From Bridges Trade BioRes, Vol. 9 No. 6
While the outcome of the G20 meeting in London was taking centre stage, over 2,000 world leaders and activists have gathered in Bonn, Germany to reach a consensus about the direction to take regarding climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. These nine days of meetings, which commenced on 29 March mark the first major UN climate change meeting of the year.
On the opening day of the meetings, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Yvo de Boer stated that “this first negotiating session this year is critical for moving the world closer to a political solution to climate change.” The fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP15) is set to meet in Copenhagen in December where world leaders plan to create a new treaty to replace the UNFCCC Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012.
The current Bonn meeting is the first of three major two-week long UNFCCC meetings before the principal conference in Copenhagen. That means that there are less than six weeks of collective UN negotiations before Copenhagen - a point emphasised by Mr. de Boer. Moreover, the course of the negotiations in Bonn will be an important determinant for the rest of the meetings held this year.
de Boer highlighted four areas of focus for the COP15 negotiations which must be stressed in the preparatory climate change meetings. He said that industrialised countries must specify how they intend to cut back carbon emissions, and second, he insisted that developing countries indicate how they will diminish the growth of these greenhouse gases. Third, he said that developing countries must receive greater financial support for carbon emission reduction since their economies often depend on high industry and consequent greenhouse gas pollution.
Lastly, de Boer stated that world leaders must develop a system of governance for global climate change policy in which both developed and developing states are equally represented. Some draft policies are in the negotiation process in Bonn, and de Boer says he hopes to have a “fully-fledged negotiating text on the table by June” when the next UNFCCC meeting takes place in Bonn again.
Developed, developing countries look for middle ground
The divide between developed and developing countries continues to stall effective negotiation. Throughout the meetings, developing nations have been insistent that developed nations decrease their greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990s levels by 2020, a benchmark stressed by Chinese delegate Xu Huaqing.
Because developing countries depend more heavily on industry, they are reluctant to commit to any binding climate change legislation. Climate change legislation could cause a serious burden for developing nations who do not have the clean technologies and resources of some of the developed nations- a concern that is evidently recognised by de Boer. Yet, developing small island states and other tropical states who are most vulnerable to the floods, droughts, and other catastrophes that global warming could inevitably bring are especially eager to take action.
New data increasing sense of urgency
Meanwhile, developed countries including the US and Australia are demanding that developing countries like China and India - whose economies are rapidly growing - be held equally accountable for emissions. Developed states do seem to understand their obligation to developing countries though, and scientific reports that have come out recently saying that sea levels are rising much faster than had previously been thought are making some countries increasingly anxious to come to an agreement.
”Industrialised countries are committed to lead the way, and the world is looking to them to agree on ambitious targets, in line with what science is telling us, in Copenhagen in December,” said Harald Dovland, Chair of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol.
Michael Zammit Cutajar, Chair of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention, shared this commitment to compromise. “Delegates will explore further issues where we already have a solid foundation for agreement, but also where elaboration is still lacking for an ambitious and fair agreed outcome in Copenhagen.”
Many optimistic in light of new US proposal
With a greater commitment to climate change by the US under the direction of President Obama, world leaders seem to be more motivated and more determined to come to an agreement. Also, many observers say the ‘cap-and trade’ emissions program legislation that was finally released by the US Congress last week is surely a sign of a new vow to take climate change more seriously (see related story, this issue).
In Bonn, the US has been taking a more resolute stance, and Barack Obama’s Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern told reporters on the opening day of the meetings “my team and I came here determined to make up for lost time. America is now once again strongly committed to developing a global response to climate change.”
Economic concerns are a major focus of the climate change debate and a reason for much of the deadlock between nations. Few disagree on the potential dangers to humans and the environment caused by global warming, but as the current meeting in Bonn points out so far, there is still no viable solution to meet the interests of developing and of developed states.
The Bonn climate change talks will conclude on 8 April.
ICTSD Reporting; “U.S. says climate plans do not signal protectionism,” REUTERS, 1 April 2009; “Rich urged at UN talks to make deeper C02 cuts,” REUTERS, 1 April 2009; “First in Series of Major UN Climate Change Negotiating Sessions in 2009 Kicks off in Bonn,” UNFCCC PRESS RELEASE, 29 March 2009; “New Day Dawns for U.S. Global Warming Policy,” ENVIRONMENT NEWS SERVICE, 30 Marce 2009.