Representatives from 195 nations and roughly 20,000 delegates from across the world gathered over a fortnight in Bonn, Germany for the 23rd annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-23), the next step for governments to implement the Paris Agreement and accelerate the transformation to sustainable, resilient and climate-safe development [1]. This is the second COP since the adoption and subsequent entry-into-force of the monumental Paris Agreement on climate change, the most ambitious agreement in history. The agreement commits all nations of the world to preventing global warming from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius and to achieving a balance of anthropogenic emissions and sinks in the second half of this century.

It is also the first COP since the 2016 election of Republican President Donald Trump. COP-23 is a tale of two stories: one of an increasingly warming world compelling all nations and actors to be increasingly committed to building irreversible momentum toward a low-carbon future catapulted by the Paris Agreement; and one of wrestling with what has become an American contradiction playing out on the global stage. Both stories strongly suggest that we need more disclosure, more data, and more transparency from all actors at all levels to track progress and achieve our global goals.

With the final two countries signaling support for the Paris Agreement this fall, every nation in the world has now moved to join the Agreement, and 170 nations have already joined, despite Trump’s recent intent to withdraw the United States. Since the Agreement was adopted by all nations at COP-21 in late 2015, and went into force less than a year later on November 4, 2016 [2], it has helped foster a race-to-the-top as nations of the world compete to speed up implementation of their greenhouse gas mitigation targets (called “Nationally Determined Contributions”). Since Paris, governments have made progress attracting foreign investment, installing renewable energy at a record breaking pace, and fighting to sustainably develop prosperous and climate resilient societies of the future. This national level action has been accelerated by collaborative efforts to help countries meet their targets, like the NDC Partnership. But it has similarly been invigorated by cities and regions (“sub-national” actors), along with companies, investors and civil society ( “non-State” actors), which are collectively called “non-Party stakeholders,” in UNFCCC parlance. The role of these actors in coaxing national level decision-making and perception was on display at COP-23, including the strong America’s Pledge contingent at the U.S. Climate Action Center pavilion, the respective growth of the Global Covenant of Mayors, and the We Mean Business coalitions announced in Bonn.  

Many have called COP-23 another “COP of implementation” in the same mold as last year’s meeting in Marrakesh. It was fueled by ambitious Global Climate Action coming from all levels of society – the meeting has celebrated and pushed for additional cooperative mitigation, adaptation, and financing progress from countries, cities, regions, companies, investors, tribes and civil society organizations. Thematic days focused on driving higher ambition, business and investor discussions, and an innovation forum highlighted the economic and technological race to develop low-carbon and sustainable development solutions. There was also a notable push to phase out coal. As the negotiations continued on the Paris Agreement Work Program, and took important steps on agriculture, gender, and indigenous peoples, many country pavilions championed progress on their Paris targets. Notably while the Trump White House’s planned event on promoting coal was interrupted by fervent protests, the U.S. Climate Action Center, which was not sanctioned by the Trump Administration, functioned as a bustling haven of activity.

The role of cities, regions, companies, investors and civil society (non-party actors) has taken center stage in the context of COP-23 and anticipation for the coming year. A more than 2600-strong coalition (mapped by Data-Driven Yale) of U.S. states, counties, cities, businesses and universities pledged continued action on climate change and the Paris Agreement. Many of these actors participated in theWe Are Still In” coalition, which formed in response to  President Trump’s June 1 withdrawal announcement and now represents well over half of the U.S. economy and nearly two thirds of the U.S. population. These and other commitments to climate action were trumpeted at COP by the U.S. Climate Action Center’s steady stream of programing from adamant and dedicated American Governors, Mayors, CEOs and thought leaders, and a report tracking “America’s Pledge.” These efforts are bolstered further by a new partnership between the governments of Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. Climate Alliance (a group of 15 U.S. states) agreeing to work together through collaboration and dialogue on climate change and the clean development of North America. Internationally the role of non-state actors has also seen a surge, and was given a boost with the release of this year’s Yearbook of Climate Action from the UNFCCC and Marrakesh Partnership, and a global footprint analysis of climate action which found that more than 14,500 subnational and non-state actors around the world are clamoring to answer the Paris Agreement’s political and market-signal.

Many of these non-state actors were well represented in Bonn, to chide, and goad, and celebrate, and push for faster and more ambitious implementation in advance of the first stock taking review of climate progress next year. The plan for the 2018 Facilitative “Talanoa’ Dialogue”  — named by this year’s Fijian hosts — was finalized at this COP. The Talanoa Dialogue will take stock of global progress toward the objectives of the Paris Agreement. The process is structured to invite inputs throughout the year to build a strong evidence-based foundation for the political phase which will convene at COP-24. Sub-national and non-state actors can play a valuable role in giving countries the confidence and evidence for implementing and building on their commitments, but this process will require better data and metrics to help inform countries as they begin to consider revisiting and ratcheting up their targets in 2020.  

This year’s calendar is busy with key milestones for enhancing ambition, including the Global Climate Summit in California next September. As the world prepares to discuss its first climate report card under the Paris Agreement, and countries begin to develop their new targets for the next cycle of Nationally Determined Contributions which are supposed to represent a progression from their previous target, in addition to finalizing the ‘Paris rulebook’; the role of non-state actors in enhancing climate ambition will loom large. The message that COP-23 sent to the world is that we need more actions, investments, policies, and data from all levels to build the evidence-base, and accelerate the transition toward a clean energy economy.


[1], Bonn Climate Change Conference – November 2017, Published: November 18, 2017, Accessed: November 24, 2017

[2] In international law there is a distinction between the adoption, signing, and entry-into-force of an international agreement. “Adoption” indicates that the negotiations are over. In the case of the Paris Agreement, this happened at COP-21, when there was consensus on the text of the Agreement, i.e., no Party formally objected. “Signature” indicates a State’s intent to join an international agreement, although it does not require it to join. In the case of the Paris Agreement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon had a signing ceremony on Earth Day in April 2016; more than 170 countries signed the agreement. Joining an agreement, accomplished through an instrument of ratification, acceptance, or approval, binds a State to an agreement’s obligations once the agreement enters into force. An agreement enters into force once it hits the threshold(s) set forth in the particular agreement. Article 21, paragraph 1, of the Paris Agreement states that: “This Agreement shall enter into force on the thirtieth day after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 per cent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.” That threshold was met on October 4, 2016, with entry into force occurring on November 4, 2016.

Image credit: UNclimatechange, Recognition Ceremony for UN Volunteers supporting COP 23 in Bonn (CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)