Report from the UN Climate Change Negotiations (part one)

Article published on July 4, 2008
community published
Article published on July 4, 2008
'TakingITGlobal’s Climate Change Program Manager PJ was recently in Bonn, Germany to follow the UNFCCC Climate Change Negotiations. In the next couple of days we will be posting some excerpts from his blog to bring you closer to the negotiation tables.

UNFCCC The chart on the left represents the basic elements involved in this round of negotiations: a) the Convention (yellow area) and b) the Kyoto Protocol (pink area). Each area (Convention and Protocol) has its own 'track' for discussing the next step after phase 1 of Kyoto ends in 2012. All parties are discussing co-operation in the Convention's AWG-LCA (Ad-Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Co-operative Action), building on the four pillars of Adaptation, Mitigation, Technology Transfer and Finance. Parties that have adopted the Kyoto Protocol are discussing the post-2012 targets of industrialised Kyoto parties (Annex I) in the AWG-KP.

After some initial hesitation and uncertainty from parties many found their footing and presented some interesting proposals, particularly relating to finance. It's been great to see countries like Mexico and others in the G77 come forward with concrete ideas on these issues that really grasp the scale of resources that need to be mobilised to advance global mitigation, adaptation and technology transfer. It's also a bit embarrassing that certain other countries are all talk and still have nothing useful to contribute.

Issues broke out into their own forums. These forums, known as "contact groups" have in turn broken down into "informals," where the chairs discussed particular text or conclusions with parties in small meetings or bilateral consultations. At the end, all of the issues and conclusions will be forwarded to the next large meeting. This is the two AWGs, who will be negotiating in Accra, Ghana in August. Then it's Poznan, Poland in December, the 'half-way point' to Copenhagen, the next big meeting.

On the last day of the negotiations, Bill Hare of Greenpeace International spoke about the big picture – what do the events of the last two weeks mean for the next stages of the Kyoto protocol and what needs to happen for the process to be a success. He warned that unless the pace increases and political roadblocks are removed quickly, there is a major risk of failure. Overall, he believes the parties have failed to make any progress on nearly all the agenda items – steps which are vital for the negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009 to be a success.

At every stage there have been low points, but in his fifteen years of experience the agenda has never been bigger while the progress has never been slower at these kind of negotiations in terms of substance. This delay, he stated, is due to a pattern of unconstructive tactics, the “usual suspects,” Canada, Australia, the US and Japan, are objecting to straight-forward proposals, nitpicking, and generally attempting to slow negotiation and prevent real progress. Li Yan of Greenpeace China spoke about the productive proposals that developing nations have made over the last two weeks. These creative and constructive ideas on how to meet urgent need for mechanisms for tech transfer and investment are examples of the initiative that developed countries need to take. She highlighted Mexico’s ideas regarding a world climate change fund and Brazil’s ideas for tech transfer.

Catherine Gutman of WWF International closed the round of statements with a call for more leadership and political attention. She warned that it can’t be left to bureaucrats to work through these difficult decisions. In particular, the European Union’s participation was insufficient. The EU has an opportunity to build a positive dynamic with developing countries and send a strong political signal.

For all its flaws, though, the UNFCCC process gets the major emitters and the “victim states” at the table together. Without the constant reminder that failure to take action on climate change will result in the loss of some countries and devastating impacts for others, targets for major emitters would likely be less ambitious and therefore less effective. Winston Churchill has been quoted as saying that “… democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”. As with democracy, this may be a flawed process, but the best we’ve got. Equally, it is also up to participating countries and their citizens (that’s you), to guide the process to a positive outcome.

Stay tuned for part two of PJ's report from Bonn. Find out who was voted Fossil of the Day and check out PJ's interview with Stephen Guilbeault from