It’s been almost four months since the last UNFCCC negotiations in Doha, Qatar (COP 18). Countries decided in Doha to finalize the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, wrap up a series of decisions on the Bali Action Plan, and outline a plan to establish an international climate agreement by 2015. Countries will gather this week in Bonn, Germany, for the first formal conversations since the Doha meeting.

This week’s intersessional is a low key, but important session. Negotiators will discuss two critical issues: How to substantially step-up the level of ambition by countries, companies, cities, and civil society; and how to ensure a strong international climate agreement by 2015. Progress on these two issues could bring the world one step closer to strong, international action to curb climate change.

Increasing Ambition

The final decision by all countries at COP 17 in Durban recognized that current GHG-reduction pledges are not adequate to keep global average temperature below 2 degrees C (the limit science says is necessary to prevent climate change’s most disastrous impacts). In Bonn, experts will put forth new ideas on how to ratchet up ambition in the short-term. Country representatives will also highlight best practices and success stories, in particular, the role that land use could play for enhanced mitigation and adaptation policies. WRI recently completed an assessment of the current international initiatives and identified the need for more “transformational clubs.” Multi-country or industry-specific clubs could ratchet up ambition in a way that complements the international UNFCCC process and helps close the emissions-reduction gap. The criteria we identified for such clubs are a common bold vision, a set of benefits or incentives for those countries which join the club, and an entry ticket that would show the country’s seriousness in its action (e.g. a renewables club could have a national renewables policy as an entry ticket).

5 Issues to Watch in the 2015 Agreement Discussions

The April Bonn session is scheduled to discuss more specifically the core elements for establishing an international climate action agreement by 2015. We’ll be looking for clarity and answers across five key elements:

  • “Spectrum of commitments”: This is an approach that a number of countries are advocating for. What exactly does it mean? Are there criteria to determine what the commitments might be? How could ambition be ensured in such an approach?

  • Ratchet mechanism: How can the 2015 agreement include a ratchet mechanism to increase ambition over time? Will countries be able to increase their ambition levels any time, as they now can in the Kyoto Protocol? What regular reviews should occur?

  • Equity: Equity is a key component of the negotiations. A number of experts have identified the idea of a benchmark on equity (an Equity Reference Framework) that could be applied to country commitments. The Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice, WRI’s partner for the Climate Justice Dialogue, will present and make the case for a dynamic, holistic approach to equity.

  • Architecture of the Agreement: There are different perspectives on how to construct a 2015 agreement, with some countries focused on a centralized or top-down agreement and some focused on a decentralized or more bottom-up agreement. As is often the case, there is a “sweet spot” somewhere in middle where the integrity of more centralized approaches is mixed with some flexibility to reflect national circumstances. Listen for that “sweet spot.”

  • Legal form: Which parts of the 2015 agreement will be legally binding and which will be voluntary?

Countries urgently need to shift their talks from pure brainstorming to identifying key elements and decisions for establishing an international climate agreement. The December 2015 deadline for creating this agreement will be here before we know it. So let’s keep hopes high in Bonn. Sometimes the most low-key meetings are the most productive.