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Bonn Climate Talks Yield Some — But Not Enough — Progress Putting the Paris Agreement Fully Into Motion

Negotiators made progress in a number of areas at the latest UN climate talks, which wrapped on May 10, but an overburdened agenda left them with a lot more ground to cover before the big climate summit (COP24) in Katowice, Poland this December.

Negotiators must now ramp up progress, as COP24 will be the most critical political moment for climate action since 196 countries adopted the Paris Agreement in 2015. The year-end summit – where key decisions will be made on how to take the Paris Agreement forward – will determine whether the Agreement can turn promise into reality and galvanize the transformation needed globally.

Three issues dominated the talks in Bonn, Germany: the Paris Rulebook, the Talanoa Dialogue and climate finance. Here’s a snapshot of where negotiators landed on each:

Paris Rulebook

By COP24 in December, countries are expected to finalize the rules and guidelines that underpin the Paris Agreement on climate change, known informally as the Paris Rulebook. In Bonn, negotiators worked hard to keep that goal within sight.

Delegates recognized that the Paris Rulebook is critically important because well-designed guidelines and additional support for developing countries are essential for incentivizing greater national climate action and fully mobilizing the potential of the Paris Agreement.

However, a long list of technical and political hurdles slowed progress at times, including: the sheer volume of agenda items to consider, reflected in 270 pages of informal notes; the technical complexity of the endeavor, exacerbated by complex interlinkages between various elements of the Rulebook; political sensitivities about achieving a balanced package; the need to ensure that developing countries receive predictable and adequate financial and technical support; and issues around how countries can improve both their climate actions and information in their progress reports. In the upcoming negotiations, delegates will need to hash through each of these issues while respecting countries’ different national circumstances, capabilities and vulnerabilities. This is no small task.

To better prepare for the next round of negotiations in Bangkok in September, the co-chairs of the process must prepare tools to help advance the negotiations, which could include draft negotiating text. Reaching that stage will be essential for keeping adoption of the Paris Rulebook within reach.

As negotiators continue to shape the Paris Rulebook, they need to keep in mind the bigger picture of what is at stake. These rules need to ramp up global climate action that is pursued in a trustworthy and fair manner. This makes the design of an “ambition mechanism” as important as ensuring a level playing field with transparency and accounting rules. For many developing countries, going further and faster will only be possible if adequate support is available, from climate finance and technological assistance to building the capacity of in-country experts. Moreover, it is clear that governments alone cannot deliver the massive transformations needed across entire sectors. The Rulebook must be robust enough to provide the certainty, clarity and predictability that businesses, investors and planners need to accelerate their own low-carbon transformations.

Talanoa Dialogue and Enhanced Ambition

The Talanoa Dialogue was one of the most highly anticipated events heading into Bonn. Effectively the first stock-taking exercise under the Paris Agreement, the Talanoa Dialogue session in Bonn was a collective reality check on the state of climate action, highlighting how far the world has left to go to limit temperature rise to 1.5-2 degrees C (2.7-3.6 degrees F). The process also started to lay the groundwork for countries to strengthen their national climate commitments (known as NDCs) by 2020.

Bringing countries, cities, businesses and civil society together to discuss the climate transformation was unprecedented in the history of the UN climate process. During the session on Sunday, a Gabon representative welcomed the fact that “everyone talked to each other like they are people rather than [negotiating] parties.” It was a reminder that governments need the extra muscle of many other actors to turn the Paris Agreement into reality.

The Fiji COP presidency deserves credit for its willingness to veer from the norm in these formal negotiations to break down boundaries and build trust. The Polish presidency should continue to actively engage non-state actors on how to further enhance this process at COP24.

Given the scale and urgency we face in closing the emissions gap, the Talanoa Dialogue must go further at COP24 to achieve its purpose of fostering greater ambition. Ministers must come ready to explore how to translate the opportunities and lessons learned through the Dialogue into action, and further share the actions they are putting in place at the national level to inspire action globally. As several country groups made clear, the Talanoa Dialogue must set the stage so that at COP24, countries commit to enhance their NDCs by 2020.

Finance

The draft Paris Rulebook contains a number of finance elements. Negotiators in Bonn worked on rules for how donor countries account for the climate finance they provide and mobilize in their biennial reporting to the UN. Another major finance element is developed countries’ biennial communications on future climate funding. Negotiators made some progress in identifying types of finance information these countries could provide to help developing countries better plan and take action on climate, but there was deadlock on whether anything should happen to these communications once they are submitted.

This reflects a broader concern about how and where climate finance will be discussed in the UN climate negotiations after 2020, when the current system of annual workshops and biennial ministerial dialogues is set to end. Finance will be a key part of the global stocktake that will take place every five years, but the world of finance is fast moving. Countries should consider making space for more frequent discussion of progress to ensure that all finance flows, at both global and national levels, are fully aligned with the Paris Agreement goals.

Lastly, negotiators elaborated the different options for reforms to the Adaptation Fund’s governance, safeguards and operations so that it can function under the Paris Agreement.

What’s Next?

Delegates will pick up where they left off at an additional negotiating session in Bangkok this September. There, delegates should accelerate the pace of negotiations and craft draft negotiating text while working through sticky issues that remain.

By the time the final gavel is struck at COP24 in December, all countries will need to adopt an action and support package that puts the Paris Agreement fully into motion. The measure for success will be three-fold: finalizing a robust Paris Rulebook, a clear commitment that countries will strengthen their national climate plans by 2020, and a signal that support for developing countries will continue to ramp up.

As president of the COP and host of COP24, Poland must show the forward-looking leadership necessary to deliver a successful outcome. And between now and December, all countries must use a number of key moments to ramp up political pressure, including at the Petersberg Dialogue and Ministerial on Climate Action in June, the UN General Assembly in September and the World Bank/IMF Annual Meetings in October. 

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