Bonn climate talks: Where to from here?

By Candice Arendse and Noel Oettlé

The Bonn Climate Change Conference convened from 8-18 May 2017 at the UN Campus in Bonn, Germany. This was an important stepping-stone in the negotiations between COP 22 and this year’s COP 23, and included a number of subsidiary meetings: the 46th sessions of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI 46), the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA 46), and the third session of the first meeting of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA 1-3).

More than 3 900 participants from governments, the UN and other intergovernmental agencies and organizations, civil society organizations and the media attended the conference. Although this was not a full-blown COP, it nevertheless attracted a wide range of stakeholders, and represents a huge investment. Unfortunately, by all accounts little progress was made in the negotiations. The Trump administration’s negative attitude towards the UNFCCC, and its “denialism” relating to anthropogenic climate change cast a pall over the proceedings. The United States is the world’s second largest emitter of GHGs, and has ratified the agreement. However, President Donald Trump has voiced concerns that the deal could harm the US economy.

During the Opening Press Conference webcast of the conference, Patricia Espinosa, UNFCCC Executive Secretary noted that the Bonn sessions were intended to address technical and practical matters towards evolving climate action under the Convention, the Kyoto protocol and the Paris Agreement. This is a highly complex environment of inter-twined issues, and topics under discussion included the Compliance Regime Cooperative mechanisms, the Technology Framework and Global Stocktake, developing guidelines for the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s) to the Paris Agreement, Adaptation Communications and determining how the Adaptation Fund can serve the Paris Agreement.

When Donald Trump was announced as the in-coming president of the United States of America (USA) during COP22 in Marrakesh, uncertainties about the USA’s commitment to climate action were rampant. This mood of uncertainty accompanied delegates to the Bonn conference and questions were raised about the US negotiators involvement in the negotiations. The change in attitude of the US government was signalled by the greatly reduced size of the US presence in Bonn.

Comments made by the COP Secretariat during the Opening Press Conference that outlined the international commitments that have already been made apart from the 144 countries that have ratified the agreement, seemed to contribute to silencing doubts. Uncertainties were replaced with attention to goals as participants continued with the mission at hand indicated by multiple reports that covered the conference.

As expected, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA) took centre stage. APA was tasked in Marrakesh with delivering a detailed framework of actions to determine what, who, where and how to achieve the goals set out in the Paris Agreement. The Working Group was mandated to present the progress of their work by December 2018, and the Bonn Conference was intended as a crucial opportunity to move this forward. Although the timing and progress towards formalising the Paris Agreement was reiterated and emphasised throughout the conference, little substantial progress was achieved. The Earth Negotiations Bulletin reported that adequate time was spent on efforts to operationalize the Paris Agreement, but many loose ends were still left hanging to be dealt with during COP 23 in November 2017. Loose ends notwithstanding, many delegates felt that progress, although slow, is moving in the right direction.

In a more recent pronouncement, on Tuesday 30th May, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the world to raise its ambition in implementing the Paris climate agreement. Following an address at New York University he responded to a question by saying “We believe that it would be important for the US not to leave the Paris agreement, but even if the government decides to leave the Paris agreement, it’s very important for US society as a whole — the cities, the states, the companies, the businesses — to remain engaged. It is very clear that governments aren’t everything.” This came in wake of the refusal of Trump to join the other six leaders at last weekend’s G7 summit in pledging to implement the Paris accord and said he would announce the US position this week.

With thanks to Earth Negotiations Bulletin (Vol. 12 No. 701)