GBM Blog

Bonn Climate Change Conference 2014

August 6, 2014 - 01:40PM
Published by Communications

Last month saw the second round of United Nations climate talks take place in Bonn, Germany, from 4-15 June, with an outlook to make progress towards a legally-binding 2015 climate change agreement.  The conference included sessions of the UNFCCC Subsidiary Bodies , which between them look at the “what’s and whys and how’s” of climate change adaptation, mitigation, technology and finance that will eventually form the policies and practices of the climate change treaty.  As well as the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform (ADP); this focuses on enhancing the mitigation pledges and actions of Parties and ensuring agreed and effective implementation by all. It came at the same time of an announcement by US President Barak Obama of a 30% reduction in power plant emissions by 2030 and the completion of the essential elements required for full implementation of the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

The three weeks of talks brought together approximately 2790 participants, 1689 representing parties and observer States, 1068 from observer organisations, including non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and 37 media. 

Overall, the Bonn conference provided a small step forward in determining “elements” of the draft treaty, aimed at being delivered by Lima COP 20 in December this year. With agreement amongst Parties to begin circulating these draft elements as early as August, the stage is set for, at least part of, next year’s agreement to be negotiated in advance of COP20.  However, unsurprisingly there is no clarity on the content of these elements, meaning it is likely the most contentious parts of the 2015 agreement will be left for negotiators in December, or won't be tackled until next year.

Living in a rapidly changing climate – adaptation for southern countries

One central theme from the Bonn talks was around adaptation, a growing concern for many countries – in particular vulnerable developing countries likeKenya.  The impacts of climate change are being felt in extreme weather events around the world, and the results of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report (IPCC AR5) that was issued earlier in the year have been absorbed. Many countries are pushing for adaptation to be a central issue in the 2015 agreement. It will be up to the UN Climate negotiations to work out ways to address the issues effectively in order to build the kind of support and capacity in countries that will be needed to become more resilient to a warming world. This means ensuring that the processes at country level for developing National Adaptation Plans move forward and get the international support - both financial and technical - that they need. Discussions of broader, global adaptation objectives will also be needed.

Another key outcome was the widening support from negotiators for a long-term global emissions reduction goal in the 2015 agreement – which would include a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally (to limit climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide all countries emit).  More than 60 countries backed a long-term global goal, and some – including Germany, the Marshall Islands, Uganda, and the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean– spoke in favor of a goal for phasing out greenhouse gas emissions completely (meaning switching to 100% renewable energy sources). The issue of long-term emissions trajectories is seen by many as a way to solidify the UNFCCC goal of keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees C.

National commitments to emission reductions

The ADP meeting focused attention on the intended nationally determined contributions that countries will put forward next year – contributions to the 2015 climate agreement on their own actions to prevent and limit the effects and consequences of climate change. The next international climate change meeting Conference of the Parties (COP 20) will be held in Lima, Peru this December. The COP 20 will need to agree on the degree of information and transparency that countries will be required to provide as part of their proposed contributions. For mitigation, the extent of the information provided will be central to determining the real impact on a country’s reduction in emissions. And one of the central questions at theBonntalks has been whether and how to include adaptation and finance in the contributions parties make to the overall agreement. Assessment also wasn’t covered during the talks – in other words what will happen when countries have put their proposals forward – are they evaluated collectively, against the 2º temperature goal, and individually in terms of equity and fairness? This remains to be worked out.

However there were difficulties in reaching consensus among Parties representing each country (notably between developing and developed countries) on the process of how ADP should move ahead. E.g. should the elements of the draft negotiating text be ‘collectively constructed’ lead by the co-chairs (e.g. they pick and choose the elements that make the collective text) or lead by written form which is compiled and negotiated collectively.  This again raised the question of transparency and participatory decision-making.

The world’s three largest greenhouse gas emitters, China, the US and the EU, have all indicated they will make tangible proposals on their national contributions at the beginning of 2015. But other key countries were quiet on timings and we wait for their confirmation.

It appears the developing countries were disappointed by the Bonn meeting outcome, as they continue to insist that the difficult issue of lack of finance for the Green Climate Fund, which aims to help poor countries adapt to climate change, be discussed more seriously.

Forests in climate change negotiations at Bonn

There were also discussions on the non-market approaches related to forests during the meeting of Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).  Some parties held the view there is enough guidance for the implementation of REDD+ and there is no need for further decisions or conclusions.  Brazil said that REDD+ is not a “silver bullet to address all issues related to forest” and that it is “not interested in engaging in everlasting negotiations on REDD+.”  However others, led by Bolivia, Ecuador and the Philippines, pushed for joint mitigation and adaptation as a non-market based approach in REDD+.  Philippines said it will be “premature” for the parties to say that they cannot make a decision on non-market based approaches and that this will be tantamount to “closing the door.” It was also insisted that discussions on non-carbon benefits should continue at a national level.

Conclusions and the need to raise our collective aims

Many observers from the conference highlighted the need for countries to raise ambitions in pursuing climate targets and re-examine their current emission reduction pledges.  The turn of events doesn’t reflect the rate of global warming and demands a more progressive approach if good outcomes are to be achieved at COP20 and 21.

So we are left, after these latest negotiations, with a sense of hope that the climate change process is making small gains and steps in the right direction, but not to be fooled that there isn’t still a long road ahead to the 2015 finish in order to achieve a more climate change resilient world.