UN climate talks nudge forward

14 June 2010

The Climate Group's Damian Ryan reports back from Bonn, following the conclusion of the latest round of UN climate talks.

“Has considerable potential, but with tendency to procrastinate and prone to inaction”

If the UN climate talks were an unruly teenage student, this is probably the mid-year report it would have received following the conclusion of the latest round of negotiations in Bonn, Germany last week.

To be fair, the fate of this particular student is in the hands of 190 odd countries, any one of whom has the capacity to block progress and stymie any chance of graduation.

Reasons to be cheerful

For the glass-half full optimist though, the two weeks of negotiations showed that progress remains possible.

A relatively constructive debate on a new negotiating document (known as ‘the chair’s text’) in the main negotiation group indicated, for example, a renewed willingness amongst countries to find ways forward. The document is an important basis for working towards a global deal.

The more pragmatic atmosphere was also underlined by increasing convergence on institutional arrangements for financing and technology transfer. A largely benign reaction to the inclusion of key elements from the Copenhagen Accord in the chair’s text also doused fears that discussions on the Accord could prove divisive.

Separately, the EU sought to raise the level of trust with developing countries by laying out in more detail how it planned to release its €7.2billion of fast-start funding through to 2012.

Challenges ahead

Those with a glass-half empty view of the world, however, could equally have justified a more pessimistic assessment.

For one, divisions between developed and developing countries on core issues still remained unbridged after a fortnight of discussion.

No progress, for example, was made on agreeing new emission reduction targets for developed countries. With US domestic climate and energy legislation still in the doldrums, this was hardly surprising.

With this critical issue remaining in limbo, progress in other important areas, such as ‘MRV’ (monitoring, reporting and verification of country actions), was also restricted.

Reactions to a revised chair’s text, released on the penultimate day of the talks, underlined the difficulties in finding an acceptable middle path. Developing countries criticized it for favoring developed ones, while the US noted that elements of it were “unacceptable”.

So what does all this mean for the necessary market transformation that’s required to drive the clean-tech revolution over the next decade and beyond?

Agreeing on details

Looking behind the current obstacles, the broad architecture for driving transformation is largely in place (and indeed has been for sometime).

Absolute emission cuts for developed countries, enhanced mitigation by developing countries, the use of market mechanisms, and financing for technology transfer, adaptation, and capacity building, are the core pillars which all countries accept are the basis for any new deal.

The problem remains getting agreement on the detail and a mutually acceptable level of ambition – no easy task as the Bonn talks once again showed.

With just two more weeks of formal negotiating time before COP16 in Cancun at the end of November, the outcomes from this year’s climate conference are therefore shaping up to be incremental. Such a result will do the process few favours.

Agreement on a clear roadmap for completing negotiations expeditiously, and some early ‘quick wins’ would do much to help mitigate criticism.

With respect to the latter point, immediate utilization of fast-start financing to support low-carbon development in developing countries, and early operationalization of the technology mechanism, would help kick start the essential process of market transformation.

In the meantime, the UN talks will no doubt continue to frustrate and infuriate those eager to see it succeed as only a stroppy teenager can.

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