News & Media
News and Media
The Subsidiary Body on Implementation holds a workshop on ways to enhance the involvement of observer organisations. FLICKR/UN Climate Talks
A behind-the-scenes perspective on the UNFCCC meetings – and how they bode for COP17 in Durban.
Richard Klein is a senior research fellow at SEI, with a focus on climate finance and adaptation issues. He was in Bonn for several days in preparation for this month’s round of climate talks, and monitored the talks after leaving to attend other meetings.
Q: Were there big climate finance matters on the table in Bonn?
A: Yes and no. For finance, the big thing of course is the Green Climate Fund, which was established in Cancún and has a mandate but doesn’t actually exist yet. They set up a Transitional Committee of 40 people to design the fund between now and Durban and come up with ideas on what it should be funding and for whom, where the money should come from, etc.
JAN CEDERGREN One of the committee members is Jan Cedergren, of Sweden, former chair of the Adaptation Fund Board, and he has set up a Swedish reference group that SEI is part of. He also runs one of the committee’s four workstreams, on monitoring and evaluation [with Aparup Chowdhury, of Bangladesh]; that’s something we’re closely involved with. The Transitional Committee met for the first time in Mexico in early spring, and for the second time in Bonn.
Q: On adaptation, one issue is the work programme to consider approaches to address loss and damage. What happened there?
A: There are quite a few things that came out of Cancún that require further negotiation before they can be implemented, and one is that work programme. The Alliance of Small Island States has always argued, given that there is a good chance that some small islands are going to disappear with climate change, there should be a mechanism for addressing this loss and damage, because there are limits to adaptation.
Instead of an operational mechanism, governments in Cancún agreed to establish a much less ambitious work programme, but the Saudis in particular remain unhappy. They argue that adaptation isn’t just to the adverse effects of climate change, but also to the impacts of response measures – so if the world uses less oil, they should be compensated for lost revenues. In the end some progress was achieved, but I don’t expect that activities under the work programme will lead to an operational mechanism anytime soon.
Q: Was any other progress made on adaptation?
A: One discussion that went really well was on the Adaptation Committee, which is also part of the Cancún Adaptation Framework. Making the committee operational was considered to be one of the biggest political challenges – what is it going to do, how is it going to be linked to the Green Climate Fund, who is going to sit on it – but they have already agreed on some text that could be the basis for a decision in Durban.
The reason that is important is because once that committee is in place, the emphasis of adaptation in the UNFCCC will shift from exchanging information and identifying needs and making priorities, to supporting the actual implementation of adaptation.
In this context also the National Adaptation Plans are important. This is a third element of the Cancún Adaptation Framework, and in Bonn countries agreed on a process for developing guidance on what these plans should cover. However, there is still disagreement on whether these plans are relevant to the least developed countries only, or to all developing countries.
Q: Just before the Bonn conference began, the IEA released new figures showing record-high emissions in 2010, and then Oxfam and SEI issued their analysis of emission reduction pledges. Did either of these make any impact on negotiations?
A: You know the funny thing is everybody is aware of the IEA numbers, and quite a few have seen the numbers that SEI and Oxfam presented. But it’s like there is a parallel universe between the knowledge that is being generated and where the negotiations are taking place: the information is there, but it seems like it doesn’t penetrate. There is an increasingly large gap between countries’ stated aspirations (i.e. limiting global warming to 2°C) and the actions they’re willing to commit to.
Everybody knows how urgent this is, but many countries are reluctant to act on it, and then you get discussions for five days just on the agenda in Bangkok, and the same for four days in Bonn – literally nine negotiating days wasted on agendas. If the purpose is to prevent any progress in the negotiations, then discussing the agenda is an effective way of doing that. On the other hand, there is now a better and shared understanding of what should be negotiated when and where, and I expect that in future meetings no more time is wasted on the agenda.
Q: Do you think there’s any hope for the proposal by Mexico and Papua New Guinea to have agreements approved by a majority, not requiring unanimity?
A: It’s not going to happen. In order to get agreement on that proposal, you’d need to have a decision by consensus. Since COP1 in 1995 the UNFCCC operates with draft rules of procedure; they have never been finalized because one rule has never been agreed on, and that one is on the voting. At every COP, Papua New Guinea try to start a discussion on the rules of procedure and that never goes anywhere, because several countries, like Saudi Arabia, the United States and Bolivia, want to have the option to disagree with the majority and avoid consensus, so they like the way it is. And in a way, it is good procedurally that a few countries or even one country can make their disagreement heard. But you can use the procedure in a constructive way or in a destructive way.
Civil society observers watch the discussions during a session at the Bonn conference. FLICKR/Adopt a Negotiator Q: You’ve also expressed concern about how civil society was treated in Bonn.
A: A lot of lip service is given to observer organizations and civil society in general, that they are “incredibly important” in the process. Yet many meetings are being held behind closed doors.
There was an in-session workshop in Bonn to explore ways of enhancing the participation of observer organizations in the negotiations, but it also raised the issue of legitimacy of those organizations. So far the only opportunities that civil society has to speak are at the very beginning and at the very end of the meetings.
It was very interesting to see that on the last day, after all Parties had made their final statements, pretty much all government delegates stood up and left the very moment the first observer constituency got its two minutes. Of course it had been a long two weeks, but still. Can’t those delegates, after all that was said, show respect to civil society and listen for 10 or 15 more minutes?