Opening day at Bonn Climate Change meeting - parties stick to traditional positions

By: Uthra Radhakrishnan

The demand was loud and clear from developing countries in the opening session of the first climate change meeting of the year, where parties from more than 180 countries had gathered to begin the important process of drafting an agreement to be signed in to place by 2015 amongst other issues. Every developing country group reiterated that the new agreement should be under the existing Convention that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. They demanded that the Convention should neither be rewritten nor should it be reinterpreted.

This is not the first time that they demand this. The Convention states that developed country parties i.e. the industrialised north, should take the lead in implementing the Convention owing to larger financial and technological capacities but also owing to their larger share of historical emissions. Some developed country parties have tried to circumvent this for long and are now calling upon all the parties to take action. The reason being the ‘evolving capacities’ of countries. Both these stances are fairly well rehearsed and established positions. But with little time left on their side, parties are walking a fine line between an agreeable agreement and what can be called the ‘battle of the Annexes.’ The Umbrella group, a grouping of the major developed countries minus the EU pointedly noted the need to move beyond the existing differentiation between developed and developing country parties. Pat came the response to this from the like-minded developing countries group (LMG), a grouping that includes India and China. They called for CBDR (common but differentiated responsibilities)-based differentiation and for keeping the annexes as they are. Whether countries will battle this head on or choose to side-step it remains unclear.

Pre-2020 ambition
Renewable energy and energy efficiency is a key focus area at the meeting which is also discussing how parties will increase their ambition between now and 2020. A series of workshops have been lined up for the year based on options that have been identified as having high mitigation potential. This list of options includes avoiding forest emissions (REDD), hydro fluorinated gases and carbon, capture and storage. While the focus on renewable energy and efficiency are commendable, the overall selection of options, particularly the focus on carbon, capture and storage seems to be at odds with that of renewable energy. Sudan on behalf of the African group addressed this issue by stating the need for not looking at specific sectors but identifying the full range of options in a region-specific and circumstance-specific manner. But whether these actions should be taken by all countries and how they should be accounted towards closing the existing gap to stay below a 2 degrees increase in temperature remained contentious. Developing countries demanded that developed countries should first increase their targets to reflect the science-based target of 25-40% below 1990 levels. India, speaking on behalf of the BASIC group said that “the concern is not that developing countries are doing more but that developed countries are not doing enough to increase their low ambition levels.” Some including countries from the Latin American grouping ALBA even said that this need for increase in ambition from developed countries in the period up to 2020 should be intrinsically linked to how countries participate in a post-2020 agreement. Developed countries remain resolute in its ask that all parties should contribute, discounting the logic of developing country parties.

A positive development through the first day was the attention and traction that an adaptation proposal gained which AILAC mentioned in its opening statement and a global adaptation goal proposed by the African group in a consultation later in the day. Colombia on behalf of the AILAC group identified specific areas under adaptation including the development of robust adaptation metrics and methodologies which is lacking when compared to mitigation actions that are easier to measure. It also mentioned the need to move beyond existing frameworks like the Nairobi framework and lend more coherence to such institutions in a future agreement. The issue of loss and damage was brought back to the table by several parties that argued for its formal reflection in a 2015 agreement. There were also specific calls to link mitigation action to adaptation and loss and damage costs. But without predictable finance from developed countries, neither these costs nor the institutions being set up to work on these areas will be addressed. Developing countries pointed out that finance should not only be predictable but also verifiable.

Overall, the first day saw most official groupings adopt traditional positions. Several developing country parties asked for formal contact groups to be set up in order to start negotiating the elements of the text. Some in the halls of the World Conference Centre called the tactics used by parties as part of the “negotiation culture” that prevails. But whether and to what extent parties will show flexibility in the coming days will determine how negotiations are going to proceed through the year and finally to Paris in 2015.