An Inside Look At The U.N. Climate Negotiations In Bonn

CREDIT: AP Photo/Martin Meissner

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius listens to Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany, Monday, June 1, 2015.

BONN, GERMANY – The mood shifted from antagonistic to sanguine last week as the parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, met in Bonn, Germany, to continue crafting a new international climate agreement. It was the last negotiating session before the parties reconvene in Paris to finalize the agreement at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC, known as COP21, this December.

The session began amid a groundswell of commitment to address climate change. More than 150 countries have now submitted their post-2020 climate goals to the UNFCCC. Non-state actors from religious leaders to business leaders have expressed their support for a strong agreement.

Despite clashes early in the week, the parties succeeded in producing a text that can serve as the basis of negotiations in Paris. The final agreement is expected to establish a lasting framework in which countries put forward increasingly ambitious goals to limit carbon pollution and build resilience to the effects of climate change.

An initial conflict

Before the Bonn session, the co-chairs of the Paris track of the UNFCCC, Daniel Reifsnyder and Ahmed Djoghlaf, prepared a draft agreement based on country inputs. They recommended that this draft serve as a springboard for negotiations.

However, the country delegations generally concurred that the co-chairs, guided by a desire for clarity and brevity, had produced a text that omitted many of their deeply held positions. Developing countries in particular felt that the text was unbalanced and did not adequately reflect their views.

Ambassador Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko from South Africa likened the situation to apartheid. “We find that we were disenfranchised,” she said. “This text is not a basis to go forward.” She spoke on behalf of the G77+China, a negotiating bloc of developing countries.

The parties therefore decided to re-introduce their omitted priorities to the text before beginning negotiations. In order to avoid producing a ballooned and unruly document, they vowed to show restraint and add only their “must haves.”

For example, Trigg Talley, the U.S. Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, took the floor to include the goal of “decarbonisation of the global economy over the course of this century,” which is language that was developed for the G7 leaders’ declaration in June. This drew praise from civil society organizations that would like to see a long-term collective emissions reduction objective in the final agreement.

The parties then broke into thematic “spin-off groups” to discuss areas of the text such as climate finance, mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, and adaptation to the effects of climate change.

Although the delegations from South Africa and Malaysia argued that these groups should be open to civil society observers, the delegation from Japan argued that they should be closed.

“Every diplomat knows that real negotiations cannot happen in front of the public,” said Hideaki Mizukoshi, Deputy Director-General of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Many other country delegations sat quietly, seemingly in tacit agreement. Observers were subsequently excluded from the spin-off groups.

Despite the efficiency that the exclusion of civil society was meant to bring, many delegations were frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations. A facilitator of the group on finance said midway through the session that progress “was put on hold if not reversed” as delegations re-inserted their country positions into the text.

By the end of the session, however, the parties had worked diligently to streamline the text, if not compromise on their core views.

Optimism for Paris

The outcome document from Bonn is a text that the country delegations agree reflects their views without bias and can serve as the basis of negotiations in December. It presents the main political options for the Paris agreement.

Some of these options, however, represent marked differences of opinion. Contentious areas such as climate finance and differentiation — which is the topic of how countries at different levels of development will be represented and assigned obligations — will require a substantial amount of diplomatic effort to be resolved.

Regarding finance, developed countries agreed in 2009 to mobilize $100 billion yearly by 2020 in climate assistance for developing countries. Blocs such as the G77+China would like to see that $100 billion established in the Paris agreement as a floor that would be increased after 2020. They also would like public funds to be understood as the main source of climate finance.

By contrast, developed countries such as the U.S. underline the need to leverage private finance in order to bring about the transition to a low-carbon global economy. They also hold that all parties have a role in the mobilization of climate finance and that all parties in a position to do so should contribute funds.

There are glimmers of convergence in the positions of the parties. For example, all recognize the need to elevate finance for adaptation. To come to a credible finance package in Paris, the parties will need to address the needs of the most vulnerable, such as the least-developed countries, in building resilience to the effects of climate change.

Regarding differentiation, some blocs of developing countries introduced language that divides developed and developing countries according to the categories that were in operation when the UNFCCC was written in 1992. Parties such as the U.S. and European Union, by contrast, hold that this disregards the changes in the global development landscape and emissions landscape.

In Paris, the parties will need to agree on language that respects that countries have different capacities and different emissions profiles without instituting a division of obligations that would make the agreement less effective.

During the closing plenary, Roberto Dondisch Glowinski, Director General for Global Issues of Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, spoke of the threat of Hurricane Patricia and held back tears as he asked the countries to set aside their differences. There are indications that the parties will do so. Despite the initial conflict, the delegations left the Bonn session with a common will to come to a strong agreement in Paris.

Gwynne Taraska is a Senior Policy Advisor at the Center for American Progress, where she works on international climate policy. She was in Bonn, Germany, last week for the negotiating session of the Paris track of the UNFCCC.