The United Nations climate talks held in Bonn concluded on 26 May. They aimed to discuss the implementation of the December 2015 Paris climate agreement and set up a road map to the next major negotiations to be held in Morocco next winter.
The euphoria generated in Paris seemed to fade, and a delegate described the conference to Reuters as the “end of a honeymoon”. Differences, notably between the developed and developing worlds, which Paris had managed to overcome, resurfaced and provoked heated debates and delays in the negotiations. Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, chair of the 48-nation group of least developed countries even deplored the “ambiguities” of the Paris Agreement, and said:
“When you go home, you do your homework and find that what you have created is a kind of monster from a legal point of view because it is open to many interpretations”.
At the same time, the gloomy backdrop of fires in Canada, heatwaves in India, floods and landslides in Sri Lanka increased the feeling of urgency for effective climate action.
Negotiators tackled a packed agenda, and focused on six issues: the balance of efforts towards mitigation and adaptation, climate finance, limiting the rise of global temperatures to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, pre-2020 action, conflicts of interest and gender.
Mitigation, or the efforts to reduce or prevent the emission of greenhouse gases, contrasts with adaptation, or efforts to adapt to climate change. While developed countries prioritise mitigation, the developing world, more vulnerable to climate change and already feeling its devastating effects, would like to see more efforts directed to adaptation. This debate delayed the adoption of the agenda for several days, developing countries pushing for more balance and demanding that climate finance be distributed more fairly to include adaptation.
Finance was another hot topic, with negotiators debating a road map to the yearly $100 billion developed countries will have to deliver by 2020. A clear accounting and transparency framework has yet to be established, to define what can count towards “climate finance”, where the money will come from and where it will go to. Developing countries voiced their concerns that accessing the funds would be overly complex, and asked for the process to be simplified. By the end of this year, the Green Climate Fund committed to making $2.5 billion available for climate action.
The 1.5°C objective was also debated, as news came from Carbon Brief that the world only had an estimated 5 years before going beyond that limit. This prompted delegates to call for more ambition, and a review of nationally determined contributions, which as they stand are far from containing global warming below this objective.
More ambition also means taking action soon and before 2020, year during which the Paris Agreement is set to come into action. The key year for pre-2020 action will be 2018, when countries’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) will be reviewed, and are expected to be more ambitious than the ones submitted so far.
For many developing countries, more ambitious from member parties will not be sufficient as long as the fossil fuel industry is allowed to exert its influence over the negotiations. They demanded that access to lobbyists be limited. This demand was, however, met with hostility from big polluters like the US and Australia who said that they would like to see all private sector actors involved in climate action.
Gender, finally, was, more than ever, a central topic in the negotiations. The incoming Moroccan presidency has already announced that this will be a priority at COP22 next winter, and a workshop was organised in Bonn to make sure that gender would be fully integrated to the decision-making process, rather than being treated as a separate subject.
Debates around these issues, and the tensions that arose in Bonn showed that the road to Marrakesh and the implementation of the Paris agreement is a long one. The will to cooperate and the increasing awareness of the urgency of climate action among partaking states do, on the other hand, provide some reasons to hope. This hope was reinforced on 27 May, when G7 countries pledged to stop subsidising fossil fuels by 2025.