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Slow Progress at Bonn Climate Talks at Odds with the Climate Crisis

The latest climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany, which were held June 17th to 27th, played out against an impressive backdrop of climate action. Youth around the world have been striking for climate action every Friday for months. Their outrage is spurred by a growing body of evidence showing the current and future impacts of climate change, most recently with an assessment revealing how the degradation of ecosystems is rocking economies and societies. Meanwhile, last month nearly 500 investors with $34 trillion in assets called on the G20 to take bolder steps to reduce emissions.

We wish that the outcome of the Bonn negotiating session aligned more closely with this growing sense of urgency. Instead, what happened in Bonn was at odds with the enormity of the climate crisis. Negotiators left with only mixed progress in maintaining the spirit and strengthening the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Here’s an overview of highs and lows:

Raising Ambition

As mentioned in our blog post ahead of the negotiating session, the UN Secretary General called on world leaders to come to the UN Climate Action Summit in September this year with a determination to strengthen their national climate commitments (called “nationally determined contributions,” or NDCs). This is an important milestone to generate political momentum for countries to put forward ambitious NDCs by 2020. The topic of NDC enhancement was a key one at the Bonn negotiation.

Some of the most encouraging news on that front was that about 30 developing countries made video statements affirming they will take steps to enhance their NDCs in 2020. This was the first time many of them had made a clear-cut statement about their plans for next year.

Still, enthusiasm was somewhat tempered when, during the Bonn sessions, the European Council failed to set a goal to reach climate neutrality by 2050 or clearly decide whether it’s prepared to enhance its NDC.

Much as at the UN Climate Summit in Katowice, Poland last December (COP24), the most contentious issue in Bonn was the IPCC report on limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C. The scientific report, which came out in October last year, faced a barrage of attacks from a handful of countries. The controversy ultimately blocked further discussion on the report and how it should inform the UN climate negotiations. These attacks were deliberate attempts to undermine global efforts to ratchet up climate actions. Although the vast majority of countries declared that science is “not negotiable” and vulnerable countries strongly defended the scientific report, negotiators left Bonn without an agreement to hold further discussions on the report.

While the Bonn climate talks did not end fruitfully on the IPCC report, vulnerable countries’ leadership and commitment to upholding science, which was amplified by civil society observers, likely influenced the outcome from the G20 Heads of State meetings, which concluded on June 29th. The “G19 +1” Heads of State communique did not backslide on climate, as some had feared might happen. Instead, the G20 leaders’ statement maintained the status quo from the outcome of the G20 in Buenos Aires last year, reiterating ongoing support for implementing the Paris Agreement. More significantly, together with France, China made a joint statement with the UN Secretary-General that they will enhance their NDCs and submit 2050 long-term climate strategies by 2020. This renewed leadership is much needed.

The Rules and Processes Underpinning the Ambition of the Paris Agreement

Over the two-week negotiating session in Bonn, negotiators discussed the tools and rules still needed to put the Paris Agreement into motion, such as the use of market mechanisms, the length of the implementing period for countries’ NDCs, and ways to track progress towards climate actions and financial commitments. Negotiators discussed rules for:

  • Cooperative Mechanisms: Progress on the rules on cooperative mechanisms, through the use of carbon markets and non-market mechanisms, remained challenging, as more countries are engaging in this negotiation track and more options are emerging in the negotiations. The package is both technically complex and politically sensitive. Done right, the rules can accelerate and scale up action more efficiently at reduced cost. Done wrong, it can undermine ambition by jeopardizing environmental integrity, with more than one country claiming credit for the same emissions reductions. The pressure is mounting for COP25 in Chile later this year to get us out of the impasse, though that needs to happen without sacrificing the quality of the rules.
  • Common Timeframes: Countries continued negotiations without reaching agreement on the question of common time periods for NDCs. Currently, NDCs differ in when they’ll achieve their goals, with some setting deadlines of 2025 and others 2030. The timeframe for implementation of future NDCs is important for maintaining the Paris Agreement’s cycle of ambition, through which countries are expected to strengthen their NDCs every five years.
  • Transparency: At COP24 last year, negotiators adopted a strong transparency framework to guide the reporting and review of countries’ efforts to tackle climate change. In Bonn, negotiators were busy working on the technical methodology to carry out the agreed guidelines. They made progress in exploring ways to design common reporting tables, the outlines for country reports, and a training program for technical experts who will review countries’ reports. Further work over the next two years is needed to finalize this work.

