Health check in Bonn

The first of a series of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meetings in the lead-up to Copenhagen took place in Bonn over the last ten days. The next meeting will also be in Bonn in June. In total there will now be five meetings prior to Copenhagen itself.

There are some observers who spend every waking moment over the whole period of a meeting attending every workshop (but many run in parallel), furiously taking notes and becoming completely absorbed within the process. I am not one of them, but if that is the sort of report you are looking for then I can highly recommend the Earth Negotiations Bulletin. I spent just a day in Bonn this time although one colleague was there for quite a bit longer. Nevertheless, with some targeted meetings and attendance at one or two of the formal gatherings it is possible to get a feeling for what is going on. Reading some of the excellent summaries on ENB helps as well.

Taking the pulse of the UNFCCC negotiations isn’t easy. To start with, it’s difficult to know exactly where to find it but when you do, the diagnosis is weak but racing. The first question to ask is “Where are the actual negotiations taking place?“. Whilst country after country will stand and make declarations of some sort or other in the formal meetings, outside of this some important bilateral meetings are underway. These discussions are perhaps paving the way for the difficult deals that have to be done, such as between the USA, the EU and China. But equally, these deals will probably not be consumated by the people attending this UNFCCC meeting – more powerful hands are going to have shake on these. These are the deals that will set the stage for the next 10-20 years;

  • What reductions will developed countries make and by when? See my previous posting for some thoughts on this.
  • How long before big developing countries start adopting real targets?
  • How much help (i.e. money) will developed countries have to put on the table to encourage the rapid global take-up of big play technologies such as carbon capture and storage?
  • What is fair and equitable when it comes to responsibility for emissions?
  • . . . . and a big one – how to combine the dual track discussions going on – Track 1 looking at the next round of commitments under the Kyoto Protcol, which the USA cannot participate in (as they are not a signatory) and Track 2 looking at the nature of the long term action that needs to take place, which the USA is now very much re-engaged in. Having the USA sign the Kyoto Protocol is almost certainly a non-starter (simply not deliverable domestically), but chucking the whole thing in the bin would undo years of work that needs to move forward – not in emissions reduction per se, but in the global institutions needed to support large scale reductions.

All this isn’t to say that meetings such as the one that has just finished in Bonn are a waste. They are not. Slowly but surely the infrastructure around which the big deal must operate is being agreed upon. The delegates are working hard on this, putting in long hours, hence the racing pulse.

So where to from here? The meeting in June will see the first real negotiating text put on the table, so the pace will quicken and the stakes will be raised even higher.

By year end we will have had a G8 meeting and possibly a second G20 meeting (mentioned by President Obama in his closing address at the G20 last week). Gordon Brown made a clear reference to a comprehensive deal in Copenhagen in his G20 statement. The Major Economies Meeting, initially a Bush side-show on climate change will almost certainly have new life breathed into it under Obama. This much smaller group of countries represent about 80% of global emissions, so the right people will be in the room. The next meeting is scheduled for April 27-28 in Washington.

So it remains a wait and see game. But if the G20 outcome is any guide, we might just have a set of leaders at the table at this particular moment in time who can pull this off.

Let’s hope so!