Bonn Talks: Progress in the Climate Fight in a Post-Copenhagen World

By Joshua Wiese

While gushing oil in the Gulf was foremost on the minds of family and friends in the States, my climate and energy interests sent me across the Atlantic to Bonn Germany, where two weeks of intense climate negotiations just wrapped.

This was the second round of UN climate negotiations since Copenhagen, and the first where substantive issues were on the agenda. Here’s what I took away:

Unlocking a deal

Copenhagen promised 30 billion dollars in near-term finance by 2012. This money was viewed as key to preventing a total breakdown in talks and to continuing the actual work fighting off the worst effects of climate change.

In Bonn we got a better view of who is doing what to get that money in play. The countries that made commitments are in the process of sorting out how much money each will contribute, what it goes toward, and how it’s delivered. In particular, it looks like the 30B could help us make significant progress on reducing deforestation (REDD+); sharing technologies needed to help countries move off fossil fuels (via a technology co-operation mechanism); and helping the most vulnerable countries adapt to changes in climate already underway (the Nairobi work plan).

Getting this right is crucial to building enough trust to agree on key actionable decisions in Cancun at the end of the year. We might see progress on this at the upcoming G8 / G20 in Toronto this weekend – and certainly should push for it.

Calling the stakes

There was a big push to recognize the seriousness of what we’re facing. Supported by most of the countries taking part in the talks, a large number of small island states led in a push to better understand the science supporting more ambitious action to protect their homes. Specifically, they asked the UN Secretariat to prepare a technical paper on the latest science and what it means for their hopes of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and Oman — who seem to think ambitious action on climate change is bad for their short-term profits – blocked the measure.

While this push to better understand recent science was shut down (or at least postponed until the next IPCC review in 2015), the issue got a lot play in the talks and small island states are counting it as a small success.

Calling the bull

There are two key negotiating tracks in the fight against climate change: one on a second commitment period for the Kyoto protocol, the biggest current check on greenhouse gases (set to expire in 2012); and another on long-term cooperative action to finish the job.

In the Kyoto track, there was a push by developed countries to lock down significant loopholes in rules aimed at protecting forests (LULUCF). The push was decried by a number of developing countries and environmental groups who have studied the impact of the proposed loopholes. No decision was made, but many countries have expressed concern that in addition to watering down possible Kyoto outcomes, loopholes could set a dangerous precedent in the long-term cooperative action track. This is definitely something to watch through the end of the year.

Closing the gaps

World leaders have agreed that limiting global warming to no more than 2-degrees Celsius is vital for protecting future generations. But according to a number of independent analyses that added up current emissions cut pledges, finance pledges, and current rules, we’re on track to more than a 3-degree rise.  While the Kyoto Protocol and commitments made under the Copenhagen Accord have us well along the road to fighting climate change, this is an all or nothing game.

In Bonn, a number of groups (Greenpeace, Ecofys, Project Catalyst) focused on closing the gap between what we’ve done and agreed to do.  Here’s a breakdown on the numbers:

  • 45-47 gigatons (Gt) annually – are our estimated current emissions (having risen from 36GT in 1990)
  • 58Gt annually by 2020 – if this ‘business as usual’ trajectory is continued
  • 48-54 Gt – is where pledges and rules currently agreed will get us
  • 40 Gt by 2020 – the number we need to hit to limit warming to two degrees
  • 8-14 Gigaton gap – is what we need to close between our efforts thus far and what we need to deliver

To pull this off, we’ll need to work on a number of fronts, including pushing countries farther on emissions pledges, ensuring the delivery of adequate funds to support developing countries in their switch to clean energy and protect carbon sinks (like forests), and protecting the rules so their fair and free of loopholes.

There’s lots left to do, but Bonn did get us a little bit farther down the road.

Now, back from Bonn, I’m watching closely to see whether we can make any progress on climate in the G8 / G20 in Canada, and pushing hard for the US to act domestically. Acton on both fronts will get help deliver needed progress when negotiators reconvene in Bonn this coming August.


Joshua Wiese comes from San Francisco. He coordinates the Adopt a Negotiator project, and is tracking the US Delegation in Bonn. Wiese studied anthropology and the environment at university in Minnesota; and has since spent his professional life trying to understand where sustainability and security best meet life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

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