Is the door of opportunity closing for climate action?


Thanh Nien, Bonn, Germany

As a journalist from Thanh Nien newspaper of Vietnam, I am here in Bonn to report about the conference, with sponsorship from the the Internews Earth Journalism Network that has helped journalists from many countries to attend COP23.

At the COP, however, The “door of opportunity” is closing.

Fiji, an island nation in the South Pacific, is the president of COP23 with support in term of scientific information and logistics from the German Government. This is considered to be the highlight of the COP23 as Fiji is one the small islands that has most affected by sea level rise and constantly increasing typhoon occurrences. Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama – the COP23 president – said “Climate Change has caused greater storms, flooding and droughts, forest burning, and so on which directly has serious effect on us – humanity – such as life losses and misery and particularly threatening global food security. Thus, we now have no more time to waste.”

COP23 aims to specify every objectives of the Global Climate Agreement of which leaders of nearly 200 countries – including Vietnam – signed in Paris two years ago. Thus within this two weeks, Negotiators have been trying to implement effectively this Paris Agreement – a long term global strategy to address climate change – with a deadline of 2018. The COP23 conference has taken place in a circumstance that climate change has been happened dramatically which devastated the lives of millions people worldwide especially in Asia, America and Caribbean. Particularly, in Asia, Vietnam is one of the few countries that faced severe weathers within just two years. Its climate conditions have been extremely unpredictable and also very destructive such as El-Nino (2015-2016) in the Southern region, Typhoons in the Middle region and extreme floods on a large scale.

Meanwhile, the United Nations World Meteorological Organization has issued a warning report announcing that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are at an all time high. Industrial emissions, mainly carbon dioxide, are the major contributors to the growing of global warming that is resulting in worldwide natural disasters. In particular, the report also highlights that around 30% of the world's population are experiencing a phenomenon called "extreme heat" condition for at least a few days each year. And the number of people who is suffered from exposure to life-threatening heat waves has increased by 125 million since 2000.

Ms Patricia Espinosa – UN head for Climate Change – said “COP23 needs to achieve two things: first is the positive and undaunted move by those participant countries, states, territories, leaders and UN agencies to carry out the Paris Agreement; secondly, with many actual tests on the quick temperature rising that surpasses the thresholds, it forces countries to have more stronger and further actions according the Agreements and also identify what to do next”. The conference also suggests discussions about specific terms for developed countries to provide financial support to the poor and developing countries. In particular, developing countries require developed countries to have proper plans for fundraising at least $100B per year by 2020 and also have the assurance on long term financial supports after 2025.

However, for COP 23 to achieve satisfactory results of these objectives, all parties will need to address some the fundamental issues especially on the role of the United States. In June, US President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreements despite the administration of former President Barack Obama who signed on the agreement with a commitment to cut industrial gas emissions by 26-28% by 2025. According to the agreement, the earliest date for the United States to withdraw completely is 4.11.2020, but a good sign is that many states, cities and businesses are still committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Till now, 20 US states and more than 50 major cities, along with more than 60 largest US businesses, have pledged to cut emissions. These groups have made a joint pledge against global warming in fiery opposition to President Trump. According to the Paris Agreement, nations have to focus on developing a strategy to limit or reduce the global average temperature by 2°C as compared to pre-industrial times in 1950s. This is the threshold that scientists concluded to help our planet avoiding natural disasters such as floods, severe droughts, rising sea levels and typhoons. But scientists have also been warning that the global average temperature will exceed the 2°C threshold by the end of this century. Therefore, strong actions required by participant countries to implement this agreement have been becoming more necessary and urgently than ever to curb the daunting challenges that may come after 2020 period.