Bonn 2012: What did the latest round of UN climate change talks achieve?

By Tierney Smith & Ed King
RTCC in Bonn

A leading climate diplomat told RTCC this morning that Bonn had left him feeling ‘rather sad’.

Despite the best efforts of Christiana Figueres in the final press conference – it is a feeling that is likely to be shared by many who took part in the Bonn 2012 talks.

UNFCCC chief Figueres said progress had been made in Bonn despite public setbacks

The foundations of the Durban Platform were exposed as what many suspected – a compelling set of ‘hopes’ rather than anything concrete.

And amidst the long and winding debates in the Saal Maritim and other venues in Bonn, it has been hard to shake the belief that unless the debate over equity can be resolved, this process will not and cannot move forward.

So where are we now?

We’ve picked out five areas that stood out over the past two weeks – the Durban Platform, Equity + Ambition, the Kyoto Protocol extension, Finance and hopes for COP18 in Doha.

Please let us know what you think via the comments form below, on Twitter @RTCCnewswire or by emailing [email protected].

Durban Platform

We’re more confused than ever. The creation of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform (ADP) appears to have raised more issues than it solved.

Negotiators have been bogged down in discussions over who would chair it (currently COP17 Minister Mashabane is sitting in) and what its remit will be.

For instance: ‘enhancing mitigation ambition’ is one aim of the ADP, but as Third World Network reported yesterday a number of developing countries have expressed concern that this would ‘render meaningless’ the work on a similar theme that is going on in two other committees.

Discussions also focussed on whether pre-2020 aims should be included – and in particular whether the developing world should commit to targets before 2020. Under the Kyoto Protocol and LCA Group most of the focus is on the developed world.

Some states – such as Switzerland – called for more focus on ‘global mitigation ambition’, while China and the G77 want further clarity from developed nations on how they are cutting emissions.

“There is distrust and there is frustration in the atmosphere,” Seyni Nafo, spokesman for a group of African countries told AP, while EU delegate Christian Pilgaard Zinglersen said: “We are very concerned that the spirit of cooperation that prevailed in Durban has not carried over into this session.”

On a positive note we do now have an agenda, published on Thursday, and pre-2020 ambition remains in it.

Liz Gallagher, Senior Policy Advisor, E3G: It’s good news that the agenda has been resolved – it took some cracking diplomacy to mesh everyone’s interests.  We now have a compromise, which allows a focus on pre-2020 ambition, as well as a work stream to get on with the nuts and bolts of what a 2020 agreement should look like.

We still don’t have a chair, but I don’t think that is a major concern, and as the clock is ticking, its unlikely that negotiators will want to change their return flights, for the sake of arguing over the Chair. There is still some different interpretations about the agreement in the Durban platform about when the LCA will finish.

The USA says in Qatar, come whatever, whilst China and some developing countries say it should close when its business is finished. What was surprising from the Durban Platform discussions was so much focus was on the agenda and little fireworks on equity and the legal element of the DP.

Equity + Ambition

These two words go to the core of the UNFCCC principles and dominated discussions in week one.

In an interview with RTCC Christiana Figueres said she was ‘not surprised’ these issues were yet to be solved, but admitted they went to the ‘heart and soul’ of a new agreement.

The Umbrella group, consisting of the USA, Russia, Japan and Canada, emphasised that climate action could not be about sacrificing economic growth and called on the private sector to play a role – with no mention of equity or Common But Differentiated Responsibility.

On the opposing side India and the BASIC group called for historic emissions and poverty eradication to be recognised as priorities.

All agree greater efforts on mitigation must be made given the increasing gap between emission pledges and what the science demands – but that is where the synergy ends.

This debate appears to be as much about growth models and sustainable development as methods to cut emissions. With nothing agreed the chair of the workshop from Saudi Arabia have called for an extra work programme this year to move talks on.

Liz Gallagher: This was a constructive session, and not the controversy many expected . But it will be fascinating to observe how the issue of Equitable Access to Sustainable Development is woven into the future negotiations.  Many parties are jostling with how to deal with equity.

There is no single definition of equity, it expresses itself differently in of finance, mitigation and adaptation. How to proceed on this is a challenge that negotiators will have to wrestle with, and there is no silver bullet, it will require patience.

Kyoto Protocol II

The aim of talks in Bonn has been to lay the groundwork for an extension for the Kyoto Protocol at the COP18 talks in Doha later this year. The concern is that if discussions do not progress quickly enough there will be a gap before the second commitment period starts.

