Bonn Climate Talks To Be Continued June 1

The international community grapples with global warmingThe Bonn climate talks which ended April 8 are going to be continued in in a two week session in June. The first round of the Bonn climate talks did not book any significant visible progress, and while this is easily criticized, my hunch is that behind the scenes this thing might have rocked.

The negotiations were focused on procedural matters and that’s nothing fancy, even tedious to outsiders. But a lack of procedural strength was mainly to blame for hampering implementation of the Kyoto protocol, so Bonn might very well turn out valuable in the coming weeks and months. Kyoto took three whole years before enough countries had actually signed the pact for it to become effective, all because the behind-the-scenes work hadn’t been adequate.

Barbel Dieckmann, Bonn’s mayor, underlined the importance of the administrative issues in an interview with the Korean Herald. Her assessment was that the talks were by no means faltering, saying “This time it’s about procedures, rather than results. [..] It is especially these procedures that are essential if, after the Kyoto Protocol, we intend to adopt a consensus agreement that can quickly be put into action.”

That said, the disagreements run deep over the three action items that the world wants to see resolved, including how to finance the Third World’s efforts to mitigate global warming effects, what kind of commitments the developed countries should aim for and whether or not to include a cap-and-trade framework modeled on the European Union’s trading system in the new protocol.

And then there was the massive disagreement about what kind of legal status the Copenhagen deal is going to have.

So, all in all, the fair assessment seems to be that a lot of hard work has been done by the negotiating teams, which got few hours of sleep, but that momentum is hard to achieve or maintain.

I spotted a couple of notable developments from the newspaper reports that were more tangible than this. One signaled a modest change in China’s attitude. As we reported on this blog just before the Bonn talks started off,  UN officials went through lots of proposals by major and less major parties and concluded that the majority opinion agreed that big third world countries like China should commit to binding CO2 reduction targets.

Whether or not the Chinese were asked to commit isn’t immediately clear, but The New York Times reported that China no longer harshly states that the rich nations first must show that they’re paying for their historical carbon footprint before it will be moved to action.

China quietly observed that the use of the carbon market is just one of several options available for funding actions in developing countries, and should not take the place of other responsibilities,” according to the paper.

Another major development was the call by some 43 mainly African and Latin American countries who’ve grouped together in an Alliance to limit temperature rise to below 1.5 Celsius (rather than the 2 degrees the EU originally set). The Alliance also called for a reduction of CO2 by 45 percent by 2020 and they lobbied intensely for a reduction of fossil fuel burning in the developed world.

And then there was some progress on the alternative to the carbon market. This plan was put forward during the Poznan talks in Poland (last December) by Mexico and Norway and involves the creation of a global fund to which every country contributes. A percentage of international allowances would be auctioned.

Until June (and likely afterwards) we’re all more or less left to guess about whether the developed world is committed to cut emissions substantially – in line with what scientists say is necessary – or whether governments have instructed their teams to get away with as little as possible.

This is nothing new and perhaps the mind-boggling extent to which participants have gone in previous climate negotiations (hammering out Kyoto and constructing the Bali Roadmap in Indonesia when the Bush government was making impossible demands on the process) are the perfect preparation for the required mindset.

All the same, the negotiators are more aware than ever of the implications of the issues they are tackling.  Nine of eleven panelists polled by Reuters appeared to be convinced that during the last two years evidence increased that global warming is caused by humans. If that outcome reflects a kind of prestige governments attach to coming up with the best deal to reduce global warming (in a crazy, competitive way) then this is, of course, nothing short of great.

But, just like it’s impossible to judge the Bonn talks, it’s difficult to find out  how seriously to take the outcome of this poll, which canvased the opinions of experts many of whom were part of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports.

The panelists almost unanimously predicted that global warming will most definitely overshoot 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The 2 degree limit is seen by most countries and the EU as the threshold to where climate change becomes life threatening. Ironically, the effects of clean air laws is expected to initially make things worse, temperature-wise. The less smog there is blocking direct sunlight, the hotter temperatures will be, some panelists said, adding that this alone will already lead to a 1 degree Celsius rise.

The experts also reported back to Reuters that they foresaw a rapid melt of summer ice and a rise in sea levels that would be more dramatic than the 2007 IPCC report had indicated.

Salemeel Huq of the International Institute for Environment and Development in London said in an interview that it’s scientifically possible that limiting temperatures to a 2 degree rise in temperatures is achievable.  The only thing that prevents this from happening is a lack of political will, he said, echoing comments made by China´s top negotiator Su Wei only days earlier.

Other IPCC experts drew attention to the actual levels of long-lived greenhouse gases in the atmosphere currently as being enough to cause temperature rises of way more than 2 Celsius. At the moment, our climate is already 0.7 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels.

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