In addition, 28 countries (including the United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil, Japan, Russia, Nigeria and Australia) had their climate efforts assessed by their peers as part of the verification process under the current UNFCCC regime. Countries like Nigeria and Finland confirmed efforts to enhance their climate actions, and Finland discussed its recent pledge to become carbon neutral by 2035.

Parties used the negotiating session to consider how to transition to a low-carbon economy effectively, sustainably and equitably. This included discussions on how to account for human rights, how to ensure any adverse effects of climate actions are minimized to secure a just transition, and how to mainstream gender and leverage the role of Indigenous Peoples.

Negotiators also discussed the possibility for the UNFCCC Secretariat to produce a synthesis report of countries’ submitted NDCs next year, ahead of COP26 at the end of 2020. Such a report could assess progress on closing the gap between countries’ commitments and the emissions cuts required to limit global warming, as well as what headway has been made towards the other Paris Agreement goals on resilience and aligning financial flows.

Climate Finance and Capacity-building

The formal negotiating agenda on finance was, for the first time in many years, fairly light. Countries began work on developing standardized tables to track the support provided, mobilized, needed and received by countries, which need to be finalized by COP 26 in November 2020. Negotiators also discussed potential reforms to the Adaptation Fund’s Board, as well as the share of proceeds the Fund will receive from the new market mechanisms being developed under the Paris Agreement.

But the light formal agenda does not mean that climate finance has lessened in importance. There is just a year to go until developed countries need to deliver on their commitment to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020. Countries used the annual workshop on long-term finance to discuss progress towards this goal, including issues around the provision and effectiveness of climate finance.

The replenishment of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) was also high on negotiators’ minds. In the coming months, it will be important for developed countries to follow the lead of Germany and Norway by at least doubling the level of their original pledges made in 2014. At the July GCF Board meeting and August replenishment consultations, countries need to work together to pave the way for a successful and adequate replenishment of Fund by its October pledging conference.

Negotiators spent significant time discussing capacity-building, as countries appreciate how important it is to effectively build, mobilize and sustain capacity at the scale and pace necessary to transition to a low-carbon economy by 2050. Countries made progress reviewing the overall capacity building framework and, more particularly, the terms of reference for the review of the two bodies established under the Paris Agreement, the Paris Committee on Capacity Building (PCCB) and the Consultative Group of Experts (CGE), identifying the critical functions, tools and opportunities these forums will focus on over the next few years.

Loss and Damage

Loss and damage, which involves situations in which countries are no longer able to adapt to climate change impacts, remains a controversial issue. Parties made progress in defining the terms of reference for the review of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, to explore how it will continue to advance knowledge gathering, pursue coordination with relevant bodies within and outside the UNFCCC, and mobilize the support necessary for developing countries to tackle loss and damage. The latter issue remains the most sensitive one.

The issue of loss and damage, together with the rules on the use of market mechanisms, will be among the most important issues for COP25 later this year.

The Road to COP25 and Beyond

From the point of view of the negotiations, we leave Bonn with some challenging issues to resolve. Before COP25 in December, countries will need to leverage a number of events to secure progress, such as the Regional Climate Weeks for the Latin America and Asia-Pacific regions, the heads of delegation meetings to be hosted by the Chilean COP presidency, and the pre-COP meeting that will be hosted by Costa Rica in October.

More broadly, it is more urgent than ever for countries to consider the best available science and deliver on the goals of the Paris Agreement in the actions they take at home and on the global stage. This year should be a springboard year to generate political momentum for countries to submit ambitious NDCs by 2020. Countries must heed the clarion call from UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa on the focus for 2019: “Ambition, ambition, ambition.”

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