Slow Progress in Bonn Confirms Fragility of Climate Talks

14 April 2010

UN climate talks held in Bonn, Germany over the weekend produced only modest progress in the negotiations toward a global deal to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. The sluggish pace of the weekend discussions suggests that 2010 may turn out to be a painfully slow year for the multilateral climate talks.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) session, which ran from 9 to 11 April, had a fairly simple mandate: clarify the negotiation process to pave the way towards a global deal at the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Mexico this December. In essence, countries were asked to define the organisation of work and the methods of work for 2010.

Specifically, parties needed to determine whether additional meetings were necessary beyond the two-week session already scheduled for June in Bonn. They also needed to clarify the basis for negotiation - what text, which issues, what negotiating format -- and to instruct the Chair, Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe of Zimbabwe, on the extent of her responsibilities for the next meeting. These issues were addressed and eventually hammered out in the wee hours of the morning on Monday.

AWG-LCA, AWG-KP make some progress

In the Ad-hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA), which adjourned two minutes before midnight on Sunday, officials agreed to plan two additional meetings in 2010, each of which will be at least one week in length (FCCC/LCA/AWG/2010/L.2). The locations of the meetings have not been confirmed, but France is rumoured to have offered the city of Lyon. The chair was also instructed to prepare a draft negotiating text "under her own responsibility" to facilitate negotiations. In reality, this text is prepared by the Secretariat with the chair's involvement and final approval. Notably, the United States serves as vice-chair this year, meaning that Washington will most likely be deeply involved behind the scenes in this preparation process.

Officials also decided that the UNFCCC Subsidiary Body meeting in June should consider a proposal for a high-level session to provide policy direction prior to the Mexico COP. Finally, parties agreed that the draft text should be allowed to reference COP 15 decisions, without explicit mention of the Copenhagen Accord - the agreement brokered by a small group of heads-of-state in Copenhagen last December that failed to garner consensual support and was therefore simply noted in the climate conference's final decisions.

The Ad-hoc Working Group on the Kyoto Protocol gavelled the end of their meeting at 1:30 in the morning. Their conclusion covered the question of further commitments for developed countries, or "Annex 1 parties," and their work programme for 2010 (FCCC/KP/AWG/2010/L.2). They agreed to focus in 2010 on Annex I parties' aggregate and individual emission reductions beyond the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period, which ends in 2012, and to continue working on "other issues."  They echoed the LCA's call for two more sessions before the COP in Mexico.

G77/China position unchanged as EU shifts

The Group of 77 and China - a large bloc of developing nations - continued to stress throughout the meeting the importance of maintaining the Bali Action Plan as the guide for the talks and keeping the negotiations within the purview of the United Nations Convention. The coalition's language pointedly lashes out against a number of plurilateral climate debates that have sprung up alongside the fully inclusive multilateral UN process. The group believes that a multilateral agreement would be the most effective - and equitable - kind of deal.

The European Union, still recuperating from the disappointment of Copenhagen, which fell far short of their expectations, seemed to shift its tack slightly at this meeting, stressing the US$2.4 billion of "fast start financing" that the bloc is putting forward to help developing countries adapt to climate change and reduce their emissions. While this number is only a fraction of the US$30 billion of funding that was promised under the Copenhagen Accord, the EU's pledge seems to indicate goodwill and a shift in approach to the negotiations.

The EU was previously reluctant to discuss specific finance numbers for developing countries until the latter offered more details on the extent to which they would reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The G77 and China bloc has long held that the UN climate convention requires developed countries to provide them with financial and technical support to help them reduce their emissions and adapt to a changing climate. The developing country coalition maintains that this commitment has never been fulfilled.

In addition to the EU pledge, France also announced that at a recent meeting of 54 countries to discuss reducing emissions from deforestation, countries agreed to put forward US$3.5 billion of fast action financing to address climate change through forests.

Notable proposals scuppered

Parties tabled a number of proposals early in the discussion that did not get sufficient traction or consensus, or that were crowded out by more contentious issues.

Early on, the EU asked for funding pledges from other developed countries and called for an implementation plan to spell out how the climate financing will be put to use. A number of countries asked to include reference to the UN Charter, principles, procedures, and process in addition to references to transparency and inclusiveness in the draft text. However, none of those proposals garnered enough support to be incorporated into parties' future work.

Several other issues were debated but ultimately left unresolved. Parties remain at odds over whether the chair can include the Copenhagen Accord in the negotiating text.  They also left to future meetings questions relating to Mexico's role as COP President this December, a clear reaction to the blunders by the Danish government at last year's COP.


The discussions in Bonn reflect the current fragility of the UN system as the locus for producing a global solution to climate change. Many agree that the current international instruments that address climate change - the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol - are insufficient to respond to both the magnitude of the climate threat and the complexity of the economic and development challenges involved. The situation is further complicated by the enormous amount of pressure that has built up around the international talks leading up to the Copenhagen COP, and the hangover that has lingered after the disappointing results of that meeting.

The question now is whether countries can restore enough commitment to the UNFCCC process for it to serve as the primary forum for the debate on climate change. If the multilateral stalemate continues, however, countries may turn their focus to national or regional initiatives, or perhaps even plurilateral agreements on specific pieces of the puzzle, such as forestry, energy, and technology.

ICTSD reporting.

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