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Climate Change

Will Bonn Meeting This Week Speed UN Climate Action?

The official climate talks of the UN’s Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform (ADP) restarted in Bonn, Germany, today. The second-to-last of a series of 2015 weeks-long negotiating sessions on UN climate action before the critical Paris conference in December, they are designed to bring the world closer to a universal UN climate change agreement.

Related UN climate plenary in Bonn, March 2014 (

Related UN climate plenary in Bonn, March 2014 (

Many international leaders, including UN chief Ban Ki-moon, lead negotiator Christiana Figueres, EU climate chief Miguel Arias Cañete, US Secretary of State John Kerry, France’s climate ambassador Laurence Tubiana, and numerous others have recently said that Bonn needs to set a far more urgent pace than previous talks. All week, the negotiators will work on a text of 80-some pages, 19 of which have been described as critical to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The text takes off from the 2014 Lima Call for Climate Action, already amended three times earlier this year.

The first meeting of the UN’s ADP body of nations subsequent to Lima, held in Geneva in February, clarified some points of information from the Lima COP20 session and renewed the energy of that conference, although it lengthened the draft for UN climate action under discussion. The second, held in Bonn in June, showed forward progress but virtually no concrete results. Importantly, though, both sets of talks have kept up a collective energy and trust sparked by the Lima conference and its determined, upbeat Peruvian host, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal.

The group then requested its co-chairs—Algerian diplomat Ahmed Djoghlaf and US envoy Daniel Reifsnyder—to streamline the document to aid in the Bonn talks this week. On July 24, Djoghlaf and Reifsnyder issued the new version of the draft agreement. It clarifies the earlier drafts and eliminates redundancies, winding up with two alternatives for emissions trading, for example, where there were previously six. The consolidated version builds on the strong concept of national climate action plans (INDCs), which now cover over 60% of world emissions and around 40% of nations, including many of the large emitters. As we noted in an earlier article:

“The new draft retains the core principle that every country will contribute now and into the future based on these individual national circumstances, with adequate financial and technology support from more developed countries. It covers all six of the elements set up in earlier negotiations: climate mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, capacity building, and transparency of action and support.”

The current Djoghlaf-Reifsnyder working text reduces the confusion of previous treaty drafts and creates a more coherent structure and options for the text than had been on the table earlier. Most important, Djoghlaf and Reifsnyder’s contribution has greatly narrowed the field of decisions by dividing them between those with immediate effect that could be initiated the moment the agreement is adopted, and other decisions that can be negotiated fully within the next five years before the Paris agreement comes fully into effect.

This approach has given negotiators at upcoming talks both an opportunity to summarize broad goals and immediate UN climate actions and more time to work out areas of difference. It should also alleviate the burden of spending early days of these Bonn negotiations setting procedures—which have stalled previous attempts to reach substantive agreement.

As noted by David Waskow, director of the World Resources Institute’s International Climate Initiative, further progress was made in a recent informal meeting in Paris of about 40 environment ministers.

“A French government summary of that meeting noted that ministers made progress on agreeing that countries should review their progress together every five years, though there was apparently not yet clarity on whether countries would also seek to ramp up their climate efforts at those milestones.”

The ACT 2015 consortium of climate experts from around the world has also been working over the past two years. Its stakeholders, which represent multiple interests and geographic areas, have put forward other issues the negotiators need to consider:

  • Establishing long-term goals for both mitigation and adaptation,
  • Building effective systems for transparency and accountability, and
  • Setting in motion the long-term shift in finance and investment needed to accelerate global climate transformation for both mitigation and adaptation.

It has also compiled a suggested legal text for the 2015 Paris agreement that pays close attention to the disparate needs and means of UN member nations.

Although the Djoghlaf-Reifsnyder text that begins the current round of talks comes closer to achieving a sustainable future (by keeping the average global temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius), fear has recently grown among climate scientists about the underlying premise of that goal. In RenewEconomy, Sophie Vorrath recently spells out this concern:

“The world must almost completely decarbonize in the next 30-35 years, and the vast majority of fossil fuels be left in the ground, if we are to have any hope of tackling climate change effectively.”

She recounts opinions expressed by many around the world and voiced most recently in Australia’s new Climate Council report (Growing Risks, Critical Choices), that the scientific case behind 2°C as a “safe” level of global warming–a figure that has underpinned climate policies around the globe–is rapidly weakening. In other words, many of the risks of climate change that appeared likely for 2100 have now shifted to an earlier time. Given this new set of warnings, pressure has grown for the UN to speed up its schedule and base a new horizon at 1.5 degrees or possibly even less.

The last formal session before the Paris talks will take place in Bonn again on October 19-23. Numerous other meeting points will also intervene:

  • The GLACIER conference of 20 nations now being held in Alaska,
  • A second informal round of talks led by the French COP21 presidency,
  • The upcoming UN General Assembly,
  • Several important international interest group meetings,
  • The Sustainable Development Summit in New York late next month at which countries will adopt post-2015 sustainable development goals,
  • Addresses by Pope Francis and other spiritual leaders, including the Pope’s visit to the US Congress,
  • A US-China climate-smart/low-carbon cities gathering,
  • A Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, and
  • The summary of INDC pledges being compiled by the end of September.

Also, in early October, the world’s finance ministers will meet in Lima again at the World Bank/IMF meetings, where they will discuss key issues in climate finance.

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Written By

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."


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