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Bonn Climate Talks End With Slow Progress

UNFCC Bonn talks 2015

Delegates at the UNFCC Bonn talks 2015. Credit: WRI.

The climate talks that have been ongoing for eleven days in Bonn have wound up with only a little to be optimistic about. It was hoped to find some kind of consensus amongst nations on more ambitious and immediate emissions cuts, especially following positive noises recently from the European Union, the G7 and China.

However no tangible commitments were made to demands from developing countries that developed nations make good on their financial commitments to invest in emissions-reducing technology and practices in developing countries, and make firm commitments to cut their own emissions.

Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, wrote on Grist: "At the moment [world leaders] look set to ratify a global temperature increase of three or four degrees Celsius — that is, to lock us into a kind of slow-motion guaranteed catastrophe."

The World Resources Institute said progress had been "slow" and did not match strong signals for ambitious climate action from outside the negotiations.

Leaders of the G7 countries did reaffirm their commitment to mobilise the $100 billion per year climate finance promise at Copenhagen but did not explain how they would do so. The only successful outcome arising from the Bonn talks was resolving of mechanisms to slow the pace of deforestation under the REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) program, following 10 years of negotiations.

The talks were a major opportunity for leaders to thrash out their differences before they meet in December in Paris to supposedly finalise details of a global-level legally binding agreement to tackle climate change, the outcomes of which would kick in by the end of this decade. August and October will see a further round of negotiations in Bonn and there will be two further opportunities before December.

This text is now 85 pages long, reduced by four pages from the previous text. As always, the dispute was over wording. The most vulnerable and slowly developing countries were demanding that the words "loss and damage" be included in the Paris deal. The term used in the original UN treaties is "common but differentiated responsibilities" and this is the phase that China and India insisted be retained in any pact whereas the USA and other G7 countries bent to differ given that China is now the world's biggest emitter and the second biggest economic power.

Samantha Smith, leader of the global climate and energy initiative at WWF, said: "Progress in Bonn has been slow, but a bigger concern is the growing gap between what is needed and what is being promised on finance and emissions. While much work remains to close that gap, there is hope that governments are finally committed to take more action on emissions prior to 2020."

The G7's call made earlier this week for decarbonisation of the global economy during the course of this century does not yet have majority support in the negotiations and is seen as long-term at the best.

Developed countries Australia and Canada are making very poor progress on reducing carbon emissions. Just prior to the Paris talks an assessment will be published of the aggregate emission reductions arising from the commitments of all countries and this is highly line to show a significant gap between their commitments and the goal of keeping global warming below 2°C.

The French President of the "Conference of Paris" conference parties is asking political leaders to hold further consultations to find solutions to the tougher political issues behind any agreement.

Shortly before the end of the proceedings in Bonn, countries agreed that the co-chairs of the negotiations should be free to make alterations to the text and present it to all countries for approval later in July. Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the US Centre for Energy and Climate Solutions, told the Guardian Newspaper: "That's a healthy sign."

Some delegates reported that the talks were less acrimonious than previous ones, with participants more keen to reach some kind of compromise solution. Laurence Tubiana (below), special representative for the Paris climate conference, said she was "feeling optimistic after these two weeks. We should not be frustrated and disappointed. We will get there."

Laurence Tubiana

Laurence Tubiana.

Christiana FigueresChristiana Figueres (right), Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said "step-by-step progress" had been made towards countries' understanding of the text of the agreement and how to move forward.

Perhaps the solution to tackling global warming lies outside the UN arena. The United Nations Environment Program released a report this week showing that the efforts of cities, states and businesses could add substantial emissions-reduction effort, around 20% of the efforts of national governments around the world.

This is the view of Alden Meyer, a veteran observer with the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, who pointed to many meetings coming up which offer chances of leapfrogging the UNFCCC process. "The compromises are not going to be found at the negotiator level, they are going to be found at the ministerial level and even at the heads of state level on issues like finance, that's just the way the world works. The hope is that over time this will create a force field which raises ambition and political will in this process and trickles down to the negotiator level." he told AFP.


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