Tracking Change: Will We See Ambition @ COP23?

With the beginning of Week 2 at COP23 in Germany, I am entering my fifth experience at the UN climate talks. In a couple of hours, I begin to hear questions about the United States’ role now that they intend to withdraw. Some voices call for the U.S. to withdraw from the process entirely and others seem to find comfort that there is a clear loser in this consensus based process. There are questions about how countries will offer Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to embrace the Paris Agreement, and how countries will pay for climate change.

When I listen to climate talks, I look for words I understand in a cloud of words that are arranged to confuse almost everyone in the room. Last afternoon, I watched a room of negotiators nearly achieve inclusion of the word “gender” in a report, which would also help lay out their work for the coming year. Gender equity in the climate talks is an important issue, as many impacts of climate change disproportionately impact women.

As consensus neared, Saudi Arabia claimed interest in compromise. Within five minutes, the conversation derailed to a separate piece of the text and time ran out and…well, let’s just say not only is gender not in that report – but that report got tabled until May of 2018.

Civil society is seeking greater ambition as negotiators face crucial implementation details of the Paris Agreement. When in doubt, any negotiator can rest easy knowing they are not the United States. With stated intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and a single conference event about the positive role of fossil fuels, the U.S. is even more unpopular than usual.

This year, familiar faces from the U.S. Envoy could still be seen in the halls of COP23. I ran into negotiator Trigg Talley and convinced him to share the climate sign. To be honest, in these dark times I felt a solidarity with him that I did not feel in the lead up to the Paris Agreement.

In a press briefing, the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance called for equitable finance of climate solutions. They are not just looking for the missing $100 billion in the Adaptation Fund – they are asking for equitable distribution of whatever funds are generated in the coming years. One thing can be agreed across the board: very little will be accomplished if financial mechanisms for the Paris Agreement are not solidified and if negotiators hide behind cowards bigger than themselves. Negotiators forget that climate change is happening in real time, and that the world is in need of more solutions.