Guest Editorial by: Matt Williams, UK Youth Climate Coalition

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres during a press briefing (Image by: IISD Reporting Services)

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres during a press briefing (Image by: IISD Reporting Services)

The UNFCCC process has been mired in something of a quandary since the high hopes around Copenhagen in 2009 were quickly dashed when countries failed to come up with a second global, legally binding agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol (due to expire in 2012). But the meeting in Cancun in late 2010 repaired some of the damage.

In Bonn, it quickly became clear to me that there are still a lot of big gaps in the negotiations. The talks are now over but these gaps remain unresolved ahead of the talks in Durban in December.

One such gap is a concern around the Green Climate Fund, agreed upon in Cancun. This body which aims to provide $100bn a year by 2020 for climate change mitigation and adaptation faces problems concerning its funding in the medium term (2012-2020). While kick-start funding currently stands at $10bn a year, Parties must increase their public climate finance commitments to ensure that the Green Climate Fund moves forward. There is a lack of clarity about how it will reach its 2020 target. The funding gap between now and 2012 still looms large.

The second potential gap concerns the Kyoto Protocol. This is the legally binding global deal which commits some countries to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions between 2008-2012. The commitments concern only 37 Parties, the wealthier countries in the world (with some notable exceptions – the US still hasn’t ratified the Kyoto Protocol). Nonetheless it has been a key part of moving global climate negotiations forward. In 2012 the Kyoto Protocol will expire and there is currently no new deal on the table to replace it. Any amendment to extend or replace the Kyoto Protocol would require all countries to independently ratify it by 31 December 2012 to prevent there being any gap. It is almost too late for this now, and so a regulatory gap is almost a certainty. Indeed, in a meeting with young people in Bonn which I was lucky enough to attend, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, said that a regulatory gap is inevitable.

Coming up with a new deal is high on everyone’s list of priorities, but remains a contentious issue. It is made particularly difficult by questions over the involvement of emerging economies such as China, Brazil and India, who are unwilling to limit their economic progress, but whose involvement will be vital before countries such as Canada and the US will even begin to discuss entering a new deal. However, there are signs that the EU and the G77 might be beginning to talk behind the scenes about how a new deal could be struck. What such a deal would avoid is a so-called “pledge and review” system whereby countries would essentially go it alone and commitments would not be part of a global legally binding framework.

Finally, the ambition gap is probably the best known of all the gaps. Outside of the Kyoto Protocol, countries discuss their pledges to reduce emissions in the long-term. The ambition gap can be defined as the difference between the emissions reductions countries are committed to and the emissions reductions the science requires in order to keep global warming to safe levels. The science tells us that there is a big gap between the amount of emissions that would be saved by current pledges on the one hand and the need to limit warming to 2C on the other.

What’s more, at the opening of the talks last week, Oxfam released a report showing that two thirds of emissions reduction efforts currently on the table are those made by developing countries (those countries with the least historical responsibility for climate change and with fewer means to make emissions reductions). This revelation puts wealthier developed nations to shame and shows that a second ambition gap is opening up, between developed and developing country Parties.

The negotiations in Bonn were frustrating. Positive options are still on the table, but countries did little to move towards them at these talks. The space remains open for many countries to show leadership on a number of issues in Durban and to move the world towards a clean, fair future.


Matt Williams is part of UK Youth Climate Coalition’s (UKYCC) youth delegation to the UN climate talks ( and is currently interning with the ClientEarth communications team.

This story originally appeared on ClientEarth.

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