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Postcard from Bonn: slow work on emissions reductions talks

The next round of international climate negotiations is taking place from 14-25 May in Bonn, Germany. It is being attended by around 3,000 government and civil society representatives from 181 countries. Building on the results of the Durban conference, governments must agree on stronger emissions reduction efforts and adequate support for developing countries. They will also start planning their work towards a new universal agreement to be completed by 2015 and to enter into force from 2020.

Stuart Jefford of CDKN’s Negotiations Support programme, the Climate Window of DFID’s Advocacy Fund, reports from mid-way through the Bonn talks.

The Bonn meeting marks the halfway point between the annual Conferences of Parties (CoPs). It may not be the place where flagship agreements are made; but it allows Parties to establish processes to resolve their differences at the CoP18 in Doha, Qatar.

The Durban Platform for Action contained some clear agreements and action points, and left some ‘unfinished business.’ In Durban, a group of industrialised countries agreed to continue the Kyoto Protocol by entering into a second commitment period after the first period expires in December 2012 – although this group was diminished from its original number.

In what was hailed as one of Durban’s greater achievements, the Parties to the UNFCCC agreed to establish a binding global treaty for emissions reduction by 2015, to be implemented by 2020 at the latest.  This was significant because it marked a statement of commitment to a low carbon future from all Parties, not just the Kyoto Protocol signatories. In  Durban, Parties also  agreed to make further emissions reductions commitments in the interim.

In the early days of the Bonn negotiations, the unresolved and testing points of this agenda were very much on the table. The mood was constructive, but negotiators realised that there is much work to do.

To KP or not to KP?
The Durban agreements left some ambiguity around how long the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol should run. At opening statements on Tuesday 15th May, the European Union stated its preference for an 8 year period that will end as the new legal treaty starts in 2020. However three of the main developing country groups – the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Africa Group of Negotiators and the Least Developed Country group – insisted that a 5 year period is required, which they believe will catalyse faster action to reduce emissions (and irrespective of any possible gap from 2017-2020).

The Durban Platform
The new Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) was launched on Thursday 17 May, with a view to finalising a binding treaty by 2015 that will enter into force by 2020. Another aim of the ADP is to close the ‘emissions gap’ between the existing reductions pledges (both within the first KP period as well as the ‘voluntary’ pledges made by countries that are outside of KP) and the reductions needed to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 or 2 degrees Centigrade.

There was a sense of anticipation and trepidation in the negotiation hall as the ADP launched. Many negotiators felt hopeful that the ADP will be the forum to deliver on the promise of Durban. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, President of CoP17, said: “the time is now to be leaders and take decisive action to save our future”. Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC General Secretary, argued that the world made history 20 years ago by adopting the three Rio Conventions (of which the UNFCCC is one) and that it is now in a position to write history again. Negotiators also felt trepidation, as countries jostled to lodge competing nominations for the Chair of the process.

In summary, the ‘barometer’ of the negotiations at the beginning of the second week shows that there is much to be done on the emissions reduction front, but a constructive spirit to move forward.

Christoph Swarte of the Legal Response Initiative (LRI) is providing legal support to Least Developed Countries, in partnership with CDKN. He reports on demand for his teams’ services in Bonn.

Delegates from poor developing countries face some of the hardest challenges. They represent countries and societies that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and are often already seriously affected by related weather events and disasters.

There is a lot at stake for them but they tend to be far outnumbered by much larger delegations from the North. While these include specialised experts and support staff, developing country negotiators – who may also represent their country in other international fora – can rarely rely on similar backing. However, meaningful participation of all stakeholders is important for fair and equitable outcomes. LRI works towards a level playing field.

In Bonn, three LRI Liaison Officers follow the negotiations and talk delegates through legal issues. They provide training, briefing papers, legal opinions and hands-on assistance during the sessions.

If a request for advice cannot be answered instantly it is forwarded to the LRI ‘situation room’ in the London office of Simmons & Simmons. There, volunteers – mostly law students and trainees – may undertake some initial research before one or two of LRI’s advisors from law firms, barrister chambers and universities are asked to address the query and draft a short legal opinion.

Half way through the Bonn meeting we have forwarded 16 formal queries – some of them confidential – to our network of pro bono advisors. Around one third of the queries come from Least Developed Countries (LDCs), the other two thirds from governments and NGOs. The queries reflect many of the more contentious issues such as  the provisional application of international legal commitments, procedural rules and changes in the interpretation of equity.

Lawyers often have a bad press. But many also try to make a difference. We constantly seek to strengthen our network of pro bono advisors. To find out more go to

Image of Bhutanese climate negotiator Kharma Tsering of the LDC Group of climate negotiators copyright CDKN – May 2012.


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