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OPINION: Constructive conclusion to talks on 2015 global climate agreement, but much left to be done

Kiran Sura, CDKN’s Head of Advocacy Fund, was in Bonn, Germany where climate negotiators have been meeting this month to lay further groundwork for a major international climate deal, to be concluded in December 2015 in Paris.

Climate talks in Bonn, Germany started on a promising note following announcements by two of the largest emitters to curb emissions – the USA stated it would set new pollution limits for power plants, and senior climate advisor to China has recommended the government introduce an absolute cap on emissions from 2016. Also for the first time the June meeting included two days of ministerial meetings which saw Environment Ministers and senior political representatives from several countries reinforce the need for high global mitigation ambition pre- and post-2020 following the latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These positive signals offered a glimmer of hope that the negotiations, which have hitherto been beset by difficulties and deadlocks, could edge closer to delivering a draft treaty at the 20th Conference of Parties (COP20) in Lima.

Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) arrived eager to discuss the 2015 global agreement, and presented details of their visions for elements of the agreement. For some Parties agreeing the process for drafting the treaty was a higher priority, resulting in a merry-go-round between substance and process in the talks. In parallel, discussions on pre-2020 ambition focussed on urbanisation, cities and land-use and saw several governments highlighting opportunities for greater energy efficiency and renewables across these areas to raise ambition in the near-term.

Intended Nationally Determined Contributions
Countries have been asked to submit their contributions to a 2015 global agreement – their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – by March 2015, well in advance of COP21 in Paris. What should be included in the INDCs was the focus of much discussion in Bonn. Some countries were of view that contributions should focus on emissions reductions pledges, while there was a strong call from developing countries for pledges to also include specific commitments on adaptation, finance and technology, for fear of these issues being relegated in the talks. There was also little agreement on whether all countries should have economy-wide emissions reduction targets or if other approaches should be allowed for vulnerable countries such as small island developing state and least developed countries, and if pledges should be based on historic or real-time responsibilities and capabilities.

Many countries are already starting to prepare their INDCs. Guidance on the upfront information that these contributions should include will be essential to assess if these contributions are fair and will collectively be sufficient to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Some countries have called for a review process to be established after the contributions come in early next year, whilst others have said that contributions should be reviewed after the 2015 agreement has been agreed in Paris.

Elements of 2015 global climate agreement
Co-Chairs of the Working Group to construct the 2015 agreement hailed the talks in Bonn as a “significant step forward towards the elements of a draft treaty”, despite the talks once again being disrupted by procedural matters. On process, some countries wanted the opportunity to discuss elements of the 2015 agreement before drafting text, while others were ready to propose draft text. To ensure the talks remain on track to deliver draft text in Lima, the Co-Chairs will circulate elements of a draft treaty by as soon as 15 July 2014. At this stage it is not clear what this text will include, but it is likely that the more contentious elements of the agreement will be tabled for discussion at the October session of the Working Group and in December at COP20 in Lima.

Climate finance

The lack of finance from developed countries to capitalise the recently established Green Climate Fund (GCF) has undermined the talks and damaged trust between developed and developing countries, and there is little sign of when these funds will start to flow. The UN Secretary General’s Leaders’ Summit in late September may offer a platform for countries to bring forward pledges to capitalise the GCF; however, for some countries, the Summit may be too close to coordinate and mobilise commitment from governments. There is now talk of a possible ‘pledging conference’ being scheduled before COP 20 in Lima to raise the $10-15 billion developing countries are seeking by end of 2015.

What next?
While the “new and higher levels of cooperation and positivity” amongst governments in Bonn brought the talks to a constructive conclusion, there is still much work to be done before Lima, to ensure a meaningful agreement is delivered in Paris. It will also be important for the UN Secretary General’s Leaders’ Summit to galvanise this momentum, before talks resume once again in October.

Prakash Mathema, Chair of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group said that Parties must meet three milestones in Lima, in order to be able to adopt the new Agreement in Paris, “A decision defining the information nations should present when putting forward their contributions to the 2015 climate agreement; a decision defining the key elements that the agreement should include; and a mandate to negotiate the new agreement within the strongest legal form possible and to be adopted by Parties in Paris.”

Bruce Kijiner, The Republic of the Marshall Islands’ Head of Delegation and Director of the Office of Environmental Protection and Policy Coordination (OEPPC), said “There was a subtle sense of optimism and progress in Bonn, with some good discussion on the concrete steps and commitments needed to deliver an ambitious new climate treaty in Paris next year. But to make this happen, world leaders need to be ready to do the deal. The UN Secretary-General’s Summit in September is the perfect opportunity to build new partnerships for action and momentum for a universal agreement that sets us on a path to decarbonise the world economy by the middle of the Century. As RMI’s Foreign Minister Tony de Brum said in Bonn, “this is what it will take to avoid the worse impacts and frankly, to keep my country above water”.

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