Bonn climate talks outpaced by progress outside the negotiations

The pace of international climate negotiations must catch up with the rapid progress being made by those outside the negotiating halls, says World Resources Institute's International Climate Initiative director David Waskow.

As negotiators leave Bonn, Germany after two weeks of talks on the international climate agreement that will be concluded in Paris at the COP 21 summit later this year, one thing is clear: The pace of negotiations must speed up considerably. Most importantly, that pace must catch up to what’s happening outside the negotiating halls.

Actors around the world sent strong signals this past week for ambitious climate action. The G7 made historic pledges to decarbonize the global economy over the course of the century and significantly increase the number of people around the world covered by climate disaster insurance. Norway’s $900 billion sovereign wealth fund announced that it will divest from coal-related investments. Ethiopia and Morocco were the latest countries to submit national climate plans – known as intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) – to the UN climate process, demonstrating their intent to tackle climate change and build low-carbon and resilient economies.

Inside the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Bonn, however, the talks did not match the momentum of outside developments. Negotiators focused on how to consolidate a lengthy text of the draft agreement and made only modest progress in discussing key, substantive issues.

Inside the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Bonn, however, the talks did not match the momentum of outside developments. Negotiators focused on how to consolidate a lengthy text of the draft agreement and made only modest progress in discussing key, substantive issues. As nearly all negotiators said themselves, they will have to move the process forward quickly now and find ways to focus on the central questions at hand.

Fortunately, negotiators concluded the Bonn talks by entrusting the co-chairs of the COP 21 process with the mandate to create a more focused text. Before the next negotiating session at the end of August, the co-chairs will deliver a “non-paper” that will likely be a significantly more tightened draft. This will help negotiators identify the core issues and questions they need to address in order to achieve an ambitious, durable outcome in Paris. This approach to produce a shortened text in the next two months represented an important step forward. As they approach key moments in the next two months – including an informal ministerial meeting in July and the UNFCCC negotiations in late August – negotiators will have to take that trust and turn it into concrete progress on critical issues.

Some of those issues include:

  • The “cycles” of review and action: Countries will have to decide the timeframe or “cycles” for reviewing progress on climate actions and whether they will include a clear agreement to increase action at those intervals (such as five-year periods). These cycles are critical for holding countries accountable for their commitments, scaling up the level of emissions reductions globally, strengthening resilience and mobilizing more climate finance.
  • Long-term goals: Building on the critically important step by the G7 on a long-term decarbonization goal, countries need to work on adopting a similar type of objective in the Paris agreement, such as phasing out global greenhouse gas emissions to reach net zero. They will also need to consider how to develop a long-term goal for adaptation and resilience.
  • Finance: Countries need to converge on a robust finance package for Paris. The G7 reaffirmed a commitment to $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020 and stated their intent to provide and mobilize increased finance. To help move the negotiations forward, donor countries now need to elaborate on the pathway to meeting this finance goal. They will also need to close the gap in adaptation funding, while also sending a clear message that all investments—in both the developing and developed countries—should be oriented toward achieving low-carbon, climate-resilient economies.

There is no time to waste—only six months remain before the Paris climate summit. Negotiators need to go home from Bonn with resolve that they will make key decisions when they return to subsequent negotiations in the coming months. The talks in Bonn take place in a new venue with many windows – negotiators need to be sure to look outside to see the substantial movement happening on climate in the wider world.

David Waskow is the Director of WRI’s International Climate Initiative. This post is republished from the Thomson Reuters’ Foundation.

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