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Keys to Success at the Bonn Climate Talks

More progress on substantive issues is needed to keep the climate talks headed in the right direction.

As negotiators prepare to gather in Bonn, Germany, for the latest round of UN climate talks, there’s a pressing need to put substance ahead of politics in moving toward greater international cooperation on climate change. As the clock ticks down towards the Conference of the Parties (COP 17) in Durban, South Africa, at the end of the year, it is vital to recapture the momentum and spirit of constructive engagement that characterized last year’s talks in Cancun.

This past week, a new analysis by the International Energy Agency found emissions from fossil fuels rose last year by a record amount, despite the slow economic recovery and government policies aimed at curbing greenhouse gases-- a terribly troubling finding. Meanwhile, record floods in the Mississippi Valley and massive droughts in the southwest United States present a vivid reminder of why urgency and ambition need to be the driving force in Bonn.

In the midst of these disturbing stories, there are also seeds of progress. A major new report by the IPCC finds that, by 2050, nearly 80 percent of the world’s energy supply could be provided by renewable energy sources.

Moreover, a growing number of countries are showing real leadership with pioneering initiatives to reduce emissions. The United Kingdom announced an ambitious target that would bring its greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2025. This announcement raises the bar on climate action for other developed countries to follow.

Meanwhile, Japan -- still reeling from the tragic tsunami and nuclear disaster -- and Germany are also scaling up renewable energy targets. India and China continue to move forward with significant action to reduce their emissions. The countries at the recent BRICS summit (comprised of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) demonstrated an enhanced spirit of cooperation in declaring: “We commit ourselves to work towards a comprehensive, balanced and binding outcome to strengthen the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol.”

This leadership needs to be sustained, brought to the negotiating tables in Bonn, and translated into substantive progress in key areas.

What would success in Bonn look like?

Following are several key developments that would make Bonn a success:

  • A renewed sense of urgency and common commitment to a comprehensive, balanced, equitable and effective outcome in Durban;

  • A workplan to deliver on all items of the Bangkok agenda by Durban; This would include setting up working groups and workshops; and calling for Parties to submit views on the various issues before the next negotiating session;

  • Substantive discussions on the technical issues in the negotiations and clear preparation of the decisions needed for COP 17, even if there is not full agreement on all issues

This last point is important because minor disagreements can hold up the entire process. That’s why negotiators should commit to moving forward on issues where there are opportunities for progress, and not wait for all the details to be resolved.

In addition to the above, important sticking points remain around the second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol; the legal form; and the process to review countries’ commitments to bridge the gap between current emission reduction pledges and what the science says is needed to stay within a “safe climate pathway” and avoid more severe climate impacts.

Clearly, many challenges remain, but there are bright spots. As last year’s meeting in Cancun revealed, the host country can play a key role in forging compromise and making progress. Mexico’s leadership was essential. Now, South Africa has the opportunity to play a similarly constructive role leading up to COP 17.

Bonn holds the potential to move the negotiations forward or take steps backward. There are real challenges that call for fresh thinking, greater trust, and, yes, compromise. More progress on substantive issues is needed to keep the climate talks headed in the right direction.

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