Picking up the pieces

19 Apr 2010
Alexander Stathakis, project manager of the Sustainable Business Unit, on the Climate Change Talks in Bonn, Germany. After what many consider a dysfunctional and chaotic Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (COP15) last year, the Bonn Climate Change Talks were held to deal with organisational matters in order to ensure progress in upcoming meetings, rebuild trust in the UN process, and assess the Copenhagen Accord before the COP16 in Cancun, Mexico, later this year. Despite the optimistic momentum in the lead-up, the Copenhagen summit failed to produce a legally binding, comprehensive successor to the Kyoto Protocol. While there appears to be consensus that Copenhagen produced a sobering outcome, different parties to the UNFCCC differ on who or what led to the dissatisfactory result. The Bonn talks exposed a rift between developed and developing countries over what to do with the Copenhagen summit's main outcome, the Copenhagen Accord. The Copenhagen Accord was criticised by countries excluded from the small drafting group that brokered the Accord and failed to gain the endorsement of the UNFCCC's 194-nation plenary. This outcome has resulted in much debate around the legal and political status of this document, countless interpretations, opinions and recommendations, especially since the Accord has been merely "noted" and still is objected to by a number of developing countries and small island states. The Accord sets a general goal of limiting warming to below 2°C, includes significant funding commitments from developed countries to the developing world to support adaptation efforts, and pledges to improve the transparency of monitoring and verification of emission reductions. To date, 114 countries have either agreed to or associated themselves with the Accord, of which 75 countries submitted targets or actions for emission reductions to the UNFCCC. However, these pledges appear to be insufficient to achieve far-reaching emission reductions. So far, developed countries have only committed to reduce their emissions overall by only 13-17% by 2020 (Australia committed to 5%), while science recommends cuts of 40% or more. Despite the positive outcome in Bonn, there are still strong disagreements about how to move the process forward. The big questions are on how to best incorporate the Copenhagen Accord in upcoming negotiations and to demonstrate that the UNFCCC can deliver in the end. Delegates agreed on two extra UN negotiating sessions, each at least a week long, to be added to the negotiating schedule in the second half of the year. In May, senior officials from will meet in Bonn again to prepare new draft UN climate texts that would help to pave the way to the next annual meeting in Mexico. In December, COP16 will face the challenge of reaching decisions that strengthen the institutional and procedural framework and content around pledges made by countries subsequent to Copenhagen. 194 countries are due to reconvene in the Mexican city of Cancun for another attempt at agreeing on a global deal that replaces the Kyoto Protocol. What it is needed in the meantime is the implementation of the Accord and further negotiations on reasonable emission reduction commitments in smaller groups, such as the G20 summit in Toronto in June and the Major Economies Forum in Washington later in April . Negotiations could be much easier among these smaller groups, but still effective, given the participants' majority contribution to global emissions. The conference in Bonn made one issue very obvious: Dealing with climate change and getting a global, legally-binding post-2012 agreement in place is going to be a very long and difficult process. Parting UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer said: "It is important to bear in mind that this quest to address climate change is a long journey, that generally achieving perfection takes practice, that the scientific community is telling us we need to achieve huge emissions reductions by the end of the century."