Leadership, or Business-as-Usual? Mid-Session Stock-Taking at the Bonn Climate Change Talks

Starting last week, international climate negotiators entered a new round of discussions to prepare for the next Conference of the Parties, scheduled for Cancun, Mexico, this December. Here we all are once again, in the lobby of the Maritim Hotel in Bonn, and the question after the first week of negotiation is: Are we moving forward? It’s certainly true that the shock of last December’s Copenhagen summit is slowly fading and everyone is actually getting back to work. We’ve also taken up discussions on content again, after a depressing three-day session in April on purely procedural matters.

UNFCCC Talks in Bonn, Germany

The UNFCCC talks in Bonn, Germany, image courtesy of UNFCCC

The agenda now looks pretty much the same as it has in every session for the last two years. This is good, because it means that we are getting back to work and that all the past effort was not in vain. But it is also disturbing, because it means that we are likely talking in the same old circles that by most accounts did not lead to a result in Copenhagen. There are slight shifts in the agenda items, though. Increasingly more emphasis (and negotiation time) is being given to questions surrounding the measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) of both mitigation and adaptation actions, as well as financial support for these actions.

While it is not yet clear what the actions are going to be, and at what specific targets they are aiming (either in the case of developed “Annex I” countries or developing countries), we are already discussing how to ensure that they are actually happening. This is generally a good and necessary debate. But it is also revealing the deep-rooted lack of trust between parties, notably between developed and developing countries. What can we do to overcome this? This remains the most crucial question within the negotiations. The path currently being pursued is to create an MRV system that is “bullet-proof,” to give each party the needed confidence in the system. This can work—if we avoid major loopholes.

Everyone is very aware of the problem of loopholes from past experience. However, while in the past such loopholes were mainly rooted in Annex I accounting rules, we now face a much more complex challenge. The monitoring of developing-country action and of developed-country support adds scores of potential loopholes. Some of them arise from thinking within the confining boxes of “climate” and “development.” This becomes clear when looking at one of the hottest topics of the current negotiations: fast-start funding. The pledge of US$30 billion for the period 2010–12 is at the center of many of the discussions both at side events and in the corridors. There is no agreed guidance on how (and where) in the developing world this money should be spent, nor is it clear where in the developed world it will come from. Many already wonder how much of what was formerly termed “development aid” will be labelled “climate finance” in the future.

Many development activities already deal with climate-related issues, improving the ability to adapt to and cope with the effects of climate change and contributing to mitigation efforts. There has never been a clear line between development policies and climate action, and they are increasingly overlapping as climate change becomes more threatening to developing-country economies. It is important to acknowledge this overlap and to reflect it in institutional reform, especially in donor countries, where there is often little cooperation between those responsible for international climate projects and those working in development agencies.

In my view, it is okay to attribute the “climate” label to development activities. But this doesn’t mean that we can get away with inadequate funding for climate action. In other words, the US$30 billion has to be new and additional! This leads us back to trust. Leadership in financial support—that is, putting real, additional money on the table now—would certainly improve the situation. Leadership in mitigation action by the developed world is the other important component. Failing attempts within the European Union to increase the emissions reduction target from 20 to 30 percent, and failing attempts to install cap-and-trade systems in other parts of the developed world, don’t indicate such leadership.

In fact, there is shockingly little discussion around Annex I targets at the current climate negotiations. This wouldn’t be so bad if there were genuine action happening in these countries, rather than unbinding, unambitious pledges. As things stand, however, leadership is coming instead from a range of developing countries and economies in transition. If they follow up some of their own quite ambitious pledges with action, then maybe the developed world will fall into step.

Marion Vieweg works for Ecofys, a company specializing in energy saving and renewable energy solutions. She is currently attending the United Nations Climate Change Talks in Bonn, Germany.

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