Despite Positive Atmosphere, Climate Talks Move Slowly

9 June 2010

A constructive and upbeat tone has characterised the climate meetings taking place in Bonn, Germany from 31 May to 11 June. Climate officials are scattered across four negotiating arenas, the most prominent of which is the negotiation toward a new global climate deal.

However, progress in those particular talks has been slowed by ad nauseum repetition of countries' long-held positions and a lack of progress on the difficult issues. Negotiators seem almost unwilling to tackle their substantive differences, especially those generated by the particular positions of the United States.

The Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA), the group working towards a new global deal for climate change, has proceeded this session with a new text prepared by their chair - a promising start according to many delegates and observers. Yet the approach to the discussions by the chair remains tentative. The chair has posed a series of questions to the parties for each section of the text, an approach that some observers have said does not dig far enough into the heart of the most significant outstanding issues.

The chair repeatedly asked parties to "speak out of the box" and work on whittling down their differences rather than restating positions and ideas. However, little progress has been made in the discussions thus far and many of the more controversial issues remain unresolved. The chair intends to present a more focused text by the end of the session, which parties will then negotiate in two forthcoming intersessional meetings before the end-of-the-year Conference of the Parties (COP) in Cancun, Mexico. Some experts say the most sensitive issues - including intellectual property, border measures, and sectoral approaches (agriculture and bunker fuels) are likely to remain bracketed until December's COP.

It remains an open question as to whether negotiators will be able to secure a comprehensive, legally binding agreement at the Cancun COP. The question of the "legal form" of the eventual agreement is still a subject of debate. Mexico is lobbying hard to get parties focused on a strong outcome and the positive pace at this mid-year meeting in Bonn could increase optimism among those countries, including the EU and China, that have recently stated publicly that they do not expect a deal until the following year.

US positions hinder progress

Sources say the United States has taken an increasingly conservative position on most topics up for discussion in Bonn. In many cases - including the discussions on technology and developed country mitigation commitments - the US position has even held back progress.

Washington is also reportedly blocking the establishment of a financing system by insisting that there be no decision-making board directing any climate-related fund. In many cases, the US continues to promote the elements of the Copenhagen Accord, despite the document's non-consensual status.

Washington is also pushing to simply make use of the instruments and institutions already existing under the Convention, rather than establishing new ones to scale up the global response. This approach is consistent with the US insistence on nationally led climate action, rather than a more robust "top down" international approach to climate change - despite the widespread belief that the current tools have proven to be slow, inadequate, and limited.

Figueres makes an appearance

The Bonn talks got a breath of fresh air with the presence of Christiana Figueres, the former Costa Rican climate negotiator who will replace Yvo de Boer as head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Figueres will assume her new post on 8 July.

"Governments will meet this challenge, for the simple reason that humanity must meet this challenge," Figueres said in an interview with The Associated Press on the sidelines of the Bonn meeting.

"We just don't have another option."

ICTSD reporting; "New climate chief: ‘no option' but to take action," THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 9 June 2010.

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