ECC Platform Library


What’s special about climate negotiations in 2018?

11 May, 2018
Lili Pike and Yao Zhe, China Dialogue

Talanoa Dialogue.jpg

Presidency event on the Talanoa Dialogue - Closing with Frank Bainimarama | Photo credit: UNclimatechange/Flickr [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

As the UNFCCC intersessional in Bonn closes, these are the key moments and milestones to look out for this year.

If the climate community had a New Year’s clock hanging in Times Square, it would currently be counting down to 2020. That is when countries worldwide will set new “resolutions”, or nationally determined contributions (NDC) in climate-speak, for curtailing greenhouse gas emissions. But much work remains before the disco ball drops.

The adoption of the Paris Agreement during Conference of Parties (COP) 21 in 2015 marked a historic moment for global climate efforts. The agreement sets ambitious goals to combat climate change and to the limit global temperature increase to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. While a great achievement, it is a new beginning rather than the end of the United Nations (UN) climate process. The agreement compelled governments to submit their own NDCs but left the details of implementation to future negotiations.

This year countries have to roll up their sleeves and hammer out a “rulebook” for climate action. This makes 2018 the first critical year in the post-Paris era, as countries under the UN framework are required to deliver concrete progress on two key issues: the rulebook and Talanoa Dialogue.

The rulebook

This will provide the operational guidance for the implementation of the Paris Agreement. If we see the ambitious goals set in the Paris Agreement as the destination, then the rulebook will clarify how countries can arrive at their goals collectively, and how each government will fulfil its requirements.

More specifically, the rulebook is expected to provide common metrics so that commitments from different countries can be compared side-by-side. This is necessary because governments submit their NDCs in various formats under the Paris Agreement (see examples in the chart below). The rulebook must also be able to hold all countries accountable and make sure governments’ actions are in line with their words. Finally, it must establish a mechanism that reviews collective efforts and leads to governments scaling-up their actions over time.

Comparing commitments by China, the EU and Bhutan

At COP22 in Marrakech, the first COP after the Paris Agreement entered into force in November 2016, negotiators set 2018 as the deadline to finalise the guidelines. The rules will be applied from 2020 (since the Paris Agreement covers the period from 2020 onwards).

Under such a tight deadline, overcoming technical challenges and delivering the rules on time is already a huge task, not to mention the political sensitivities around certain issues. For example, as developed and developing countries’ administrative capacities differ, the rulebook must allow for some flexibility while still providing a single set of rules with sufficient rigour.

However, after several rounds of negotiations between technical experts since Marrakech, negotiations opened smoothly at the Bonn intersessional this week, signalling that the challenge now is not whether countries will agree on a rulebook, but to make sure the rules are strong. To achieve this, the discussions need to move from the technical level to the higher, political level, and countries need to show real political will for broader cooperation.

Talanoa Dialogue

Although countries submitted targets for 2025 or 2030 under the Paris Agreement, vulnerable nations are calling for an increase in ambition and actions now. At COP21, countries agreed to take stock of the overall progress on their actions in 2018 for the first time, and to use the assessment to identify how they can scale up their NDCs by 2020 (countries are expected to ratchet up their internal targets every five years under the Paris framework).

Such a process was initially called the Facilitative Dialogue but it was renamed the Talanoa Dialogue at COP23 when Fiji held the presidency. Talanoa is a term in Fijian that means to tell a story or have a conversation. The Talanoa Dialogue process was launched at the beginning of this year, and countries submit their actions via an online public portal.

At the Bonn intersessional, the Talanoa Dialogue will offer a platform for countries and non-party stakeholders to showcase their progress towards a low carbon economy in all kinds of sectors and inspire each other while at the same time demonstrating the risks of inaction. Most countries referenced the dialogue in their opening statements, and over 130 countries have made submissions to the Talanoa Dialogue.

As the name suggests, the current process is inclusive and emphasises the storytelling approach, but it lacks clarity in terms of outcomes. Countries need to make sure their discussions are solution- and future-oriented so that dialogues can be useful in increasing ambition.

The march to 2020

The impact of Talanoa Dialogue will only be fully revealed in 2020 when all countries are supposed to submit their updated targets under the Paris Agreement. As the graphic below shows, current country commitments are still far too unambitious to remain within the safe temperature boundaries set under the Paris Agreement.

Alongside the rulebook and Talanoa Dialogue, a series of key events over the next two years will lay the groundwork for countries to increase ambition by 2020. Technical negotiations to secure the rulebook and sort out thorny issues, such as how to compensate countries for losses and damages that result from climate impacts, are underway at the Bonn intersessional. The annual UNFCCC COP negotiations will take place in Poland in December, marking the deadline for the rulebook and Talanoa Dialogue.

Meanwhile, politicians and officials will engage in climate diplomacy outside of the UN cycle. In June, country representatives and ministers will gather in Petersberg, Germany for discussions, and Brussels, Belgium, for a “MoCA” (Ministerial Meeting for Climate Action). In recent years, these meetings have served as key moments for more ambitious countries to form alliances, such as when Canada, the EU, and China together reaffirmed their commitment to climate action in the wake of President Trump’s attack on climate action last year.

New summits, such as this September's Global Climate Action Summit hosted by Governor Brown in California, will provide opportunities for national, sub-national, and non-state actors to come together. This summit reflects an upside of Trump’s threat to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement: climate action has become more inclusive of a broader array of parties such as businesses and states rather than just national governments.

Another notable moment will be the G20 held in Argentina just before this year’s COP in December. While the G20 agenda extends far beyond climate change, it has become an important platform to discuss green finance issues in particular after China launched a working group on the topic in 2016. The G20 also serves as an important moment of reckoning for how other top nations treat the US, including the degree to which they accommodate the Trump administration’s climate stance.

The jockeying that occurs at these meetings will influence the outcome of the UN negotiations and ultimately determine the level of ambition countries bring to the table. These summits, especially heading into 2019, will also provide opportunities for countries to signal or announce their new commitments. All eyes will be on the world’s top emitters to close the ambition gap as 2020 nears.

[This article originally appeared on]

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Climate Change
Climate Diplomacy

Global Issues


Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

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Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

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Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.


Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

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Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.


The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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