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Bonn Climate Talks

June 7, 2011 ·

United Nations climate negotiations have resumed, this time in Germany.

The Institute for Policy Studies has joined with Friends of the Earth International, Jubilee South Asia, Pan Africa Climate Justice Alliance, Third World Network, and other movements and organizations fighting for climate justice in the international policy arena at the UNFCCC intercessional talks in Bonn.

We will provide regular updates on key policy areas and issues being debated here at the climate talks — such as emissions reductions, climate finance, halting deforestation, and carbon markets, among other issues.  We invite our allies to use these updates to help inform regional and national activities, provide information for media outreach, and enhance national and regional advocacy plans. Please feel free to circulate.

Update No. 1: Bonn Climate Negotiations

The Big Picture

United Nations climate negotiations resumed in Bonn, Germany, on June 6. This session follows the slow progress made at earlier talks in Bangkok in April, and are essential for building momentum toward the Durban climate conference in November.

The Bangkok talks were focused on setting the agenda for the negotiations for the rest of the year and were setback by divisions between countries over the scope of international climate talks. In Bangkok, some rich developed countries insisted on limiting the negotiations to implementing the narrow range of issues agreed at Cancun; in contrast most countries supported continuing under an agreed workplan from 2007 (the Bali Action Plan).[1]

The Bonn talks are to be based on the broad agenda advocated by most countries in Bangkok, but the clash in the "paradigm" for the negotiations will underline further disagreements in Bonn. These fault-lines include:

  • Setting binding emissions reduction targets through the Kyoto Protocol
  • Insufficient emissions reduction targets currently on the table
  • The Green Climate Fund

1. Setting new binding emission reduction targets in 2011?

The Kyoto Protocol represents the current model of international climate law – it requires developed countries to set binding emission reduction targets and to meet them over a 5 year period. The first five-year period ends in 2012 and time is running out to agree on targets for the next ‘commitment period’ (2013-2017/2020) in accordance with the mandated negotiations, which have been running since 2005.

Developing countries, particularly the Africa Group, have made clear that a continuation of the Kyoto Protocol is essential, as it provides a paradigm of legally binding emission reduction targets. Some developed countries, including Russia and Japan, have indicated they will walk away from their international legal obligations to agree commitments for the period after 2012. The United States is similarly opposed to binding emissions reduction targets. Instead of negotiating science-based targets reflecting their fair share of the global effort, they are now proposing a “pledge-based” system in which each country does whatever it determines domestically.

Bonn represents a pivotal moment for the future of the Kyoto Protocol. The Bonn climate talks need to pave the way for agreement in Durban on the next phase of legally binding emission reduction targets. Durban is the last chance to agree, as the first phase of commitments ends in 2012. If there is no agreement in Durban, the world may be faced with climate anarchy, without an international regime in place.

2. Will those new pledges be enough?

The latest science shows that negotiators at Bonn will be out of touch with what the latest science clearly requires if the world is to avert dangerous climate change. The current pledges risk warming of 2.5 to 5 degrees according to the United Nations Environment Programme. The problems with developed countries’ proposed targets are manifold: they are too low to meet what the science requires but they are also accompanied by ‘creative accounting’ proposals which result in emissions reductions only on paper. Furthermore the extensive use of offsets will see rich countries shift the burden for reducing emissions to developing countries – while doing almost nothing at home.

Analysis revealed in Bangkok showed that when emission reductions were converted into gross amounts – rather than percentages – it was clear that developing countries’ pledges for emission reductions were even higher than those from developed countries (3.6 Gigatonnes to occur in developing countries with only 1.9 Gigatonnes to occur in developed countries).[2] Together, these pledges fell well short of the 14+ Gigatonnes the UN says is necessary to be on path to remain below 2 or 1.5 degrees C.

In addition, the emissions reduction targets proposed by developed countries are ridden with loopholes. The rules currently being considered do not take into account emissions from shipping and aviation, overestimate emissions reductions by forests and land use in developed countries and allow the carry-over of unused pollution permits and offset credits . This means that the total emission of developed countries could actually increase even if their ‘official’ targets say they are making reductions.[3]

The debate over these rules, how they shift the burden of reducing emissions to developing countries and whether they are in line with the science will be of central importance in Bonn – particularly as the agenda sets particular time for addressing this issue.[4]

3. Creating a "Green Climate Fund"

In Cancun, one of the few areas of agreement was the establishment of a "Green Climate Fund" (GCF) to oversee the collection and disbursement of "climate finance." Currently the details of the GCF are being negotiated by a ‘Transitional Committee’ (TC) which has already met in Mexico in April and again in Bonn from May 30.

Flashpoint issues in the negotiations of the GCF have already included the role of the World Bank as its trustee, given concerns regarding its potential conflicts of interest due to its role in financing fossil-fuel based projects, and its practice of mixing roles as a banker, financial advisor and project implementer (known as the "Arthur Anderson syndrome" following the financial crisis). This conflict may be compounded by proposals relating to secondments and staffing of the new fund, which draw heavily on the World Bank as a source.

Similarly, many observers are concerned that the process of the GCF is off-track. It is currently heavily focused on technicalities and structure – without having agreed to what the priorities of the fund should be or the actual scale of public funding. In Cancun, countries agreed to a "goal" to "mobilize" $100 billion by 2020 from “a wide variety of sources”. However, developed countries are yet to commit to any specific level of public funding.

A further critical question here is what a "balanced" allocation of finance between adaptation and mitigation really means.[5] It is to be expected at Bonn that developing countries, who are the most vulnerable to climate impacts, will push the GCF to identify the needs and priorities of recipients before designing structures to best meet those needs.

Finally there is concern that the GCF is too focused on "private finance" options (through loan guarantees, publicly-provided insurance, or other risk sharing instruments) and thus risks putting too much power into the hands of profit-driven interests. Market failures and distortions by private interests are a significant structural cause of the climate crisis and many countries fear a continued focus on the private market could have the effect of financing projects that are ineffective at confronting climate change but are very effective at transferring public monies into private coffers. These countries and observers will be pushing for the GCF to be primarily funded through public sources (including innovative mechanisms such as Special Drawing Rights and the "Robin Hood Tax").


[1] See recent affirmation of the importance of the Bali Action Plan and the Kyoto Protocol at the India-Africa forum, 25 May 2011, (para 7), http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=72319

[2] Stockholm Environment Institute, “The Implications of International Greenhouse Gas Offsets on Global Climate Mitigation” (March 2011), www.sei-us.org/Publications_PDF/SEI-WorkingPaperUS-1106.pdf

[3] Stockholm Environment Institute, “Assessing the current level of pledges & scale of emission reductions by Annex I Parties in aggregate, AWG-KP In Session Workshop, Bonn, 2. August 2010; and, Kartha, S. “How Accounting Tricks, Loopholes, and Strategic Carbon Banking Could Negate Developed Countries’ Copenhagen Pledges”, Tellus Institute Brown Bag Lunch Series, 10 November 2010.

[4] On Thursday 9 June 2011 according to preliminary schedule.

[5] This is a reference to the objective of the fund from the Cancun outcome document – see Annex III of 1/CP.16, http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2010/cop16/eng/07a01.pdf#page=2.