Climate Change

Trust shaken and time lost at Bonn climate talks

Trust and inclusiveness were questioned even more when observers or civil society were barred from attending the negotiations

By Vijeta Rattani
Published: Monday 02 November 2015

Ahead of the Bonn climate talks, the co-chairs of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), Ahmed Djoghlaf and Daniel Reifsnyder, were given the task of producing a clear, streamlined text under the supposition that they had the “sense of the room”. It was hoped that the text that they would produce be inclusive and balanced.

On the contrary, on the first day of the Bonn climate negotiations, parties – especially developing countries – represented by G-77 and China vehemently opposed it. South African ambassador Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko, speaking on behalf of the group, expressed disappointment over the text being unfair, lopsided and imbalanced; the needs of developing countries were not reflected in the text. Concerns were raised especially over the issue of finance to help the developing countries to address climate change in addition to loss and damage and principles of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

It was urged that before the negotiations start, balance must be restored to the text in the form of “surgical insertions” which were the essential must-have items presently lacking from the text. What happened over the successive days in Bonn was essentially that adding proposals and inputs from the Parties in different sections and articles of the text to make it more balanced to reflect the proposals of all concerned Parties or countries.

Even though the process of surgical insertions commenced, the trust between the developed and developing countries seemed to have shaken; it scaled up once the plenary session started without the South African Ambassador representing G-77 and China.  "This is unacceptable. You cannot wish the group away. There can be no agreement without taking into consideration the G-77 and China group!" South African ambassador Mxakato-Diseko told the assembly.

Trust and inclusiveness were being questioned even more when observers were barred from attending the negotiations. Social media was flooded with reactions over the statement of the Japanese Ambassador that observers must be prevented from attending the negotiations “to allow real negotiations to begin”. The statements of South African and Venuezulan ambassador of including the observers, though welcomed to a sustained applause, could not find traction with developed countries and the co-chairs.

Parties expressed concern over the lack of real progress during the negotiations as decisions and judgements still had to happen. There was a general understanding that the text that could be taken to Bonn would be a negotiated text with only few clauses and items that needed ministerial intervention.  

However, finding little real progress and state of negotiations in disarray, tense moods prevailed in the last two days of the Bonn Summit. There were apprehensions among the delegates and observers that Paris too could be another Copenhagen. Venezuelan negotiator captured this mood when she remarked, "I hope this is not going to be just a really, really nasty second Copenhagen. I have already seen that movie, it doesn't end well, it doesn't, it gets really nasty," just one day before the talks concluded in Bonn.

The revised Non-paper or the draft text, result of the work conducted under eight open-ended contact groups and 24 meetings on spin-off groups, is the unedited draft version, a 55- page long document containing everything that Parties proposed, which would serve as basis of negotiations in Paris. It has references to equitable access to sustainable development; different temperature goals; global carbon budget based on climate justice-thanks to Bolivia, different options under sections on finance, adaptation, mitigation, loss and damage and technology development. However, no numbers are given regarding financial commitments. Further, as the summit was coming to close, LMDCs demanded that adaptation and capacity building require further time and attention.

The Summit eventually restored balance to the text and by inserting the proposals and concerns of all parties, it helped in restoring the credibility of the UN process of negotiation. In a way, it did help to restore some trust among the Parties to an extent. The new text, though is party driven and reflective of the developments, is complex and complied containing contrasting options. Much time would be needed to make the text a clear and streamlined text that would form the Paris Agreement. With respect to this, the proposal of the G-77 and China group that a technical paper be formed ahead of the Paris summit which would identify similar paragraphs, repetitions to help it streamline the text is a welcome step. However, the group cautioned that this would only be an editorial exercise meant to clear the text and not change the content of the text.

Considering that actual negotiations are yet to happen with decisions, convergence and judgement calls to be taken under all sections of the non-paper in addition to resolving several legal issues, especially with regard to the Paris Agreement and that of the INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions); it would be a long way to convert the Non-paper into the Paris Agreement. Time is not on our side.

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