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November 15, 2017updated 16 Jan 2018 3:09pm

COP23: Here’s what we’ve learnt over the climate change conference

By Hannah Wright

It’s been a busy and exciting 23rd United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change — better known as COP23.

Here’s everything that we’ve learnt so far from the conference, which wraps up on Friday.

The emissions gap is wider than we thought

There is a large gap between the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) emissions and the reductions that scientists have declared necessary in order to avoid dangerous levels of warming, according to the the 2017 Emissions Gap Report released at the beginning of the conference.

the Paris agreement that was adopted in 2015 set a goal of holding global warming to well below two degrees Celsius when compared to pre-industrial levels.

The report, which is an annual audit of progress towards the Paris goals, states that the current NDCs are only a third of what is needed to avoid dangerous levels of climate change and limit warming to two degrees Celsius.

The report said:

Most G20 countries require new policies and actions to achieve their NDC pledges.

Big companies aren’t pulling their weight

Only a small fraction of the 1089 companies surveyed have strategies in place to keep warming below two degrees Celsius, according to a recent report by the Carbon Disclosure Project.

Of the 1,000 companies which responded to the CDP survey, only 85 percent of them had a strategy in place to lower GHG emission and many of these companies’ targets were deemed insufficient to reach the goals set by the Paris Agreement.

The non-profit organisation said that the response from some of the worst companies, such as major oil companies and fossil fuel groups, is “disappointing” and just half of the energy sector had meaningful targets.

Oceans should be a priority

The Earth’s oceans play a fundamental role in climate change and more needs to be done to protect them, according to EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella.

Vella said:

Ocean protection should be more of a priority in fighting climate change. The oceans are very much the prime regulators of climate, they are absorbing 90 percent of the planet’s heat… they are absorbing 30 percent of the planet’s carbon dioxide, they are giving the planet 50 percent of the oxygen that we need, they will have to take all the melted ice when it becomes water. So we are getting all these benefits from the oceans.

Several groups at the meeting in Bonn were working to persuade the other countries that protection for ocean life should be play a more significant role in national and global plans for tackling climate change.

The country Fiji who this year held the conference’s presidency called the ocean and climate issues a “two-front war”.

The pope thinks human shortsightedness is to blame

Pope Francis said global warming and rising sea levels were as a result of “shortsighted human activity”.

Many have linked the pontiff’s statement to US president Donald Trump’s absence at the conference. Francis met with leaders from the Pacific Islands to discuss shared concerns over rising sea levels and the increasing number of storms.

He also condemned the pollution of the oceans and the rapidly dwindling fish stocks as a result of over fishing, threatening some livelihoods in the Pacific.

Meanwhile Hollywood star Arnold Schwarzenegger criticised the environmental community for failing to place greater emphasis on more immediate health hazards such as the danger of increased air pollution.

The former California governor said:

It’s time we wake up and talk about what really matters: 25,000 people dying every day because of pollution”. Schwarzenegger continued “People do not focus as much on 2 degree energy increases in temperatures or increases in sea levels rising.

Pacific Islands are stuck between a rock and a hard place

Fiji must spend a figure equivalent to its yearly gross domestic product over the next 10 years in order to adapt to rising sea levels, temperatures, and increasingly intense storms, according to a World Bank report.

The report, which highlights “five major interventions and 125 further actions” to achieve Fiji’s development objectives, have estimated the total cost of such developments would be around $4.5bn over the next decade.

However, the report said “although no detailed estimates of current climate-adaptation expenditure exist, it is broadly recognized that there is an adaptation gap–with adaptation spending significantly below requirements”.

According to the study, even in a best-case scenario with oceans rising 40cm by 2100, the islands would still face enormous costs to build protective seawalls.

It said:

There is little prospect that the high costs of building sea walls could be financed by the countries themselves.

As a result of the islands inability to fund such projects they are faced with a grim dilemma.

Accordingly, the international community will have to assess the trade-off between large initial expenditures on construction… versus emergency relief and recovery programs when disasters occur.

Syria wants in the Paris Accords

Not all is doom and gloom, however. Despite being in the middle of a devastating civil war, last week Syria decided to sign the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, leaving the US as the only country outside the agreement.

There are now 197 nations signed up to the pact, and committing to reducing the temperature increase and the impact of global warming.

And the US is still in, sort of

Universities, mayors, business leaders, and governors from across the US launched the #WeAreStillIn campaign, representing more than 127m Americans and $6.2trn in spending power.

The group discussed their steps to reduce climate pollution at the conference and demonstrate to the world that US leadership on climate change would not be limited by federal policy.

The US is perfectly capable of achieving the Paris Agreement targets regardless of Trump’s involvement, as long as major US companies were willing to take action, according to United Nations Environment Program executive director, Erik Solheim.

The continued engagement and ambition of non-state actors has been considered a highlight of the conference in Bonn.

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