UN climate talks: finance dominates once again

A rift over the agenda at technical talks in Bonn exposed the deep mistrust at the heart of the UN climate process.

At COP27, countries including India, the EU and US were pushing for a fossil fuel phase-down, while others wanted a commitment to a total phase-out. Though this ultimately failed, many want discussions at COP28 to pick up where these left off. Image: , CC BY-SA 3.0, via Flickr.

Finance has once again proven the biggest stumbling block to international progress on climate change, with developed countries’ failure to meet previous promises souring negotiations across the board.

The annual mid-year meeting of negotiators under the UN’s climate change convention (UNFCCC) in Bonn aims to smooth out technical issues and prepare recommendations ahead of the political negotiations at the Conference of the Parties (COP) at the end of each year.

Observers and campaigners were hoping for progress on major issues at this year’s meeting, with three particularly under the spotlight: the first-ever “Global Stocktake”, which will assess progress towards climate goals and how to drive higher ambition in the next round of country-level climate plans; the Loss and Damage Fund that parties agreed to establish at last year’s COP27; and climate finance more generally, including the post-2025 target for financial support from richer nations to poorer ones.

However, the talks barely got off the starting block, with the formal agenda for the meeting only adopted on the evening of the penultimate day of the talks, which lasted from 5 to 15 June. The stand off centred on a refusal by developing nations to accept a proposal by the European Union to include an agenda item on the so-called “mitigation work programme” (MWP), which had been agreed at COP26 in recognition that mitigation needed to be scaled up.

MWP discussions at Bonn were supposed to focus on the just transition, but a meeting held ahead of the talks saw no mention of fossil fuels, only renewable energy, energy efficiency and electrical grids, according to Tom Evans, policy advisor on climate diplomacy at think-tank E3G. Developing countries effectively saw this as a lack of focus on the just transition.

In return, developed countries refused to include a proposal put forward by Bolivia, on behalf of the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) negotiating bloc, to urgently scale up financial support from developed country parties, without which they argued they could not pay for the fight against climate change, for example, by installing renewable energy.

Days of dispute led to a desperate plea by Nabeel Munir, the Pakistani co-chair of the conference, who begged negotiators to “please, wake up” to the climate impacts under way, reminding them of the devastating floods in Pakistan in 2022, which saw one-third of the country inundated.

“I know that not one of you is willing to go back to your country and tell your people that while everything is happening as it is, you were fighting over an agenda for two weeks,” he said, comparing delegates to “primary school children”.

The lack of finance from rich countries is particularly shameful considering how much they have mobilised in just the last few years to support Ukraine and respond to Covid-19. When they really want to, they can deliver billions.

Mohamed Adow, director, Power Shift Africa

The agenda was only adopted after both requested additions to it were dropped, and negotiators agreed that the co-chairs would produce a note on the discussions to inform COP28, where both finance issues and the mitigation work programme will formally be on the agenda.

At COP27, countries including India, the EU and US were pushing for a fossil fuel phase down, while others wanted a commitment to a total phase out. Though this ultimately failed, many want discussions at COP28 to pick up where these left off.

The fight over the agenda was a response to pressure from campaigners and countries to have a clear outcome on fossil fuel phase out at COP28, Evans said.

“We haven’t had enough space in Bonn to be able to move that forward. With six months to go to COP28, it feels like those pushing for fossil fuel phase out are one-nil down. There are a lot of questions as to how we turn this round on the road to COP28,” he said.

Vision lacking

Many had hoped that the incoming United Arab Emirates COP28 presidency would use Bonn to set out its vision for the outcome of COP28. The summit’s president Sultan Al Jaber, who is also chief executive of Dubai’s state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), was in Bonn for two days, and gave neither a speech to the plenary nor a press conference. He did meet with several groups in private, according to Alden Meyer, senior associate at E3G.

Al Jaber’s lack of visible engagement in Bonn was a “missed opportunity”, Meyer said. “Traditionally, the session in Bonn is when the new presidency starts to take the reins.

“We’re calling on the presidency to shift out of listening mode and into action – share a vision and share some objectives, try to build bridges,” he said.

Jaber did tell a meeting of the heads of delegations that a fossil fuel phase down was “inevitable”. Though his statement lacked any deadlines or plans, his words contrasted with those at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue in May, where he said that the world needed to reduce “fossil fuel emissions”, which was interpreted by many including former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres as an endorsement of carbon capture and storage.

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres referred to Jaber’s earlier words in a press conference in Bonn, saying: “Let’s face facts. The problem is not simply fossil fuel emissions. It’s fossil fuels – period.”

Taking stock

Bonn also saw the final of three sets of technical talks on the Global Stocktake. The talks are intended to feed into a report in early September, which will detail progress on dealing with climate change in terms of mitigation, adaptation and finance. This will inform the political phase of the stocktake at COP28.

The final format of the outcome of the stocktake is yet to be decided, but could comprise an official “cover decision” of the COP, negotiated by all parties, to set out how the findings of the stocktake will be taken forward. There could possibly also be a political declaration, similar to those coming out of the G7 and G20 meetings.

However, countries failed to agree on how to frame issues around finance and support in the report, which means waiting until COP28 to agree on the final structure and political outcome.

David Waskow, international climate director at the World Resources Institute, said: “With the Global Stocktake now formally shifting from the technical to political phase, the UAE COP Presidency must play a central role in building trust, bridging differences, and spurring ambition so that COP28 delivers what is needed – a rapid response plan to tackle the climate crisis. This opportunity at Dubai cannot be squandered.”

Mohamed Adow, director of think-tank Power Shift Africa, took to Twitter to lambast rich nation’s broken promises on climate finance, saying that poor countries had signed up to the Paris Agreement “in good faith” after the rich world promised to fund the transition.

He posted: “The lack of finance from rich countries is particularly shameful considering how much they have mobilised in just the last few years to support Ukraine and respond to Covid-19. When they really want to, they can deliver billions.”

This article was originally published on China Dialogue under a Creative Commons licence.

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