While the twenty-third Conference of the Parties (COP23) was beginning in Bonn, the US House and Senate Armed Services Committees were wrapping up negotiations on the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. The bipartisan conference report that emerged from those negotiations calls climate change “a direct threat to the national security of the United States [that] is impacting stability in areas of the world both where the United States Armed Forces are operating today, and where strategic implications for future conflict exist.” 

For the past two weeks, much of the global conversation on climate change has focused on the talks in Bonn and how parties to the Paris Accord—from which the United States regrettably announced its intention to withdrawal—plan to meet their carbon reduction goals. However, the Armed Services Committees’ conference report emphasizes the national security risks associated with changing global temperatures.   
As the world gathered in Bonn for its twenty-third Conference of the Parties (COP23), the newly published Emissions Gap Report 2017 by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) helped to underline the mantra of the conference: all countries need to raise their climate protection efforts quickly and substantially.

The report shows that even if fully implemented, each nation’s current nationally determined commitments (NDCs), laid out by each of the signatories to the Paris Climate Agreement, would only achieve a mere third of the emission cuts required to meet the “(well) below 2 degrees” Celsius goal for global temperature increase set forth in the deal.
The climate conference in Bonn has served as an important bellwether of the international communities’ continuing commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions and of the impact of US President Donald J. Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement. 

As the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP) comes to a close, it is worth noting why this conference was important, what it accomplished, and why Bonn, and the meetings to come, matters.
Despite all eyes on the United States in the wake of US President Donald J. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, Fiji, the host of the twenty-third Conference of the Parties (COP23), framed the conversation in Bonn around the challenges climate change poses to small island nations and how larger, wealthier nations can help.

From November 6-17, climate negotiators, non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders gathered in Bonn, Germany for COP23. This year’s United Nations (UN) climate summit represented a few interesting “firsts.” It was the first meeting to take place since Trump announced in June his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement in favor of pursuing a coal-based energy mix, and it was the first UN climate summit to be chaired by a small island nation, Fiji.

Understandably, a significant amount of attention surrounding COP23 has focused on the US intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and the group of US mayors, governors, and businesses who attended COP23 to show that climate change is still on the US agenda. However, large, diverse countries like the United States have not yet felt the effects of climate change as acutely as a small island nation like Fiji.
As signatories to the Paris Climate Agreement meet in Bonn for COP23—and new forecasts show an increase in CO2 emissions after three flat years—India’s efforts to transform its energy system are a key focus of attention. 

As the world’s second-largest coal consumer and third-largest carbon emitter, India’s policies and actions are critical to the future global emissions trajectory. India is also the world’s third-largest primary energy user and the largest user of non-commercial biomass. Its energy consumption has been growing at over 5 percent a year and demand will continue to increase as urbanization, income, and population increases.

In facing these pressures, the Indian government is confronting three formidable challenges: (1) assuring security of its growing energy imports; (2) providing reliable and affordable energy for economic growth and improved energy access for over 300 million people who are without modern energy; and (3) reducing pollution and environmental resource degradation.
Both the international climate talks this week in the former West German capital of Bonn, and the negotiations over the future composition of the German government continuing this week in Berlin, will focus on the country’s approach to climate policy. While all eyes may be on Bonn, the discussions in Berlin provide a preview, and perhaps a microcosm, of the challenges ahead for global climate efforts.

The path forward for climate action, the main focus of the twenty-third Conference of the Parties (COP23), is also proving to be a key sticking point in the ongoing negotiations to form a new German governing coalition following elections in September. The discussions in both cities raise questions as to Germany’s role as a global leader in climate policy when strong leadership is needed most.

China steps up on climate change and United States steps down

In the wake of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s reelection, the Communist Party of China has begun to take steps to realize Xi’s vision of China as an authoritative power on the world stage, adeptly exploiting the vacuum created by a lack of US leadership on issues like international development and climate change.

Xi was reelected at the conclusion of the nineteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China on October 23. The outcome of the meeting, which focused on leadership changes, further confirms that Xi’s hold over the party is strengthening as he enters his second term. International policy statements adopted at the congress also confirm that a domestically empowered Xi bolsters the party’s confidence in China’s future on the international stage.

Xi’s consolidation of power has implications both for domestic policy and China’s international engagement, particularly when it comes to energy and climate.  
While US President Donald J. Trump’s actions on infrastructure permitting, including executive orders to expedite approvals of controversial projects like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, grabbed headlines, they are potentially counterproductive. Rushing environmental review and infrastructure approval processes could ultimately undermine Trump’s efforts by leaving those projects vulnerable to court challenges as a result of cutting corners, particularly on environmental impact reviews.

One of the Trump administration’s priorities, welcomed in some quarters as a potential area of bipartisan cooperation, is infrastructure, including improving the efficiency of infrastructure approval and permitting. Meanwhile, efforts to reform the process of preparing environmental reviews for infrastructure permitting under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) are nearly as old as the Act itself.

The Trump administration’s efforts to streamline NEPA reviews, and by extension the process of infrastructure project proposals, thus far follow in the footsteps of efforts by previous administrations, both republican and democratic, which culminated in the 2015 passage of the bi-partisan Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. The Act created new, cross-agency mechanisms to expedite environmental reviews of important infrastructure projects by facilitating coordination and cooperation.
In the German elections on September 24, Germany’s Christian Democrat Union (CDU) emerged once again as the most popular party, securing a fourth term for Chancellor Angela Merkel. While the question of who will lead Germany was answered, the question of which parties will govern the country—and in what coalition—is far from settled. As coalition negotiations between the parties unfold against the backdrop of competing foreign and domestic agendas, the future of German energy and climate policy hangs in the balance.

Germany’s approach to clean energy on the world stage, namely its support for the Paris Climate Agreement and promotion of the clean energy transition as a foreign policy priority, is unlikely to change in any meaningful way. With strong domestic support for clean energy policy, there is also little doubt that the German energy transition, or Energiewende, will continue.

Rather, the question is one of ambition.
Super hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have put a spotlight on US President Donald J. Trump’s policy position on climate change, which seems to deny the scientific reality. Although its “energy dominance” policy seeks to expand coal, oil, and gas, the Trump administration in June announced a “complete review of US nuclear energy policy” with the goal of revitalizing this energy resource the future of which is in serious doubt.