Bonn Climate Talks See Late Movement

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By Eric J. Lyman

Sept. 4 — Five days of United Nations climate negotiations wrapped up Sept. 4 with the first signs of compromise on a key issue emerging amid widespread calls that negotiations were still moving too slowly.

The late progress came in the area of Loss and Damage, an initiative that would act as a kind of insurance policy for poor countries that suffer the impacts of climate change. At least two Loss and Damage proposals were announced Sept. 4: one from the Group of 77, a union of developing countries, and another from a group of industrialized countries, including the U.S.

The most important difference between the two is the G-77 proposal would place Loss and Damage squarely in the Paris agreement, making it legally binding, and the developed country proposal would make it a decision approved by delegates at the Paris talks, making it easier to approve but giving it a weaker legal standing.

The conclusion of the latest round of negotiations leaves only five negotiating days—Oct. 19-23 in Bonn—remaining before delegates gather in Paris starting Nov. 30 to finalize the terms of the world’s first global climate agreement.

The latest round of negotiations got under way with delegates looking to whittle down some of the language in the 76-page “negotiating tool” unveiled a month earlier by Ahmed Djoghlaf and Daniel Reifsnyder, co-chairmen of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action negotiating track.

But no significant changes were made to the text, and Djoghlaf and Reifsnyder instead were given a mandate from delegates to produce a new document, to be called a “basis text,” in the first week of October.

The July negotiating tool was a reorganization of existing language proposed by parties, but the new “basis text” will instead include consolidated and streamlined language. Additionally, rather than being divided into three sections—the first for language that would appear in some version in the Paris agreement, the second for proposed language to appear in the political outcome from the Paris talks and the third for proposals that could go in either category—the “basis text” will include only the first two categories, though some proposed language could appear in both categories.

Figueres Brushes Aside Criticism 

Despite the lack of movement on the text, Christiana Figueres, the UN’s top climate change official, brushed aside criticism about the pace of talks: “The important thing is that we are moving in the right direction and that all the elements are included, and that is the case,” Figueres said.

Djoghlaf and Reifsnyder agreed. Reifsnyder said the meetings were “incredibly productive,” even if it wasn't obvious.

His fellow co-chair vowed that the process they have overseen since January would yield results. “I promise you, we will have a draft text ready to be negotiated in Paris,” Djoghlaf said.

Still, many participants and observers—including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who complained Sept. 2 from New York that discussions in Bonn were moving at a “snail’s pace”—said the talks should be moving faster.

“Many delegates are just itching to get started on the actual drafting of text,” said Elina Bardram, head negotiator for the European Union.

Bardram and others said that would change when the basis text comes out in October. For his part, Reifsnyder promised the new document would be “comprehensive, concise, consistent and coherent.”

October Round Predicted to Move Quickly 

Laurence Tubiana, special representative to the Paris Climate Conference from the host French government, predicted the October round of talks would move quickly.

“We have discussed this enough that we now know everything about every position,” Tubiana said. “It’s like a pressure cooker now, and when we come back in October, it will be ready to burst.”

But many observers were nonetheless cautious: “It now seems apparent we will have a true negotiating text in October and an agreement in Paris,” said Mohammed Adow, a climate campaigner with Christian Aid. “What is not apparent is whether or not it will be a good agreement. That has yet to be determined. That is what we must still fight for.”

One area that is sure to be a battleground in October concerns review periods. Among major emitters, the European Union and China have submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)—each country’s promise of climate-related action after 2020—that end in 2030.

India, which has yet to submit its INDC, is expected to do the same.

Most INDCs End in 2025 

But most other INDCs, including that of the U.S., end in 2025 and environmental groups have been calling for the earlier year to be used so the INDCs can be adjusted quicker to reflect technological advances or changing political circumstances.

The European Union has opposed the 2025 date, but Bardram said the EU was increasingly open to a midway five-year review period. But it's still far from clear how such review periods would be structured and what incentives they would include to make countries more likely to take on more ambitious targets.

Another piece of news from the last day of the talks in Bonn was that Algeria, the home country for co-chairman Djoghlaf, submitted its INDC, which offered a wide range of emissions reduction targets—between 7 percent and 22 percent by 2030—depending on external support.

Counting the 28-member European Union as separate countries, the total number of countries to have submitted their INDCs now stands at 58, accounting for about 70 percent of the world’s emissions.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric J. Lyman in Bonn at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com