Bonn climate talks aim to set stage for Lima meet

3 November 2014

Climate negotiators met in October for the final pit stop ahead of this year’s annual UN climate conference. While some progress was made, commentators say much remains to be addressed in December. 

Following a week of discussions in October, UN climate negotiators meeting in Bonn, Germany were able to reach two updated draft decisions on national climate action contributions and pre-2020 climate ambition, respectively, for delegates to consider when they meet this December in Lima, Peru.

The talks are part of an ongoing effort by nearly 200 nations under the umbrella of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to seal a new multilateral agreement on climate change by December 2015, which would replace the current regime, known as the Kyoto Protocol, when it expires at the end of this decade.

During their 2011 meet in Durban, South Africa, governments gave themselves until the 2015 Conference of the Parties (COP), scheduled to be held in Paris, France, to complete the task. Discussions have since been undertaken in a formal negotiating track known as the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP).

“Governments are keeping the negotiations on track towards Paris 2015 and doing so with an increasing level of engagement, clarity, and creativity on how that agreement is likely to look,” said Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC Secretariat after the October ADP session.

“All eyes will now be on [this December’s COP in] Lima where the key litmus test of that engagement and ambition will be the emergence of a concise and credible draft agreement to be further refined in 2015,” the UN climate chief continued.

On track?

At last year’s COP in Warsaw, Poland, negotiators were instructed to hammer out three key areas in time for the Lima conference. These include a decision on the information parties should be expected to outline in their national contributions; progress on elements of a draft 2015 agreement; and a decision on accelerating pre-2020 climate ambition.

While some sources indicated satisfactory progress in Bonn, namely on clarifying possible areas of convergence and divergence around a potential 2015 deal, others suggested that not enough initial textual negotiation took place with delegates instead reading out long position statements.

Rather than finalising the two draft decisions, as ADP Co-Chair Kishan Kumarsingh had called for at the opening of the meeting, delegates will instead re-visit updated drafts in Lima.

Meanwhile word also emerged throughout the week of a disagreement on procedural issues, namely over whether negotiations should continue based on updated draft decisions and a non-paper prepared by the co-chairs, which were released in July.

Resolution on this issue was allegedly not forthcoming by the end of the meeting and some experts suggest this could prove to be a tricky area to navigate at the start of the Lima talks in five weeks’ time.

Draft decisions on the 2015 agreement were tabled for the first time by the ADP co-chairs at the annual mid-year UNFCCC session in June, at the time causing a stir among some delegates, while also welcomed as a useful way to facilitate detailed discussion by others. (See BioRes, 17 June 2014)

“All eyes will now be on Lima where the key litmus test of that engagement and ambition will be the emergence of a concise and credible draft agreement to be further refined in 2015.”

In an information note released in early October, the co-chairs stressed that the ADP will need to deliver a negotiating text of the 2015 deal by next April at the latest, in order for it to be translated into all UN languages by May in time to meet the December Paris deadline. Additional ADP sessions are thus slated for next year, with the first taking place in February in Geneva, Switzerland.

National contributions

Differences also reportedly emerged around the scope of the intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), as the deal’s building blocks are formally known. These will outline various actions countries will take to address climate change for the period beyond 2020. (See BioRes, 24 November 2013)

Parties reportedly disagreed on whether the INDCs should focus on mitigation only –  a position held by a number of developed countries – or whether these should also detail areas such as adaptation, finance, and technology, a view more common among some developing countries.

The draft INDC text issued on Friday afternoon says specifically that all parties should include a mitigation component, which would represent a break from the current regime where only developed countries are required to cut emissions.

The text reiterates past decisions that the INDCs should be submitted to the UNFCCC Secretariat by next March for countries that can, while requesting that parties able to do so provide support to developing countries as they prepare their national contributions.

At this stage, the text invites countries to communicate in their INDCs the type of contribution they will make, time frames and periods, scope and coverage, expected outcomes, as well as any references and accounting approaches used.

Despite the alleged troubles, discussions in this area received a boost on Friday morning, with news that EU heads of state and government meeting in Brussels had reached political agreement overnight on a new climate and energy policy framework for 2030. A headline target of a 40 percent greenhouse gas emissions cut was viewed by some commentators as enough to provide momentum for other major economies to come forward with their contributions. (See BioRes, 27 October 2014)

Pre-2020 ambition

In addition to securing climate action beyond the end of this decade, the post-2015 agreement is also set to ramp up ambition for the remaining years of the Kyoto Protocol. Co-chairs released a revised draft text on the second last day.

Among other things, the draft text calls on parties to ratify and implement the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, which puts in place commitments for the second part of the current climate regime, and calls on parties to provide resources to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the Global Environment Facility, and the Technology Mechanism.

At their 2009 climate meet, developed countries agreed to provide US$100 billion per year by 2020 to help poor countries cope with the effects of climate change. The GCF, set up a year later, has been slated as the institutional home for this pledge, but the fund currently only boasts US$3 billion worth of commitments.

A number of developing countries have said that capitalisation of the fund to the tune of US$10 billion in time for Lima will be a critical enabler of the talks and a formal pledge summit is on the agenda for 19-20 November in Berlin, Germany.

The revised pre-2020 text also recognises the role that a series of technical expert meetings held over the past year have played, particularly in engaging stakeholders. The most recent meeting at the October Bonn session focused on carbon capture use and storage, as well as on non-GHGs including methane and hydrofluorocarbons. Delegates reportedly remain unsure, however, as to the modalities for carrying forward this work beyond the end of next year.

Draft elements, legal form

Some discussion took place at the October meet on a non-paper on parties’ views and proposals on elements of the draft 2015 agreement. Co-chairs will provide a new version in time for the Lima COP.

Ahead of the meeting, the UNFCCC Secretariat published an information document addressing questions on the 2015 deal’s legal and institutional aspects. Governments have said that the new climate deal should be a “protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention.”

During the October discussions, the LDC group and a group of Latin American countries called for a legally-binding protocol, while China reportedly said this should depend on the agreement’s substance.

Meanwhile, comments made by US State Department climate change special envoy Todd Stern in a speech delivered at Yale University earlier this month suggest the US will seek an agreement that is legally binding in some areas, but not others.

“We think the most interesting proposal on the table is New Zealand’s, under which there would be a legally binding obligation to submit a “schedule” for reducing emissions, plus various legally binding provisions for accounting, reporting, review, periodic updating of the schedules, etc. But the content of the schedule itself would not be legally binding at an international level,” Stern explained.

Climate reports

As the UN talks closed in Bonn, scientists and delegates converged in Copenhagen, Denmark to edit a summary of reports released over the last year on latest climate trends. The series has warned of the expected far-ranging impacts of climate change and need to scale up mitigation ambition. (See BioRes, 14 April 2014)

While the clock continues to tick down for climate negotiators, engagement from stakeholders and civil society is picking up speed. A high-level UN climate summit held in September saw an unprecedented level of engagement from the private sector, in particular, including a number of fossil fuel divestment and clean energy finance pledges. (See BioRes, 30 September 2014)

“We are seeing a groundswell of climate action building at all levels of society which can encourage governments to make bolder commitments as part of the 2015 global climate agreement. It is clear they cannot meet the challenge alone – they need the support of all relevant stakeholders, and they need to know where there is greatest potential to curb emissions,” Figueres said after the October ADP closing session.

ICTSD reporting. 

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