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Bonn redux: SEI climate experts review UNFCCC talks

The climate negotiations were marred by heated arguments, finger-pointing and retrenchment, but this was no surprise, given the underlying issues.

Marion Davis / Published on 1 June 2012

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Profile picture of Sivan Kartha
Sivan Kartha

Senior Scientist


Richard J.T. Klein
Richard J. T. Klein

Team Leader: International Climate Risk and Adaptation; Senior Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

Profile picture of Magnus Benzie
Magnus Benzie

Senior Research Fellow

SEI Oxford

From 14 to 25 May, the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change met in Bonn to follow up on their agreements at COP17 in Durban and lay the groundwork for COP18, to be held in Doha, Qatar, at the end of the year.

Several SEI researchers attended, including Bo Kjellén, Magnus Benzie, and Sivan Kartha, who spoke at a key workshop on equity. SEI visiting researcher Manjana Milkoreit, a Ph.D. student, conducted interviews and observed the BASIC countries. Richard Klein did not attend, but has followed climate finance developments.

Q: News reports generally described the Bonn talks as a failure, with countries retrenching instead of building on the Durban commitments. How bad was it?
Bo Kjellén:
I certainly agree that Bonn was not a great moment in climate diplomacy. However, we have to realise that Durban represented a quite important and rather unexpected step forward in creating a platform for what had to be a transitional period, since the positions of major actors were linked in a negative pattern: Obama has no political capacity to move Congress; India and China cannot move if the USA doesn’t; the EU is occupied with the economic crisis; the G77 is split…

Major agreements were out of the question. The various elements of Durban, in particular the EU position on the Kyoto Protocol and the agreement on the Durban Platform, created a constructive potential for the period up to 2020. But it was to be expected that Bonn would be difficult, in particular because we knew that India and China were not happy with parts of the language on the Durban Platform. … I believe that was the background to the long procedural battle in Bonn.

Q: What will it take to move past this stalemate?
Bo Kjellén:
There will have to be renewed attention to the concept of equity over the coming years. The struggle for a constructive transitional period is certainly not won, and the prospects for environmental integrity of the future agreements look rather dim. It will require a major effort by all parties – and by the research community – to use the coming years in such a way that investors’ confidence in government support for forward-looking climate policy is maintained; this is crucial.

Q: The BASIC countries have been at the centre of the talks in recent years. What happened in Bonn?
Manjana Milkoreit:
The Chinese were surprisingly vocal and assertive in Bonn. [Chief negotiator] Su Wei took the floor in the Durban Platform plenary very often and for a very long time. … This may be a good sign – they are needed to make this work. It’s not yet clear, however, whether they want to be in control just to avoid mitigation obligations or shape the future distribution of responsibilities.

More and more delegates of developing countries are hinting at the fact that the emerging powers have to get serious about mitigation. Everyone is very careful in the way they express this, fearing economic or political backlash. Brazil and South Africa, on the other hand, were rather silent in Bonn; they may offer leverage to sway India and China via the BASIC group.

Q: What’s happening with the Green Climate Fund? It was supposed to meet on 31 May, but the UNFCCC has postponed that first meeting, with no new date set.
Richard Klein:
The GCF Board members should have been announced between Durban and Bonn, but that didn’t happen. Without knowing who is on the GCF Board, there can’t be any meetings of that Board, and without meetings, there can’t be a plan towards further operationalisation of the GCF. The same is the case for other bodies established in Cancun/Durban (including the Adaptation Committee).

Read about Sivan Kartha’s presentation on equity »

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