The Context of Bonn

On Monday the interim meetings of the UNFCCC began in Bonn, Germany. The negotiations, which are scheduled to last for the next two weeks, are both a legal and political forerunner to now infamous ‘Copenhagen Meeting’ in December this year.

Legally, the parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change were slightly caught unawares back in March when it emerged that, under the details of the Kyoto Protocol, any new negotiating texts and amendments must be agreed six months prior to their intended signature and final agreement.  Far from giving a full twelve months of negotiations between Poznan in late 2008 and Copenhagen, then, negotiators now find themselves in something of a scramble to agree to at least a skeleton document by the end of the next week.

Politically, there is such pressure on parties for Copenhagen that there is little scope for delaying agreement, thus making Bonn an unavoidable cram.  While much of this pressure is coming from NGOs and outside observers, a significant portion is also from the parties themselves.  Since the G8 Summit in Hokkaido, Japan, in July 2008, the major developed countries have constantly deflected difficult questions about meeting agreement to Copenhagen.  Indeed, in his press conference at the G20 in April 2009, UK Climate Change Minister Ed Miliband redirected almost all questions to the UNFCCC process.  As a result, then, the importance of Copenhagen has grown significantly, and so, because of the legal issues above, has that of Bonn.

Opening Days

Signs, at present at least, look positive.  The UNFCCC released draft texts in mid-May into which targets, mechanisms, and implementation details can now be slotted.  Moreover, Monday and Tuesday appear to be ‘off to a good start’, according to one UK negotiator speaking with me yesterday.

Of most interest are the two Bali Action Plan working groups–one (the KP) working out what can be taken forward from Kyoto and the second (the LCA) drafting a new text on ‘long-term, cooperative action’.  In practice this division breaks down to a discussion of targets and mechanisms under the KP and discussion of who should take on commitments and ‘new’ issues like adaptation under the LCA.  So far, both groups have hosted their opening sessions in Bonn.

Post-Kyoto Discussions

The LCA–traditionally the more contentious forum–has opened with a frank discussion on the plethora of proposals submitted by parties over the past few months.  The African Group, for example, expressed concern about a number of the more ‘radical’ proposals–especially the suggestion of a more fluid boundary between developed and developing countries in terms of emissions targets.  Indeed, the classic divisions that tend to emerge at UNFCCC meetings, such as the African Group’s position, do not appear to have been put aside completely in the effort to reach a deal.  Indeed, some of the major middle income countries, including China, India, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines, all expressed concern about the suggestion of developing country targets–an issue for which there are many many options outlined in developed party submissions.

A particular problem here is the structure of the UNFCCC treaty under which the Kyoto Protocol falls.  The treaty document clearly preserves the common but differentiated responsibility and right to develop of developing countries.  While clearly important provisions, these principles hold the UNFCCC in something of a permanent tension between extending global mitigation action as the economic situation in middle income countries changes and abiding by the treaty text.  Indeed, during Tuesday open session of the LCA group, both China and India suggested that possibilities for compulsory developing country action–either with targets or not–were not in line with the Framework Convention itself, and so could not be included.  This continues to grate with the USA’s on-going position (see the Luagr-Biden Resolution) that such countries should take on some commitments.  Japan has also added to the chorus, suggesting that a simply continuation of Kyoto divisions is not acceptable.

Reform and Reuse of Current Kyoto Provisions

Within the KP group of the Bali Action Plan discussion is largely focussed around the level of targets in an amended protocol.  Regardless of who takes these commitments on (something discussed by the LCA, above), the actual numbers are always a point of contention.  As per the usual for an opening meeting, non-Annex I countries were highly critical of ballpark figures for Annex I in 2020; the Assoc. of Small Island States (AOSIS) argued that major Annex I cuts were need immediately, suggesting that the UNFCCC was on the verge of missing the 2 C target.

The Weeks Ahead

It is my expectation that the focus on these two groups will shift as the Bonn talks progress.  While the LCA currently seems to be where most of the action is taking place, it is the KP that brings the fireworks when it comes to agreeing numbers.

What is clear from the opening two days is that party lines remain firmly inscribed in the process.  This gives all the more importance to the various adjunct issues that are also to be finalised during Bonn: REDD+, CDM, No-lose targets (if not in the CDM), technology transfer, and so on.  I think it is likely that these issues will not only grow in importance in their own right but will become the major system of bartering and ‘horse trading’ by which the larger disagreements are overcome.  Thinking back to 1997 and the Kyoto Negotiations, it was the inclusion of the CDM in the closing hours that sealed the deal rather than a substantial shift in existing policy.  Watch these newer issues, then, as they are the currency in which old, stock UNFCCC disputes are traded off.

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