Progress at Bonn marred by old climate politics

Will negotiating parties be able to sort out their differences at Doha?

By Uthra Radhakrishnan
Published: Friday 01 June 2012

At the most recent UN meeting on climate change at Bonn, deep divisions that have existed between countries came to the fore, obscuring progress on the “delicately balanced” political deal that was agreed to just five months ago in December at Durban. As 195 countries gathered for the first time after the very important turnaround in Durban to negotiate a new deal for 2020, questions of how the burden of containing climate change will be shared resurfaced.

The main issues on the table at Bonn were how to ensure a smooth tran-sition between the first and second commitment periods of the Kyoto Protocol (KP), completing work under the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) track and to chart out a work plan for negotiating the new  framework for action by 2015.

What happens to Kyoto Protocol?

One of the main areas of contention at Bonn was the organisation of work under the new track which would discuss issues of the Durban Platform. At the opening session of the LCA track, Nauru, representing the small island nations, wanted to see higher ambition from parties—developed countries move to the higher end of their target ranges—and most importantly wanted to see the LCA track terminated by the end of the year.

Leading up to Bonn 2012 

Five months earlier, countries had agreed in Durban on a a new frame-work under which all countries will contribute to reducing carbon emis-sions. This would eventually replace the only legally binding treaty that exists so far, the Kyoto Protocol.

This Protocol has thus far been the only arrangement that takes into account the historical emissions of countries, thus placing the onus on industrialised countries to take the lead in re-ducing carbon emissions. Developed countries have long sought to change this arrangement to reflect growing emissions of those from emerging economies such as China and India.

This stand off was purpor-tedly evened out with developed countries agreeing to extend the Kyoto Protocol in return for the developing countries agreeing to sign a new global framework.

The Durban Package as was  agreed to stressed on four elements:  

  • The AWG-LCA (a track created in 2007 that besides addressing a long-term goal beyond 2012 had for the first time called upon those developed countries outside the Kyoto Protocol, such as the US, to take on commitments) will need to finish its work to may way for discussions under the new framework
  • To set up the new framework with an agreed outcome with legal force
  • Second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (KP)
  • Green Climate Fund to be operationalised
This was followed by their petition for taking into account the “urgency” of the situation. This later became the adopted cause of many developed country parties as they pressed “for moving forward with the negotiations.” While discussing the agenda of LCA, according to the lead negotiator from the US, “one possible approach was to look back at Bali (Action Plan) and use that as a starting point. We don't have the time to go back all the way; many decisions have been taken since then reflecting our priorities.”

The EU, the US, Australia and Switzerland all pushed for taking up only those items listed as priority under the Durban package such as new market mechanisms, clarity on pledges, bunker emissions, REDD finance and shared vision under the LCA agenda. But this “urgency” of the developed country parties was not seen in good faith by the developing country parties.

Between the Durban Conference and Bonn, it had further become clear that although the Kyoto Protocol would get an extension, it did not a hold a lot of promise. Japan and Russia had refused all along to sign for a second commitment period. The US never ratified it. Canada sacked it. Australia and New Zealand are yet to provide clarity on their status. The EU, the only major block that has promised to stay, has held on to its target of 20 per cent emission reduction below 1990 levels, 17 per cent of which was already met by 2009.

In light of the developments under the Kyoto Protocol, developing countries were seeing an attempt by the developed countries to just “jump ship” from their binding commitments to a new framework, the rules of which are yet to be written. One developing country delegate remarked: “De-veloped countries seem eager to lay (Ad hoc Working Group) AWG-LCA to rest and place the emphasis on the ADP (Durban Platform); where is the equity in that.”

Who will shoulder the burden?

