Five Things to Know Before Global Climate Conference Season Starts

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By Bobby Magill

International buzz about the urgency of preventing climate change from spiraling out of control is about to heat up.

Three global climate conferences in September—and a major scientific report due in October highlighting the urgency of slashing climate pollution—are expected to influence international climate negotiations in Poland in December. The talks are poised to finalize rules for implementing the Paris Agreement, making them the most consequential climate conference since the Paris accord was struck in 2015.

The stakes are high: The Paris pact is the world’s only coordinated international attempt to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to prevent warming temperatures, extreme weather, rising seas, food insecurity, and other climate change-related crises from becoming more catastrophic worldwide.

Calling the Paris agreement “draconian,” President Donald Trump declared in 2017 that the U.S.—the globe’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter—intends to exit the pact as part of his efforts to reverse environmental regulations and a renewed embrace of climate change-causing fossil fuels.

The Paris Agreement’s goal is to stop global warming at no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures—the point at which scientists say climate change becomes dangerous for most people on earth.

“The Paris agreement is about getting the world together around a common framework to propel action forward to avoid the worst consequences of climate change and to deal with the impacts we’re already facing,” David Waskow, director of the International Climate Initiative at the World Resources Institute, told Bloomberg Environment.

Here are five things to know before a season of climate conferences and activism kicks off in September:

1. Three big climate issues will be on the table in Poland

The Poland talks, known officially as the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP24, in Katowice, Poland, kick off Dec. 3, and mark the culmination of three years of negotiations since the Paris pact was struck.

Three overriding issues are expected to be on the table in Poland: The rules and procedures for how countries will meet their commitments, how climate action will be financed, and “ambition"—what countries may be willing to do to exceed their Paris emissions-cutting commitments when they’re updated in 2020.

The countries in 2015 committed to a three-year process culminating in Poland to hammer out the rules and procedures for implementing the Paris accord. Those rules, known as the “Paris rulebook,” address international emissions trading, how each country will report their greenhouse gas emissions, how that data will be verified, and how global progress towards emissions cuts will be accounted for, and much more.

Countries are expected to continue discussions called the Talanoa Dialogue at COP24 to iron out ways they can go above and beyond the climate action they committed to in Paris. The pact calls for countries to update their pledges for emissions cuts and other climate mitigation measures every five years. As part of the dialogue, a global effort from advocacy groups, corporations, and local governments is underway to push countries to do more to shrink their climate footprints.

Discussions in Poland about climate finance are expected to answer questions about how much information developed countries should be providing about their plans to help developing countries pay for climate action, Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scienists, told Bloomberg Environment.

Negotiations will also focus on the whether developed countries will follow through on their 2009 commitment to contribute $100 billion in climate mitigation funding annually by 2020, he said.

2. The U.S. steps back from Paris, but it may still have a voice

Despite Trump’s pledge to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, embrace fossil fuels, and roll back regulations controlling greenhouse gas emissions, the rest of the world is expected forge ahead with the agreement.

“Countries understand how important it is to maintain the momentum of Paris,” Waskow said, adding that companies, organizations, and local governments making their own commitments to emissions cuts have encouraged some countries not to flee from the pact.

The U.S. is expected to retain its seat at the table and its negotiators are likely to participate in discussions about greenhouse gas accounting rules and transparency, Meyer said.

But U.S. “pullback has really adversely affected their negotiating capacity and impact,” he said.

Ultimately, U.S. participation and the impact of its weakened negotiation position is a wild card.

“Up to this point, the U.S. has continued to actively negotiate on the rule book and play a constructive role. How it will approach COP24 is something we’ll have to wait and see,” Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, told Bloomberg Environment.

3. Three September climate conferences are expected to set the stage for Poland

The rules on Paris, greater strides toward emissions cuts, and climate adaptation will be highlights of the three September global climate conferences.

The final negotiations on the technical aspects of the Paris rule book will occur at the U.N.-sponsored Bangkok Climate Change Conference beginning Sept. 4.

The Global Climate Action Summit, beginning Sept. 12 in San Francisco, will bring together companies, local governments, nonprofit organizations, and other global leaders to push countries to boost their ambition for greater emissions cuts and other climate action.

The summit’s co-chairman is Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg Environment is operated by entities controlled by Michael Bloomberg.

Climate Week will follow on Sept. 24 in New York City. The event is an international summit coinciding with the U.N. General Assembly.

The Bangkok conference will help narrow the options for finalizing the Paris rule book, while the Global Climate Action Summit will be a “global expression of will and action and commitment,” Diringer said, adding that Climate Week may be overshadowed by the earlier two conferences.

The biggest event at Climate Week is expected to be the One Planet Summit hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, Waskow said.

The summit, organized by the U.N., the World Bank Group, and Bloomberg Philanthropies, is expected to bring together heads of state, business leaders, and others to discuss ways countries can boost their Paris commitments and work together with private industry to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Macron in April urged the U.S. to remain in the Paris pact. “We’re killing our planet. Let us face it. There is no planet B,” he said in a speech to a joint session of Congress.

4. Corporations, local governments and others are trying to fill leadership voids—especially in the U.S.

Climate activism by companies, U.S. states, and nonprofit groups, or “nonstate actors,” who are urging countries to do more to cut their climate pollution, may be inspiring some nations to remain a part of the pact after the U.S. declared its intent to walk away.

Such nonstate actors “are very much focused on making sure that the U.S. comes as close as possible to actually hitting its climate target, but also to make sure that is translated internationally to discourage others from backsliding and to inspire them to take further steps to address climate change,” Julie Cerqueria, executive director of the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of state governors committed to the Paris agreement, told Bloomberg Environment.

These efforts, which will be on display at the Global Climate Action Summit, are providing countries with specific steps and political permission to make deeper emissions cuts and embrace alternative energy sources, Waskow said.

“If you have companies indicating that they’re going to move to 100 percent renewables, then that provides the energy and sort of the policy space for the national governments to move in those kind of directions as well,” Waskow said.

5. A U.N. report will detail why drastic climate action is more urgent than ever

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release a report in October that is expected to heavily influence the Poland climate talks by showing that humanity will have to act fast to slash its emissions and avoid catastrophic consequences of climate change and meet the Paris pact’s most ambitious goal—to keep global warming from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

The report is expected to spell out what the world will look like and what will happen in terms of extreme weather, rising seas, food insecurity, poverty, and other impacts of climate change if the atmosphere warms that much, and how that scenario can be avoided.

“I think it’s going to be a spur to a wide array of actors and governments to take even stronger action,” Waskow said. “What I think it’ll show is that keeping temperature change to 1.5 degrees is feasible but it’s going to take significant accelerated action across a wide array of sectors and arenas to get there, and it’s going to require not only addressing CO2, but also short-lived climate pollutants like methane.”

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