Bonn Climate Talks End: Next Stop Paris and COP21

Fractious final round of negotiations in Bonn end with some progress, some roadblocks on the road to Paris and COP21

The final round of climate talks before the COP21 summit in Paris finished up in Bonn last week. As crunch time descends upon negotiators, the issue of finance remains a core unresolved issue. Developing countries have maintained that they have done the least to contribute to global warming but stand to suffer the greatest impacts and indeed already are.

As a condition of moving beyond the Kyoto Protocol, calling for emissions mitigation only from developed countries, poorer nations have long sought climate finance for adaptation and low carbon development assistance. At the failed 2009 COP15 conference in Copenhagen, rich nations promised $100 billion annually in climate finance starting in 2020. It is hoped that a more ambitious finance package will be agreed upon in Paris, but roadblocks remain.

Climate finance: the elephant in the room

Many developing countries voiced concern at the start of last week’s meetings as negotiators got a first look at the latest draft text, drastically trimmed down from the last negotiating round from 76 pages to 20. The BBC reported “howls of protest” over what was considered the elimination of key negotiating points for developing countries, particularly finance.

In order to address the concerns voiced by negotiators, co-chairs of the Bonn meetings made a quick revision of the draft. Mohamed Adow, Senior Climate Advisor for Christian Aid,  offered guarded praise for the progress wrested from the fractious start of the meetings.

“At the end of the last round of talks we had an 80-page text,” he said. “We now leave Bonn with a manageable document, which contains some robust content that will form the basis of the world’s global climate deal. At the same point before the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009 there were 180 pages so we’re in a far better position this time around.”

That said, an air of doubt remains. Adow described the issue of climate finance as the “elephant in the room” that must be addressed for any hope of success at COP21.

The reason we have got this far in negotiating a global climate agreement, including poor countries as well as big emitters, is because rich countries promised to deliver a balanced outcome that incorporated climate finance,” Adow said in a press release. “That is what helped win the cooperation of the developing world. But now that we’re on the brink of sealing the deal, rich countries are trying to wriggle out of their commitments. Rich countries cannot erase history: neither their past emissions nor their promises on finance, which have been instrumental in getting us to this point.”

Ambassador Joyce Mxakato-Diseko of South Africa, chairperson for the G77 and China group of countries, representing 130 nations and 80 percent of the world’s population, took on a more strident tone, saying the consequences of climate change for these countries are a matter of “life and death.” 

“It is not a photo opportunity,”said Mxakato-Diseko “it is not an instagram or selfie moment. It is a reality we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Whether Paris succeeds or not will depend on what we have as part of the core agreement on finance.”

Loss and damage

If climate finance is the elephant in the room, then climate compensation, or loss and damage, is its sister. In fact, it may be the more thorny of the two issues before negotiators and ministers. Developed nations are “terrified” they will get stuck holding the bag is the impacts of climate change grow and worsen. For more vulnerable states less able to quickly adapt, it is a matter of survival.

Co-chairs removed language concerning loss and damage in their efforts to streamline the larger text from the June Bonn meeting, but the strategy didn’t satisfy anyone, most especially the G77+China, who suggested creation of a process to deal with climate refugees and the cost of “potential and irreversible damage.” In contrast, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand proposed eliminating any reference of loss and damage from the Paris treaty, an idea that, to put it mildly, didn’t sit well with developing nations.

Ed King of Climate Home reports an exasperated Mxakato-Diseko “talking of a new ‘apartheid’ where the rich dictated terms to the poor.

On to Paris

Tensions obviously remain as the now 55-page text is forwarded to Paris. Even as the world begins to coalesce around climate action the same fundamental issues that have dogged the process for decades remain: grappling with the concept of common but differentiated responsibility for dealing with the current and future impact of climate change.

It is clear that this will require the more than the work of negotiators in Paris, but ministers and heads-of-state as well.

“We can’t leave the climate deal to just the energy and environment ministers,” says Christian Aid’s Mohamed Adow. “Their work needs to be complemented by treasury ministers and heads of state, who must come to the table and bring their cheque books. The deal is ripe but we need the finance if we’re going to pick the fruit. As we progress to Paris, it is vital that developed nations get serious about finding sources of finance for 2020 and beyond. Not only is it their obligation, but it will also help to cut emissions. Climate finance will help poor countries leapfrog dirty energy and make a safe, clean and more prosperous world a reality.”

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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