UN climate change talks were held in Bonn, Germany from 6 – 17 June, 2011. This is the official description:
“The 34th sessions of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) took place from 6-16 June. The second part of the fourteenth session of the AWG-LCA and the second part of the sixteenth session of the AWG-KP took place from 7-17 June. All sessions were held at the Maritim Hotel in Bonn.”
In short the talks involving over 180 countries were about long term co-operation under the Bali Roadmap and about extending the Kyoto Protocol. The meetings were meant to pick up on the outcomes of the 16th Conference of Parties (COP) in Cancún last December and prepare for the 17th COP in Durban this December.
The Deutsche Welle summary begins with the “juggernaut” grinding forward and ends with the somewhat pathetic note that there is going to be another meeting before Durban, but they didn’t get around to deciding when and where. They cost a bit, and the developed countries, who pay, have yet to commit the funds. The Deutsche Welle report report shows that UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, is well aware of the central problem:
“There are at least two realities here that we have to bring together,” Figueres said. “On one hand, science is saying our emissions in the atmosphere have to peak in 2015. That makes things that much more pressing for governments. The other reality is tied to politics and economics, which also affect climate deals.”
In other words the talking has to come to grips with the realities of the science. So far it hasn’t. More of that later. The Guardian’s report puts the situation very succinctly:
Two weeks of tense global climate talks wrapped up on Friday, with countries insisting they had made progress on technical issues but accepting they were still nowhere near agreement in the three key areas of finance, greenhouse gas emission cuts and the future of the Kyoto protocol.
The Kyoto Protocol
The developing countries want the advanced economies to extend the formal commitments of the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012, with legally binding transparent and accountable commitments.
Japan, Canada and Russia have made it clear they will not play ball. The US is not interested unless major developing countries come on board. The G77 (131 developing countries) plus China are lobbying the EU to go alone perhaps with a remnant of other willing countries. So far they won’t.
The US under Barack Obama are promoting a deregulation of the climate regime with a ‘pledge and review’ system rather than binding targets based on the science. In other words, a voluntary system with no necessary connection to the task at hand.
‘Pledge and review’ looks the only way forward.
Greenhouse gas emission cuts
A recent UNEP report shows that countries’ promises for emission reductions are way below levels necessary to avert dangerous climate change, and could lead to a 5C degree rise in temperature.
To keep global temperature rise below 2C degrees, 14 gigatonnes of carbon pollution must be cut. To keep global temperatures below a safer level of 1.5C degrees even more pollution must be curbed – but currently pledged cuts only add up to 5.5 gigatonnes [less than half what is required]. Scientists predict that this could lead to 5C of temperature rise.
That came from this handy site.
Dr. Sivan Kartha, senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) was blunt:
“You can’t negotiate with science. You can’t negotiate with the Earth’s natural limits. At the moment emission reduction pledges take us far over those limits. This data shows that there is a huge gap between what is needed to be done and what is being done.”
The claim is that 65% of promised cuts are coming from developing countries, although they are only responsible for 25% of the historical problem.
You may recall that some developing countries, acknowledged and supported by Christiana Figueres, sought a lower guardrail of 1.5C rather than 2C. The African civil society group Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) want 1 to 1.5C.
In Copenhagen in 2009 $30 billion of short-term funding by 2012 was promised to help developing countries reduce emissions and prepare for the impacts of climate change.
On one count less than $5 billion of that may turn out to be genuinely new money. According to Kate Horner, senior analyst at Friends of the Earth (US), the US is particularly recalcitrant:
“The United States continues to block progress on the most important issues in these talks. Not only do they refuse to negotiate their alarmingly insufficient pollution reduction target, this week the US refused to discuss how they will meet financial pledges they have already made.”
The US is particularly negative about discussing innovative ways of raising funds.
At Cancún an additional proposal was accepted for a “Green Climate Fund”, in which developed countries would channel $100 billion each year to developing countries by 2020. The Deutsche Welle article summarised “progress” this way:
The world’s “Green Fund,” an international climate fund, has hardly cleared any hurdles either.
To give that project a jump-start, the German government has invited environment ministers to a meeting in Berlin next month. There, German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen hopes to use informal talks with his global peers to salvage the negotiations.
Many countries have been frustrated by the slow progress of the talks and the efforts of some countries to slow things down. Whole days have been lost talking about the agenda and procedural matters.
Mexico and Papua New Guinea have come up with a proposal to junk the complete consensus requirement and to have decisions ratified by a 75% majority “if efforts to reach consensus have been exhausted.”
Christiana Figueres thinks that would be a rather tall order. Reuters reports that the US and China won’t wear it and many developing states most at risk from climate change fear being overruled.
Bolivia, still smarting over what happened at Cancún, when their single vote against consensus was deemed by the chair not to count, won’t support it and are considering legal options. The Rights of Mother Earth are not negotiable. They want countries’ obligations locked down and tied up.
Naturally the official press release emphasised the positive in diplomatic language.
This Chinese report picked out the positives:
- Negotiations made “clear advances” on such issues as extending carbon trading mechanisms, climate fund management and slowing deforestation
- A mechanism to boost global green technology sharing was approved,which will include a Climate Technology Center and Network to establish a worldwide clean technology stakeholder community.
- Strong convergence emerged on how the Adaptation Committee will be governed, what its composition will be and what its specific role will be. It could be operational by Durban.
Su Wei, China’s chief negotiator, was generally positive. This Chinese report was quite impressive, I thought.
The problem with the Bali Roadmap is that it contained a lot more than has been taken up in later negotiations. Some developed countries seem to be continually narrowing the agenda, excluding developing countries’ needs. Australia has been negatively mentioned in despatches in this regard.
The conduct of the meeting was so partisan in favour of the developed countries that India took an unprecedented open swipe at how matters were handled.
From this distance I would agree with these civil society groups that an appropriate sense of urgency on the part of developed countries is simply lacking. In this Figueres’ call for the political heavyweights to get involved probably won’t help. They seem to be the main problem.
I have an admiration for the stance taken by the Plurinational State of Bolivia, which gave a 25-minute evaluation of the conference. In short, Ambassador Pablo Solon said there had been no progress on the main substantive issue of the emissions pledges from the developed countries. In fact in some cases their efforts are deteriorating. On the other hand there seems great enthusiasm for extending market mechanisms. There is more interest in making money rather than in the science. In general, Bolivia is opposing the commodification of nature and insisting on the recognition of natural limits.
Interestingly, he doesn’t feel alone. He has plenty of friends in the corridor if not on the conference session floor.