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First 3 Days of Bonn UN Climate Talks Achingly Slow

So, how are things going partway into the five-day Bonn climate negotiating session of the UN’s “Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform”? [Reminder: as of Thursday noontime, there are only 6.5 more official session days, including the week in Bonn again on October 19-23, before the final Paris talks in December, which are hoped to bring the world closer to a universal UN climate change agreement.]

Tweet by Christiana Figueres at the start of UN ADP climate meeting, August 31, 2015 ( early September round of the ADP meetings opened with some enthusiasm from Christiana Figueres, top executive of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat. Algerian diplomat Ahmed Djoghlaf and US envoy Daniel Reifsnyder, who are chairing the Bonn UN climate talks, also expressed enthusiasm.

You may remember that at the last offical meeting in Bonn the assembly voted to have Djoghlaf and Reifsnyder streamline the current text of the agreement. They did it on July 24. The September Bonn Climate Talks Update from Climate Justice characterized the co-chairs’ action:

“[B]etween the last session and this one, the 2 co-chairs of the process took the messy draft negotiating text and categorized all the proposals it contained into 3 parts: Part 1 contains those which should go in an “agreement” (seen as more legally binding); Part 2 contains those which should go in a “decision” (seen as less legally binding); and Part 3 contains those whose placement is unclear. Part 3 is basically a graveyard of ideas. And guess what’s buried there? Pretty much all the stuff you’d want in the agreement….”

Responses to the co-chairs’ new “Tool” draft were mixed. Some lauded the authors for adroitly managing to separate the issues into three parts and rearrange them coherently. Others were deeply disappointed that Djoghlaf and Reifsnyder had left in all the disputes (as required by protocol) instead of redacting them. On balance, critics view only 17 or so pages as crucial, but the assembly chose to take up the whole monster instead of going through the shorter part line-by-line.

The Bonn UN climate talks are proceeding along the same lines as the earlier ADP sessions. They include both facilitated and informal group discussions on adaptation and loss and damage, transparency of action and support, finance, capacity building, workstream 2 (pre-2020 ambition), mitigation, procedural and institutional provisions, and finance and timeframes in the evening. Webcasts of these talks are available at this link.

Here are some of the indications coming out of the meeting at the midway stocktaking. They include comments made by country representatives, other parties, UN officials, transcription services, reporters, and those attending two news conferences held today.

As Ed King of RTCC noted yesterday, the negotiating blocs’ opening statements showed that big divisions remain. Climate Nexus had a more amusing way of putting it, characterizing the official commenting groups this way:

How are U.N. #climate talks like a middle school? Cliques rule.

Responses have ranged from very sad tweets by Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who writes about weather and climate for Slate now and formerly for The Wall Street Journal

Sad tweets from Bonn climate meeting Wednesday by Eric Holthaus of Slate (twitter/Eric Holthaus)

to the sharp enthusiasm voiced by Julie Anne Richards at the Climate Action Network International’s news conference on Thursday afternoon.

Bonn updates from Climate Justice (twitter)For 140-character quips from the Bonn UN climate talks, read the discussion on twitter under hashtag #ADP2. You’ll find that often the meatiest and least-partial view of comments by ADP2 delegates occur in the straightforward daily Earth Negotiations Bulletins from the International Institute for Sustainable Development. Newsletters at Climate Justice and Third World Network are other good resources.

Here’s a view of the meetings from ENB’s daily commentary In The Corridors.

“Commenting [Monday] on the informal bilaterals that had preceded the meeting, a delegate welcomed efforts to win the confidence of parties, but said it was time to actually negotiate rather than ‘re-sort the Geneva negotiating text.’ With nine negotiation days left before Paris, it remains to be seen if the [Geneva-based] ‘Tool’ will help chisel the features of the 2015 agreement.

On Tuesday, delegates met for the first time in spin-off groups, [hoped by some to] quicken the pace and generate clear options or even “bridging proposals” to balance perspectives on key issues. The negotiating groups had been expected to put forward these proposals, but few did so in the first several days. Proponents hoped that the bridging proposals would reveal national or group positions on the “Tool” text and release a new wave of negotiations ahead of Paris.

Other delegates felt beleaguered by the proliferation of informal meetings, especially those on small delegations, in part due to the lack of funds available in the Trust Fund for Participation. By the end of the spin-off groups’ first day [Tuesday], mitigation negotiators became bogged down by debates over the usefulness of such groups.”

Stock-taking meeting at Bonn UN ADP meeting (

Stock-taking meeting at Bonn UN ADP meeting (

On Wednesday, more of the same. However, the ADP contact group did convene for a useful stocktaking session in the evening. This proved a welcome prod toward more meaningful interactions. Here’s our summary of ENB’s observations.

ADP Co-Chair Djoghlaf (Algeria) noted parties’ concerns over the slow pace of work and their agreement on the urgent need to accelerate. The G-77/CHINA (a group of developing countries from 1964 UN Trade and Development negotiations), LDC (least developed countries), AOSIS (Association of Small Island States), AILAC (Asociación Independiente de Latinoamérica y el Caribe), ALBA (Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América), and Africa groups all noted uneven progress across the facilitated meetings. They called for clarity on the intended outcome of this session and sought a clear mandate for the co-facilitators.

Australia, Saudi Arabia, the European Union, and the Economic Interest Group (represented by Switzerland) carried on. Many parties spoke against the idea that this session should not conclude with yet another compilation text. Some delegates welcomed “small, but meaningful movements” in the discussions on adaptation, capacity building, transparency, and joint implementation under mitigation. However, others commented that the inevitable “binary issues” between industrial and developing nations kept coming up as soon as negotiators scratch the surface.

The review session late yesterday, described by RTCC’s Ed King as “a stormy stocktaking meeting of climate envoys,” mirrored these frustrations. Some of the groups looked on the first days of the Bonn UN climate talks with regret and forward to the rest of the week with trepidation. Many noted the lack of bridging proposals. Others called it a night and left deeply concerned over the pace of negotiations when only seven days were left before what co-chair Ahmed Djoghlaf called their “date with history.”

Youth reps call for zero emissions by 2050 and a fossil fuel phaseout (twitter/Climate Action Network)“The glass is half empty but it is also half full,” Djoghlaf said at the stocktaking session. But as King summarized, “all that was clear from the 90 minutes of interventions and statements from countries was that the foundations for this deal are at present looking shallow and frail.”

By Thursday morning, however, matters were looking up. Our next report is in progress.

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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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