Back to Bonn ... Again

It’s off to Bonn again, this time for the first substantive negotiations under the UN Climate Convention since Copenhagen.  That’s the hope, at least.

Climate negotiators last gathered in Bonn (home base for the UN climate secretariat) for a few days back in April.  That time the agenda was strictly “procedural,” although in truth the main issue – whether the Copenhagen Accord could enter into the formal negotiations going forward – had rather broad substantive implications.

The Accord, you’ll recall, was the political agreement struck by a few dozen world leaders in the final hours of the chaotic Copenhagen summit last December.  To date, 130 countries have associated themselves with the agreement, and 79 of them, including all of the world’s major economies, have listed nonbinding targets or actions to reduce their emissions.

Objections from a handful of countries kept the Accord from being formally adopted in Copenhagen, however, so it had no official standing in the ongoing negotiations.  The main issue in April was whether the new chair of the Convention negotiations, Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe of Zimbabwe, would be given the okay to draw on the Accord in preparing a new draft negotiating text.  Many countries strongly resisted but a wee-hour compromise gave Margaret (as she is known to all) the green light.

Margaret released her 42-page “Text to facilitate negotiations among Parties” two weeks ago.  This week and next, the negotiators are back in Bonn to work it over.

A while back, we looked side by side at the key provisions of the Copenhagen Accord and the formal negotiating texts carried over from Copenhagen to see where the two aligned and where they differed. 

There were important areas of convergence: limiting warming to a maximum 2 degrees C; economy-wide emission targets for developed countries; a new “registry” to connect support with developed country actions.  There also were important differences, some where the formal text went much further into operational details, and others where the Accord reflected political breakthroughs – for instance, with agreement on specific finance goals and the notion of ongoing “international consultations and analysis” on developing country actions.  In very few areas did the two texts appear fundamentally at odds.

We’ve now updated this side-by-side, adding Margaret’s new text alongside the earlier two.  The chart shows how she has drawn on the competing texts to capture areas of convergence and generally, where the two diverge, to offer both options.     

In their initial statements this week in Bonn, parties all found something to fault.  But there were no major blowups, and they agreed on a process to produce yet another version by week’s end.  It remains to be seen, though, whether the exercise will get beyond rearranging paragraphs, and down to real substantive negotiations.

However far they manage to get this time, the negotiators are due back in Bonn for a week in early August, and probably another week in the fall (unless another country steps forward to host), before culminating the year with two weeks in Cancun, Mexico, in December.

Cancun promises not only a more hospitable climate but far less drama than Copenhagen.  Having set ridiculously high expectations for Copenhagen – leading to near-universal declarations of failure when the product was a political accord rather than a binding treaty – most parties are setting their aims lower this time around.

In a recent guest column in Carbon Finance, I argue that that’s a good thing.  Absolutely, a binding treaty should be the ultimate goal.  But it’s time to rethink how and when we get there.  What we need this year is progress on some of the nuts and bolts issues – for instance, operationalizing the new climate fund promised in the Copenhagen Accord and a process for verifying countries’ actions. 

Modest successes, each contributing to the next, will likely get us to a binding treaty sooner than grand but false expectations.  Let’s hope this latest round in Bonn begins to set the stage for some modest successes in Cancun. 

Elliot Diringer is Vice President, International Strategies