COP23 in search of a leader

Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with teenager Timothy Naulusala (C) from Fiji in the company of French President Emmanuel Macron(L), Prime Minister of Fiji Frank Bainimarama (C) at Bonn, Germany. [Ronald Wittek/EPA]

Between coal-addicted Germany, France with its ideas but dearth of new commitments, and the EU entangled in its contradictions, the political weight of the COP23 turned out lighter than expected. EURACTIV France reports.

Just 50km from Bonn, where the COP23 is taking place, Hambach’s thousand-year-old forest is threatened by the extension of a coal mine, which in the next few weeks could result in the felling of hundred-year-old trees.

Electricity consumed by COP23, which claims to be carbon neutral, is partially produced from coal-fired power plants. This is the kind of contradiction faced by the leading European power hosting the UN climate conference.

The pressure inherent in this type of event rose a notch Wednesday with the arrival of heads of state for their traditional high-level statements in the plenary.

Already challenged last weekend, the German Chancellor was greeted by large banners demanding her to “keep the oil in the ground”.

In response, the Chancellor courageously referred to the subject of coal in her own speech, highlighting the issue of lignite, a particularly polluting variety of coal. “We have conflicts in German society, which will be discussed in the coming weeks,” she promised.

In the midst of a Green-FDP-CDU negotiation for the formation of a coalition government, the subject is timely.

The Greens have just refused to close down only ten coal plants by 2020. But while Germany has already missed its goal of reducing emissions by 40% by 2020, compared to 1990 levels, NGOs dream of a deadline for phasing-out coal.

A modest 2030 target for the EU

On the other hand, the Chancellor reiterated the goal of reducing the EU’s CO2 emissions by 40% by 2030, a target set by the European Commission, which many stakeholders consider unambitious.

Asked on Wednesday morning (15 November) about the EU’s rather meagre ambition Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU’s Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, preferred to hide behind the European Parliament.

“We are waiting to know what will be the position of the European Parliament, and if we are asked to raise the ambition we will make a proposal in this direction in 2018,” he said. No leadership on that side either.

Embroiled in its own contradictions, the EU is already trying hard to convince Poland to ratify the second part of the Kyoto Protocol at COP23.

EU tempted to bypass Poland to meet climate commitments

The EU’s Climate Commissioner has said that the bloc will do all it can to overcome Poland’s refusal to sign the Doha Amendment, which represents the second part of the pre-2020 Kyoto Protocol. EURACTIV France reports.

The second European head of state to make his appearance, Emmanuel Macron, also failed to up his ambition.

However, there were several concrete proposals that sparked applause from the audience. Notably by inviting other EU countries to contribute, with France, to the financing of IPCC scientific research: “I hope that the EU will replace the Americans, and that as many states as possible can compensate for the loss of US funding for the IPCC,” he proposed. The IPCC is the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

At the European level, France has also committed to increasing electricity interconnections with Ireland, Spain, Italy and Portugal, and to set a carbon price floor.

“I am in favour of getting a real price at €30 per tonne, which will help to change behaviour,” he said, assuring that this floor would complete the agreement reached last week, in trilogue talks, for the carbon market reform.

Carbon markets back in vogue at COP23

Carbon markets have become a vital piece of common ground for defenders of the climate. The tool is gradually extending around the world, bringing with it higher revenues. EURACTIV France reports.

Beautiful speech, but no commitment

The French head of state, whose eloquence impresses beyond France’s borders, has also scored points on the side of the countries of the South, by recognising that “rich countries have a dual responsibility: we participated in climate change therefore, we must actively participate in mitigation”.

“The rich countries have imposed on the world their paradigms, today, they can’t impose their own tragedies,” Macron said.

Despite his enthusiasm, the NGOs that came to meet him in Bonn were dubious. The head of state did not mention the €5bn promised by the previous government for the loss and damage fund for Southern countries, which worries observers like Lucille Dufour of the Action Climate Network.

“Emmanuel Macron came empty-handed to the COP23 and made no new financial commitments for the poorest countries, who are at the forefront of climate change,” lamented Oxfam’s Earl Armelle.

“What’s disappointing is the lack of new announcements. Let’s hope he is keeping them for the 12 December summit,” added Célia Gauthier of the Nicolat Hulot Foundation on Twitter.

The Paris summit of 12 December aims in particular at eliciting ambition and political leadership on the subject of climate. But the project is, today, unfulfilled.

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