Climate Talks Close in Bonn: Easing Divisiveness, Looking To Cancun, Capetown and Beyond

The “Road to Cancun” moves haltingly forward with the conclusion last Friday of the United Nations climate talks in Bonn.

According to a UN press release, the two-week negotiating session made “important progress towards concluding what was left incomplete at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009”.

The Bonn talks were the first official negotiations since the end of the highly charged COP15 climate talks in Denmark last December, from which came the Copenhagen Accord, leaving almost everyone disappointed and dissatisfied.

A big step forward is now possible at Cancun in the form of a full package of operational measures that will allow countries to take faster, stronger action across all areas of climate change,” said Yvo de Boer in one of his final press conferences before stepping down as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

A more positive tone than COP15…

The challenge of balancing the interests and responsibilities between developing and industrialized nations continues, but with less of the divisiveness that characterized COP15, plagued from the start with “leaked texts” and unrealistic expectations.

Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, characterized the tone for the Bonn negotiations as “generally more positive,” with delegates “really engaged with the issues.”

… but not for everyone

Not all were as hopeful; the real work continues in reconciling the differing realities and perceptions of rich and poor nations.

Bonn was a “step backward” according to Martin Khor, director of the South Centre, pointing to increased demands on developing countries, most notably to peak emissions by 2020.

The text has become even more imbalanced towards developed country interests,” Khor said in a statement.

Nor was all well for the plight of small island nations when late in the session Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Venezuela blocked approval for a study on options for limiting global temperature increase to within 1.5 degrees Celsius this century.

Taking the long view

The process of international climate negotiations is defined by a chain of “COP” cities – Kyoto (COP3), Bali (COP13), Poznan (COP14), Copenhagen (COP15); and now on to Cancun, and more significantly to Capetown in 2011, where the next real hope of reaching any binding international agreement is pinned.

Key to success in Capetown in 2011 is progress in Cancun in 2010. But even then, the process of negotiating and implementing a finalized, all-encompasing international agreement on climate change requires a longer view than most are willing or able to consider.

A final climate deal will likely take another 20 years – maybe even 40. Christiana Figueres, the incoming Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, told reporters last week in Bonn. If a “final, conclusive, all answering”  climate agreement is ever reached, it will happen “certainly not in my lifetime,” she said.

If we ever have a final, conclusive, all-answering agreement, then we will have solved this problem. I don’t think that’s on the cards,” Figueres said, adding such a process will “require the sustained effort of those who will be here for the next 20, 30, 40 years.”

Given such an outlook, the urgency of each step in the process is apparent, even if maddeningly, frustratingly small and inadequate to its task.  A journey of a thousand miles is only accomplished with a succession of small steps. Easier said than done.

The real failure comes in failing to try. And failure is not an option.

Additional sources and further reading:
ClimateWire (subscription required)

Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
Tom is the founder and managing editor of and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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