What did the Bonn climate negotiations indicate about Paris? Opinion Article

Nov 03, 2015 - 10:00am

This article was first published in Open Forum on 12 October 2015. 

Erwin Jackson        
Deputy CEO, The Climate Institute

Just over a month before the COP21, climate negotiations in Bonn were heated. So what does this mean about the level of success we could expect from the conference in Paris, where the successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol is to be produced? Erwin Jackson, Deputy CEO of The Climate Institute, explains.

The function of the meeting in Bonn was to continue to form the draft agreement, or negotiating text, which will be taken to Paris as the basis of discussions. However, in the meeting progress on the substance of the draft was mixed and difficult.

Brinkmanship and negotiation tactics highlighted the pressing need for ministers to provide officials with political leadership and direction in the final sprint to Paris. It also served to elevate and intensify the importance of the upcoming political meetings between leaders at the G20, APEC and CHOGM, and the pre-COP ministerial meeting in early November.

If we take the opportunity to use The Climate Institute’s benchmarks for success in Paris to examine the draft agreement – and, specifically, the points within it to be negotiated in Paris – what does it indicate?

The first test is whether the draft agreement is bankable. Does it reinforce the signal to business that decarbonisation of the global economy is inevitable and that action will be strengthened through time?

The draft agreement clearly reinforces the perspective that the current targets countries have proposed are on the floor of the actions they could take, rather than the ceiling. It is clear that each new target should be a ‘progression’ of action from the last. There is also clear convergence around the need to do a stock take on targets and global action, along with an opportunity for countries to update targets every five years. A long-term goal for emissions reductions remains a point of debate, with the US in particular pushing for the recognition that we must decarbonise the global economy before the end of the century. Australia and other countries will also have many opportunities to advance more credible post-2020 targets over the next few years, but whether the formal stock take process starts before 2020 remains an area of debate.

Transparency and trust
Does the agreement promote transparency and trust?

The proposals for transparency and accountability in the previous draft agreements were vague. These systems are important to track the progress countries are making to achieving their targets, building trust and sharing best practice across countries. They include how often countries report on their emissions, what impact their policies will have and ensuring that global carbon markets are robust. The Bonn meeting made progress on strengthening these elements of the agreements. However, some developing countries unhelpfully still want a ‘one system for them and one system for me’ approach to transparency. This will be a clear political issue in the lead up to Paris.

Is the agreement fair?

In Bonn, less progress was made about how the agreement can help the most vulnerable to adapt to climate change, to rebuild after unadaptable climate impacts, and to support low carbon development. Rightly or wrongly, old political divides and a lack of trust that developed countries will deliver on their commitments for US$100 billion of public and private finance remain.

In conclusion, once the drama and theatrics in Bonn were over, countries left the gathering with a draft agreement which could stand a good chance of forming the basis of a credible outcome in Paris. For embedded within the draft, there are signals to business which reinforce that the era of unabated fossil fuel use is at an end.

Erwin Jackson

Erwin is Deputy CEO of The Climate Institute. With nearly 20 years practical experience in climate change policy and research, Erwin has developed and led many national and international programs aimed at reducing greenhouse pollution. This work has been undertaken in Australia, Europe, North and South America, the Pacific and Antarctica. He has represented non-governmental groups and advised government and business in national, regional and international fora, including being a non-governmental expert reviewer of the reports of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Erwin has written, researched and produced many publications on climate change and energy policy including a number of review papers in scientific journals such as the Medical Journal of Australia.
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