Climate talks in Bonn serve a grim reminder

Negotiations at the recently concluded climate meet at Bonn were a replay of post-Bali discussions in 2007; Parties agreed to move into formal negotiations starting June

By Uthra Radhakrishnan
Published: Tuesday 25 March 2014


The draft of a new global agreement on climate change, to be signed end of 2015, will start taking shape under formal negotiations beginning in June. In climate negotiation terms, this means negotiating parties have agreed to set up a “contact group” to start formal mode of work on the draft text that needs to be readied in time for a meeting at Lima end of this year. This concluded a week-long meeting that took place at the former German Parliament in Bonn, the first in a series of meetings this year to work towards the 2015 agreement.

Since the 2011 Durban agreement, that chalked the 2015 deadline, various aspects of this new deal have been discussed in open-ended, less formal consultations, workshops and round tables. However, these discussions did little to build up trust or bridge the differences among parties.

The five-day Bonn meeting was no different, even though it began on an inspiring note. The meeting opened on a bright Monday morning, with Christiana Figueres, the current UNFCCC chief, reminding nation-parties that 2014 marked the 20th anniversary of UNFCCC. This was meant to serve either as a sore reminder or an inspiring note to get started. But it did not take long for parties to stumble back into their walled fortresses, leaving behind the reminder that much more ambition, political will and preparedness was needed to ensure a meaningful deal in 2015.

No finance, no deal

At the root of the problem is the differentiation between developed and developing countries. Richer countries were supposed to go first in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and lead. Twenty years later, emissions are still increasing and they want the responsibility of reducing emissions to be shared by all, developing countries included. But repeated failures to live up to promises on mitigation and providing technological and financial support for developing countries has irked many. An obvious gripe is the slow progress in setting up the Green Climate Fund (GCF) with promises of US $100 billion from developed countries by 2020; just a few million has been given so far. Quamrul Chowdhary, a veteran negotiator from Bangladesh, pointed to the most recent meeting of GCF Board which could agree only on two of the eight issues on the agenda. “Trillions of dollars are needed if we are going to adapt to climate change but even US $100 billion does not seem possible.” For his country, vulnerable to climate impacts, they will need to build their capacity and invest to become climate resilient, but he said “mitigation is the ultimate adaptation. Developed countries must lead in reducing emissions but all parties must contribute to this global effort.”

For an agreement in 2015 to apply to all parties, it was decided that all parties should make “nationally determined contributions”. But what constitutes a “contribution”?

According to Trig Talley, US lead negotiator, “national contributions can only refer to mitigation. But contributions from countries (developing) cannot be conditional on financial support. Countries can indicate if they need additional support.” According to the Chinese delegate, “mitigation cannot be the sole focus of any discussion. All elements from the Bali Action Plan (adaptation, mitigation, capacity building, finance, technology transfer) need to be balanced.” South Africa, an ally of China in the BASIC grouping, concurred with this. The nation called for equal recognition of finance as a contribution.

The EU reiterated its position that finance was the key to the 2015 deal but that mitigation and finance cannot be discussed in the same space. Mitigation should be a core part of any parties’ contribution. The veteran negotiator from the Philippines, Bernaditas Muller, one of the leading voices behind the like-minded developing countries grouping (LMDC), which includes India and China, drove the point home: “If there will be no financing and technology, our emissions will grow. But if we get that support, we will do it! We will have to do it since we (developing countries) will be the first to suffer. So in the text, it should say that depending on ‘x’ amount of technology and finance provided, ‘x’ amount of contribution will take place. The Philippines is going to face more hurricanes and we will need to first drop drowning in order to mitigate.” To sum up, developing countries were willing to reduce emissions only so long as finance and technology transfer was provided by developed countries.

If there is a broad agreement on one thing, it is that all parties will be turning in their own contributions. But will developed and developing countries turn in similar types of contributions?

According to China, “The Convention in its current form cannot be reinterpreted. Developed countries will need to continue to take the lead and submit economy-wide emissions reduction targets, and developing countries, keeping in mind sustainable development, will take on actions supported by finance and technology. These can include intensity targets.” India also called for the differentiation between developed and developing countries and said its targets will be aimed at sustainable development.

While most parties seemed to agree on this broad differentiation based on the type of commitments, the thorny question that remained unanswered was whether the Annexes under the Convention which categorise countries into two groups will remain in a new deal. The US said it sees no relevance of a binary differentiation between parties and the EU called for recognition of evolving capabilities and responsibilities. Many developed countries called for assessment of contributions once they were in, based on “fairness” and “equity” but stopped short of fleshing out how such assessments can be carried out.

Some unanswered questions

As parties head for the next session in June, many questions remain. The legal nature of such a deal and how the principle of equity will apply remain thorny issues. Furthermore, many developing countries have called on developed countries to increase their ambition in the short term. They said broad theme-based workshops on issues, such as renewable energy and energy efficiency, which took place in Bonn, won’t do. There needs to be more concrete discussions. For now, a single “contact group” has been agreed to for June. This means the organisation of the work is yet to be determined but discussions will get more focused. This also means the posturing and hard lining of positions will hopefully come to an end and the real work will begin.

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