Bonn 2012 climate change talks: Where is the ambition?

By Ed King

Seasoned climate change activists will know that the annual UNFCCC Bonn Climate Change conference starts this coming Monday morning.

It’s an important summit that will provide an idea of whether the ambitions of the Durban Platform can be achieved.

The Durban Platform was agreed at COP17 after talks that ran 36 hours over the planned finish time

You’ll recall that the agreement set the ball rolling towards a comprehensive global emissions limit with an element of legal force – although what form that will take is unclear.

The absence of leading politicians offers negotiators the chance to develop ideas and concepts without the glare of publicity.

But we should be in no doubt – much rests on the next two weeks, and we’ll gain a clearer idea of where the world stands on making a firm commitment on climate change once they are finished.

Where are we now?

The brutal answer appears to be not very far – the same quarrels are breaking out ahead of Bonn. An awkward coalition of the EU, Least Developed Countries (LDCs), small islands and a few Latin American states saw that the Durban Platform was passed back in December.

The coalition met again last week in Brussels – with new star signing Australia. EU Commissioner for Climate Connie Hedegaard struck a confident tone, saying they were still ‘very much in agreement’.

Climate Finance remains a sore point – and despite a prominent role in talks the EU do not appear to have made any firm commitments to the green Climate Fund post 2012.

India and this coalition appear to be on a collision course – a repeat of Durban 2011. The Indian’s are concerned that moves to treat developing and developed countries the same would jeopardise existing promises from the EU.

Durban Platform

The first meeting of the Durban Platform Working Group starts on Thursday – watch out for some tough talking on Tuesday and Wednesday from the EU and those opposed to a ‘legal outcome’.

The Platform’s text was so vague (any wonder given it was agreed at 5am in the morning) that starting at any one point could be a challenge.

Point 5 of the text says that the Working Group will focus on finance, adaptation, tech transfer, transparency, support, capacity-building….i.e. everything. An agreement on finance would represent a success, as would agreement over a path forward.

RTCC’s policy recommendations are on the UNFCCC website. We’ll be taking part in the Durban Platform Workshop on Monday 21 – report and analysis to come the next day.

Liz Gallagher, Senior Policy Advisor, E3G: “It will be fascinating to see how they agree on what the Durban Platform should look like. There are a lot of issues to work through, and how the working groups progresses will be vital – do they aim for continuity in the chair, and new ways of working or stick with the same recipe?”

Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR)

The future of this key phrase – a cornerstone of  climate talks since the creation of the Kyoto Protocol – could be up for grabs in Bonn. The debate over CBDR is essentially the same argument over differentiating developed and developing countries.

India and China made vociferous attempts to preserve it in Durban, and there is every chance they will make the same claims in Bonn.

The EU appears less sympathetic to this claim, and given the number of developing states in its coalition its arguments will carry weight. Equally the USA is known to be keen to see CBDR take a back seat – especially where China is concerned.

The UNDP stepped into the crossfire this week with their ‘One Planet to Share’ report, focusing on Asia Pacific. An implicit recommendation in this is that development cannot be used as an excuse for soaring emissions: “Uncompleted development agendas imply that Asia-Pacific is much less ‘locked-in’ to the old ways.”

Was this their diplomatic way of saying that CBDR is no longer valid?

Of all the submissions to the UNFCCC that RTCC has reviewed, there is a clear rich/poor divide on support for CBDR.

Liz Gallagher: “CBDR is here to stay, but it’s the original interpretation and how it is incorporated into the future negotiations which is up for discussion. At the moment it seems there is uncertainty over how to handle the concept of ‘Equity’, and what the process to achieve it could look like.”


Emissions Trading is one of the main Kyoto Protocol market mechanisms. Carbon markets are increasingly evident around the world – and even China is planning to join the club.

But the EU’s attempt to impose an airline emissions zone has not been welcomed – particularly by China and the USA.

Emissions levels are being totted up now, but there are no financial implications till the end of the year. The US have dropped their legal challenge, India are still thinking about taking the EU to court, and China say they will retaliate with laws of their own. It says this is not about climate change but protectionism.

The EU has much political capital staked on this. But it also has to contend with an increasingly bleak Eurozone outlook – and is relying on China to dig it out to an extent.

The current Danish Presidency should hold firm. Will Cyprus be so bold when they take charge in July?

Liz Gallagher: “There has been too much hype and over-interpretation in the press about the EU-ETS, and it is not clear if there is weight behind the threats that have been made. China has not prohibited its airlines from taking part in the ETS – they’ve been told to ask permission from the Chinese government before participating.

“In speaking with European officials, there is a lot of confusion as to the intent and motivations behind some of the statements in the press and what is happening.”

Green Climate Fund

As former UNFCCC chief Michael Zammit Cutajar so eloquently explained at a recent RTCC event – climate change is as much about fighting poverty as it is cutting emissions.

Hence the delivery of development aid is vital. The Green Climate Fund is the ‘mechanism’ through which this will be delivered.

$100BN by 2020 has been promised. But where is it?

The Sustainable Energy for All Initiative is a start – with the UK having pledged £3million. But the EU are dragging their feet – refusing to make any pledges beyond 2012 – if that’s how the driving force behind the talks are acting – what hope the rest?

Oxfam have also accused the EU of sitting back. In particular they cite Italy, Poland, Austria, Finland and Sweden as obstacles to an extension of financial commitments beyond 2012.

Liz Gallagher: “It’s going to be difficult for states to publically commit specific funding up to 2020 given the financial crisis and the inability of governments to budget over such a long period. We could see a good number of developed states put in funding for the 2012-2015 period.

“Whilst the headline numbers demonstrate good faith, of more importance is the quality of this funding, will it be spent on one off, low hanging fruit options, or deliver long-lasting transformational change?”


The IPCC 5th Assessment Report is due out in 2013. It’s unlikely to suggest all is well and business as usual is acceptable.

UNEP’s chief scientist Joseph Alcamo made a presentation on May 4 to the Informal Ministerial Meeting – and he was pretty emphatic.

To meet the 2 degree target global emissions must peak by 2020. Currently we’re not there – even the pledges made by states are not sufficient.

Of course – it’s likely to be economic arguments that sway politicians on fixed terms – few are worrying about 2050, as Dr Philip Lee MP told RTCC recently.

But as PwC’s Allan Zhang, Deloitte’s Nick Main and the UK’s diplomatic climate chief John Ashton have all outlined to RTCC: ‘It’s the economy – stupid’ might not be the worst argument climate activists could use in the coming years.

What do you think?

Leave your comments in the box below, tweet us @RTCCnewswire or email [email protected] with your thoughts on what could be achieved in Bonn.

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