Bridges Weekly Trade News DigestVolume 15Number 22 • 15th June 2011

Divergent Paths Plague Bonn Climate Talks


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A clear divergence among countries on the future direction of climate negotiations is holding up progress at the ongoing talks in Bonn, Germany. The first four days saw discussions nearly at a standstill, with parties fighting over the agenda contents for two of the main negotiation groups - the Subsidiary Bodies on Technical and Scientific Advice and on Implementation (SBSTA and SBI, respectively). Upon resolving that hurdle, talks took on a slightly more constructive tone, with delegates expressing gratitude for the chance to get down to business.

The two-week talks - which began on 6 June - mark the halfway point between last year’s Conference of the Parties (COP) in Cancun, Mexico and this December’s COP in Durban, South Africa.  Spirits have been raised since the global disappointment of the Copenhagen COP in 2009, with low expectations seeming to be a useful tool in achieving progress. But despite this approach working wonders in Cancun, the buzz among delegates is that Durban is indeed looking bleak.

Developing countries ramp up pressure

Developing countries lashed out at rich countries last week, accusing them of not engaging in a meaningful way in Bonn. In a veiled reference to the United States, Jorge Argüello - Argentina’s ambassador and chair of the G77 and China group - suggested some parties are attempting to stall progress and prevent the possibility of a deal in Durban.

“Some parties…are determined to prejudge the results of Durban without even the chance for a dialogue on the substance,” Argüello said. “We cannot go home [from Bonn] empty handed.”

Both the Mexican government, which holds the presidency of the COP until December, and its successor South Africa, are trying to keep the momentum of talks alive in advance of the Durban meeting. However, some delegates and observers note that coordination between the two countries is lacking and that they have yet to get clear signals from South Africa on its expectations for this year’s meeting.

In an informal open-door meeting on Saturday, South Africa called on parties to discuss their expectations for Durban. At the meeting, the G-77/China group and other developing countries insisted that Durban must first establish an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, followed by the a “balanced” operationalisation of the Cancun Agreements.

Kyoto prospects unlikely

Continued divisions between developed and developing countries have especially cast a pall over the future of the Kyoto Protocol. Kyoto’s first commitment period will expire in 2012 and several parties have already announced that they do not intend to support an extension, or “second commitment period,” of the agreement. Most recently, Canada on Thursday announced that that it would be joining Japan and Russia in rejecting a second phase of the emissions pact.

Canada’s right-leaning government - which has been critical of Kyoto in the past - was re-elected with a majority earlier this year, clearing the way for Ottawa to dig its heels in further on global climate action.

“Now that we’ve finished our election we can say now that Canada will not be taking a target under a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol,” Judith Gelbman, a member of Canada’s delegation, told delegates in Bonn. Canada has scored the worst of all the developed countries that signed and ratified Kyoto.

In a further blow to Kyoto, Christina Figueres, the UN’s top climate official, announced that the deadline for approving a second phase of the pact in time for the 2012 expiration date has already passed. Even if countries could agree to a plan in Bonn, she explained, the lengthy ratification process in national parliaments would stretch beyond December of next year.

Nonetheless, developing countries generally insist on the continuation of the protocol, saying that where there is a will there is a way. Should the new negotiations fail to provide a legal agreement for cutting emissions, Kyoto will be the only remaining venue for spurring global climate action.

Trade, response measures

The question of how to deal with the unintended consequences of the measures countries take to mitigate climate change was at the forefront of the Bonn meetings.  The “response measures” issue is addressed under all of the negotiating groups, making it the source of some of the early agenda-related conflicts.

The Cancun Agreements called for a forum focusing on the impact of response measures implementation. The forum would take place in Bonn and continue into Durban, with the objective of developing “modalities for the operalisation of a work programme and a possible forum on response measures.” Since Monday, parties and observer organisations have been participating in a “special session” on the subject, with detailed presentations from parties, intergovernmental organisations, and observer organisations.

Discussions to date have shown mixed feelings on whether to develop a permanent forum on response measures. Australia, the EU, and the US have come out strongly against it, suggesting instead that existing channels be used to avoid duplicating ongoing work. For instance, the EU noted that “national communications” is one existing option for addressing response measures that could be used before moving to a forum.

The G-77/China group rebuffed the EU’s stance, saying instead that current channels are inadequate for dealing with this subject appropriately. The Africa Group also supported the idea of “a dedicated dialogue on trade issues that arise in the climate change negotiations,” saying that there is “currently no forum to discuss these in a meaningful manner.”

In their statement, the Africa Group expressed concern that, in the absence of such a forum, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body might be forced to step in to address the response measures issue - a result that would lead to “judgments based on unclear rules and disciplines, with unpredictable outcomes.”

Most developing countries believe that the forum should address the negative impacts on developing countries that result from developed country mitigation actions by providing a space for access to information, analysis, solutions, and eventually recompense. The countries in OPEC’s oil cartel focused their arguments on the impacts of mitigation on their economies - a topic that causes many developed countries to oppose treatment of this issue at all.

ICTSD reporting; “SB 34 and AWG Highlights: Saturday, 11 June 2011,” EARTH NEGOTIATIONS BULLETIN, 13 June 2011; “Government confirms it will reject new Kyoto Protocol,” REUTERS, 9 June 2011; “US criticised over climate change stance at UN talks,” IRISH TIMES, 13 June 2011.

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