU, and Australia all advocated for their inclusion at COP 22, ensuring seats at the table for companies such as ExxonMobil and Shell, as well as the U.S. National Mining Association. Many developing countries are advocating for a conflict of interest policy, a sentiment shared by Corporate Accountability International, which has said the inclusion of such lobbyists "undermine, weaken, and block progress."

SBSTA 46 will cover a myriad of issues, including: agriculture and climate change; vulnerability and adaptation to climate change with regard to human health and water; a review of regional climate research and data; a review of technological advancements in accordance with the Paris Agreement; and sustainable development in work—all in preparation for COP 23 in the fall.

Regardless of the U.S. government's environmental leadership, the effects of climate change ultimately know no borders. The impacts of our warming planet are being felt at home: Last year, the New York Times reported on the resettlement of the population of Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, due to rising sea levels, calling them "the first American climate refugees." And as indicated by turnouts for the recent March for Science and Climate March as well as a March Gallup poll showing record-high percentages of U.S. citizens concerned about climate change, growing numbers of Americans are aligning with the rest of the world in understanding that global efforts to reach the Paris Agreement's goals—including progress meetings such as the May Bonn Conference—may be our last chance to get it right.