Great expectations from Bonn climate talks, but sticky issues need resolving

Drafting a universal climate change agreement enters critical stage of negotiations and streamlining of agreement text

By Arjuna Srinidhi
Published: Monday 01 June 2015

Bonn climate change conference will be held at the World Conference Center Bonn

Negotiations over combating climate change resume today with representatives of 195 countries coming together in Bonn, Germany. The 11-day summit of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) will see governments debate and arrive at some consensus over the final text of the global climate change agreement that is going to be signed in Paris in December.

While two shorter ADP sessions have been scheduled for later in the year, this round of negotiations at Bonn is critical as it is seen as the last opportunity for substantial negotiations to take place before Paris. A scenario note released by ADP co-chairs explicitly states that this is a “negotiating session”, indicating that the discussions are going to move from just recording statements of parties to actually debating, negotiating and arriving at compromises.

While the key outcome of the Bonn session is to come up with a more streamlined, concise and manageable negotiating text contained in the working document that emerged from the last session in Geneva, there are a number of key issues that will be hotly debated between developed and developing countries and which have the potential to throw a spanner in the works:

  • Differentiation: The principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibility and respective capability (CBDR) have been the cornerstone of climate negotiations. Attempts to revisit this fundamental tenet of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) at the last COP (Conference of Parties) in Lima, in December 2014, proved extremely controversial.

    Already, many developing countries believe that the principle of CBDR was weakened by adding the phrase “in light of different national circumstances” during the last round of negotiations. The question of differentiation is about taking responsibility for past emissions and prioritising the remaining carbon space which is essential for sustainable development of developing countries. From producing food to building houses and low-carbon infrastructure, carbon space will be required for the billions in Africa, Asia and Latin America to come out of poverty.
  • Legal nature of the agreement: The text from the previous ADP session in Geneva, held in February 2015, preserves the option of adopting a protocol—an agreement with the highest legal rigour under international law. But there are doubts about the eventual shape of the agreement.

    Treaties and protocols are legally binding, but they require ratification by governments of member states—a long process which doesn’t always take place. A legally binding deal doesn’t necessarily mean legally binding emissions targets. Promises to reduce emissions may not be included in the legally binding part of the deal.

    It is extremely unlikely that the pledges rich countries have made in the international negotiations to transfer $100 billion to poorer countries by 2020, or to support them in adapting to climate change, will be legally binding under the new deal.
  • Scope and adequacy of the INDCs: A number of countries, particularly some of the major economies like the US, EU, Russia and Canada, have submitted their INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions).

    Questions will be raised about the adequacy of the INDCs—for instance, the US mitigation target amounts to barely 15 to 17 per cent below 1990 levels and is even less ambitious than what had been pledged in Copenhagen. The Canadian INDC, which seems even more weak, amounts to just 21 per cent below 2005 levels and just 2 per cent below 1990 levels if LULUCF (land use, land-use change and forestry) is not taken into account.

    This is when science clearly tells us that the emission reductions have to be substantially higher to limit global warming to under 2°C. Most INDCs have also focused only on mitigation, although the text from Lima had urged countries to include adaptation, finance and technology transfer in the submissions.

The timing of the Bonn session acquires special significance considering that there is a rising frequency of extreme weather events across the world. Just the last couple of months have seen unseasonal rains, followed by extreme heat wave-like conditions in India which led to thousands of deaths. Southeast Brazil and California are facing one of the worst droughts ever and there are predictions that El Nino conditions could see Australia face one of its worst droughts ever.

These events underscore the fact that the world needs to take bold, ambitious and urgent steps if it is to limit global warming to under 2°C and prevent irreversible and catastrophic impacts of climate change.


Agenda for the 11-day ADP session at Bonn
  • Negotiations will take place under two broad tracks. One group will focus on issues such as adaptation, loss and damage and technology transfer. The second group will focus on mitigation, finance, capacity building and institutional provisions.

  • From June 1 to 4, the negotiating groups will focus their efforts on seeking to consolidate and streamline the negotiating text to reduce duplication, overlap and repetition.

  • From June 4 to 11, the ADP will use the Geneva negotiating text and the working document to begin substantive negotiations on a compromise text. After consultation with parties and based on progress achieved, there may be a single drafting group chaired alternately by the two ADP co-chairs.

  • Keeping in mind the importance of the scope, content and expectations from the INDCs, arrangements have been made for parties to share their experiences in preparing the INDCs at informal sessions beginning June 2.

The Earth Statement

Questions and answers on the European Commission Communication: The Paris Protocol – A blueprint for tackling global climate change beyond 2020

The institutionalisation of climate policy in India: designing a development-focused, co-benefits based approach 

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :
Related Stories

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.