Fulfilling the promise of the Paris Agreement

The UN Climate Change Conference (COP23) has entered its final week in Bonn, gathering leaders of governments, cities, businesses and civil society to accelerate climate action to fulfil the goals set out in the Paris Agreement from 2015. The overall purpose of this COP is to advance implementation of the Paris Agreement with a focus on the development of guidelines (Rulebook) on how the Paris Agreement’s provisions will be implemented across a wide range of issues including transparency, emissions reductions, provisions of finance, capacity-building and technology. The aim is to make progress in all these areas so that the guidelines can be completed by COP-24 in Poland in 2018.

UN DESA and its Division for Sustainable Development (DSD) is on the ground, organizing side events and working behind the scenes to support efforts to combat climate change. On the eve of COP23’s high-level segment which kicks off on 15 November, the team talked about how the world is fairing in taking climate action and what can be expected from this year’s event.

Two years after the adoption of the Paris Agreement, how is the world doing on climate action?

“Scientists are quite concerned with the overall developments that affect the climate. It is expected that the world’s total CO2 emissions will increase this year by 2 percent. An increase that has not been measured since 2014. At the same time, in the last 25 years, severe weather events have increased in frequency and strength, the world’s population has grown with about 35 percent, global temperatures have risen, dead zones in the ocean have increased significantly and millions of hectares of land have been cleared.

Climate change is not a threat, but a reality that significantly impacts humanity and the planet we inhabit. But a lot is also being done. 164 countries have submitted their first National Determined Contributions (NDCs), which collectively, will largely determine whether the long-term goal of the Paris Agreement of keeping global average temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius, and pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees, at the same time as achieving net zero emissions in the second half of the century.

While the current level of ambition is not expected to suffice, COP21 saw an unprecedented commitment by the private sector to step up and form part of the solution. In addition, local and regional authorities, philanthropy and civil society in general have made their own commitments, which is in particular important in situations where federal governments have decreased its commitment level.”

Can we achieve the SDGs without genuine climate action? Can we reach the goals of the Paris Agreement without achieving the SDGs?

“While the two agendas stem from distinctly separate intergovernmental negotiation processes which both concluded in 2015, their implementation remains closely interdependent. Climate forms part of the Sustainable Development Goals (in particular SDG 13) and hence achievement of the climate commitments is necessary for the achievement of the overall set of SDGs.

Climate mitigation and adaptation are both necessary to address poverty and ensure no-one is left behind, essential elements of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. At the same time, there is a general agreement that the current level of ambition of the first NDCs will not suffice to achieve the Paris Agreement commitments. Here pursuit of the SDGs can contribute positively if fulfilled, by contributing to increase the share of renewable energy in the total energy mix, to achieve sustainable consumption and production, to build resilient infrastructure and end hunger to name a few examples. Studies from the World Resources Institute of the NDCs show that they contain actions that align with 154 of the 169 SDG targets. This illustrates the enormous potential that exists for mutually supportive implementation of the two agreements.

The 2017 Synthesis Report of the Voluntary National Reviews conducted under the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, also finds that many countries make reference to climate change, illustrating that countries are indeed well aware of the interconnectedness of the two agendas.

Climate change is particularly threatening for Small Island Developing States and for our ocean. How do climate and ocean action intertwine?

“Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are particularly threatened by climate change. Their geographical location as low-lying states often isolated in large bodies of water make them particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and extreme weather events. At the same time, many SIDS are unable to cope with the demands of both mitigation and adaptation actions. This contributes to making COP negotiations related to loss and damages particularly contentious. Infrastructure investments are costly, while economic opportunities are limited and largely affected by very high transport costs. In some cases, up to 98 percent of the economy relies on tourism. An industry extremely vulnerable to extreme weather events.

SIDS consider the impacts of climate change a matter of national security, having in some cases led to concrete plans for resettlements of whole nations on foreign lands, risking loss of culture, national unity and future prosperity for its peoples. That is why it is important to develop and strengthen sustainable blue economy where the ocean can be an important source of economic and social prosperity, but at the same is done in such a way to protect its ecosystems and especially reduce marine pollution and acidification.

Ocean and climate issues are closely linked. As brought to the forefront at the Ocean Conference held in June 2017, the ocean plays a key role in the global climate system, by absorbing CO2 and generating oxygen. Changes to the climate through increases in levels of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, leads to changes in the ocean, in particular ocean acidification and sea level rise. This is recognized in the 2030 Agenda, where SDG14 identifies targets to conserve sea and marine resources while conserving and sustainably use the ocean.

How is UN DESA involved at COP23? What can we expect of this year’s event?

“UN DESA is involved in COP23 in numerous ways. It works on sustainable transport and mobility, through the Sustainable Mobility for All Initiative (SuM4ALL), which just released its first global sustainable mobility report, a collaborative effort by more than 50 partners elaborating key messages to achieve sustainable mobility in the context of the 2030 Agenda. This is particularly relevant for the climate agenda as the transport sector is a key contributor to global emissions and therefore must contribute to reaching the target of a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

The department has also participated in a number of side events, including the one of UN-Oceans and in a side event on the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement: Towards a new and coherent development paradigm at the national and international level, organized by WRI and the German Development Institute.

DSD is also co-organizing a side event on Loss and Damage and the 2030 Agenda: Building Strong Linkages on 16 November, to shed light and build momentum for addressing this issue in a coherent manner as loss and damages have the potential of creating significant set-backs in the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for vulnerable states. UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin will be one of the high-level panelists at the event.

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, Peter Thomson, also participated in a number of side events showcasing the follow-up work to the Ocean Conference held in June this year, specifically regarding the more than 1,400 voluntary commitments that have been made to save our ocean.

Nine Communities of Ocean Action have been established that will carry the work forward and ensure concrete results and new voluntary commitments. They are as follows: Mangroves, Coral reefs, Ocean acidification, Marine and coastal ecosystems management, Sustainable fisheries, Marine pollution, Sustainable blue economy, Scientific knowledge, research capacity development and transfer of marine technology, and Implementation of international law as reflected in United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

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