If the new ‘binding’ treaty comes in from 2020 as stipulated at COP17 – that leaves a gap to be filled. A main focus has been whether the commitment period for the KP extension is for five or eight years.

The African Group negotiating block say a five-year period could ‘lock in low ambition’ and would not allow the flexibility to adapt to the latest science. Others such as such as Korea and the EU favour an eight-year period.

Commitments for the second period are another issue – all taking part in KP2 have to make new pledges – called QELROs – but many have yet to do so.

Japan, Canada and potentially Australia look like joining the USA in opting out of this extension. While expected – this raises questions over when those countries will set emission targets, what they will be and how serious they are about a legally binding framework moving forward.

The architect of the current Kyoto Protocol expressed his anger at the way talks were progressing, saying: “”There is very little science in the discussion, mostly political interests or political arguments trying to use things that were decided 20 or 30 years ago”.

Others were slightly more positive. The EU’s chief negotiator Artur Runge Metzger told reporters in Bonn a decision would be reached, but probably not ‘until the final nights in Doha’.

Liz Gallagher: I think these talks broadly went as expected.  Parties got to discuss the merits of different proposals on the table. We’re on course for the EU, Norway and Switzerland to put forward targets under a 2nd commitment period.

There are political questions over how to handle left over emission reduction permits a.k.a. ‘Hot air’ from the 1st Commitment Period.  Poland, Ukraine and Russia all want to keep their left-over permits so they can emit more post-2012.  This is a major loophole which needs political attention before a deal in Qatar.   Another key political issue on the KP is whether Australia and New Zealand will feel enough pressure to sign up as well.

These are vital countries to secure into a legally binding regime.  But ultimately whether you’re in or out of KPII will be a political choice.


The first meeting of the Green Climate Fund Board was postponed following a disagreement over who would sit on the board. Their next chance to meet will be in June or July.

Swiss Environment Ambassador Franz Perrez told RTCC this was not a major issue – and having meetings later this year could build momentum.

As Third World Network reported on Thursday, developing countries are also concerned about lack of clarity over financing post 2012 – when the Fast Start Finance period stops.

The Association of Small Island States has called for three extra years of finance – which the EU could be open to – but it appears the USA wants to tie this to mitigation targets for developing states, which they are against.

Here’s one revealing line from the finance discussions on Wednesday: “Developing Parties were reminded by developed countries that the $100 billion per year by 2020 was a goal.”

Finance is clearly vital in terms of bridging the gap – but the $100 Billion funding is also reliant on public-private partnerships. Given the state of the world economy – especially in Europe – expecting much development here seems optimistic.

Liz Gallagher: The future of Fast Start Finance was the headline for me. EU and others have given verbal confirmations that post-2012 financing will come on stream.  But this isn’t sufficient to send the right signals to investors and programme developers to give them confidence to plan for the medium to long-term.

Doha – what’s gonna roll there?

And so we head to Doha – perhaps with a stop in Bangkok for another set of talks, if the UNFCCC can find someone to fund them. Figueres said today this could cost 4.8 million Euros. And they need the cash pledged by Monday.

Given the lack of progress in Bonn and outbreak of what the EU described as ‘bickering’, it appears this could again be another lively COP.

Now with an agenda – the Durban Platform could move forward. Financial discussions will also be key, but it’s likely the future of the Kyoto Protocol will dominate.

Above all – what may influence those talks is the state of the global economy. If green shoots (in both ways) start to emerge by November governments may feel capable of more ambitious pledges.

Today’s report from the IEA should give all participants food for thought – Global carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil-fuel combustion reached a record high of 31.6 gigatonnes (Gt) in 2011 according to latest figures.

Liz Gallagher: We’ll find out on Monday if the Bangkok session is a goer.   There is a need for additional negotiating time.  With the Durban platform agenda only just agreed and many more options still need to be narrowed down on the LCA.  Negotiators could do with an additional space before Qatar to ensure we have a range of textual options, so that Ministers can do the political deals in Qatar.

What do you think?

Please let us know what you think via the comments form below, on Twitter @RTCCnewswire or by emailing [email protected].

More from the Bonn Climate Talks:

UNFCCC Chief Christiana Figueres defends the progress of the talks

UK Youth call on negotiators to ensure intergenerational equity

German Youth say negotiators “must remember why they are doing this”

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