Increasing the level of ambition on reducing emissions in order to stay on the safer 2°C pathway was another point of contention between the parties. The initial agenda for the ADP listed work under two elements—a work plan for the post-2020 deal and to enhance the level of ambition for the pre-2020 period as well. This was inserted at the last minute by the most vulnerable countries at Durban to counter fears that only longer-term action was being addressed under the Durban Platform and to ensure that the extra ambition needed in the immediate future to close the emissions gap was secured. Some developing countries opposed the terminology used—just “enhancing mitigation ambition” was seen as a ploy to pigeon-hole mitigation efforts under one track instead of it being discussed under either the LCA or KP tracks, under which the developed countries were required to increase their level of effort. China cautioned against discussing ambition under the ADP and emphasised a post-2020 outlook as the ADP’s core task, and also noted that raising the level of ambition does not refer only to mitigation but also to means of imple-mentation in terms of technology transfer, finance and capacity building. Venezuela, Philippines, Iran and other Bolivarian countries supported this notion.

Progress made at Bonn:  

  • ADP work plan adopted; agreement on the Chair of ADP
  • Equity made a comeback

Still in the works:  

  • KP length of commitment period—5 or 8 years
  • Carry over of Assigned Amount Units
  • QELRO’s and ambition to be discussed in more workshops
  • Green Climate Fund meeting postponed

Prior to the final day at Bonn, when the agenda finally got adopted, a new sub-group emerged amongst the developing country parties. Led by Venezuela, a host of Arab and African countries and Bolivarian countries along with India and China, issued a joint statement to the interim ADP chair. Pointing to the strength they held in the negotiations, accounting for over 60 per cent of the population, they stressed that the ADP agenda was not a procedural issue as believed by developed countries such as the US, Japan and the EU bloc of nations, but one of substance  “We express our willingness to substantively discuss the post-2020 mitigation framework going forward. At same time, we have no doubt that mitigation actions need to be enhanced during 2012-2020. However, at this stage, we fore-see that a separate agenda item on enhancing mitigation ambition in the AWG-DP (Durban Platform) would render meaningless the ongoing dis-cussions of both the AWG-KP and AWG-LCA.”

This constant blame game meant that a high level of mistrust prevailed with even work plans agendas taking several days to adopt; the agenda for the ADP was finally adopted on the last day of the Bonn meet, re-flecting both a post-2020 work plan and pre-2020 ambition that would take into consideration other elements such as adaptation and finance as well.

Markets to the rescue

With the clean development mechanism (CDM) being viewed as covering only a small share of the carbon market, potential future markets such as sectoral trading, REDD plus and bilateral offsetting were discussed, with particular interest from developed country parties. Developed countries have been referring to how the economic recession has further challenged their ability to contribute to additional sources of public funding as promised by them earlier in 2009. The $100 billion Green Climate Fund still remains an empty promise and the first meeting of its Board had been postponed at Bonn owing to procedural issues.

Instead, increasing interest in leveraging private sector resources was evident across multiple forums where financing was discussed. In the last year, new markets in the form of cap-and-trade and others have propped up across the world—in Australia, California and Quebec, with South Korea and New Mexico passing climate laws that would enable some such market mechanism to be operational soon. While these de-velopments have been very encouraging for  the carbon market at large, some developing countries questioned the eligibility factor of developed countries to have access to offsets that would be generated from these new market mechanisms. According to the delegate from China, “only those parties with commitments can claim offsets towards their targets.” This can be seen to apply to all those parties, who although have not shown any signs of committing to a second round of the Kyoto Protocol have shown interest in offsets that such markets mechanisms would gen-erate towards meeting their targets. Furthermore, in light of the price of carbon fairing badly due to lack of demand under the CDM, the need for another new market mechanism was questioned.

From Bonn to Doha

With much work remaining to be done at Bonn, negotiators and ministers will have a handful of issues to deal with at the next Conference of the Parties (CoP) in Doha. A second inter-session at Bangkok has been put on hold, pending the availability of funds from parties. Doha will add two more tracks, in addition to the existing five (three ad hoc working groups and 2 subsidiary bodies), making it a grand total of 7 tracks under which negotiations will be carried out. With the second period of the Kyoto Protocol awaiting official adoption at Doha and issues of equity and ambition to be sorted out, it remains to be seen if parties will finally be able to transcend their conventional negotiating positions to address climate change with the genuine urgency it truly deserves.


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.