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High hopes despite slow speed as Bonn climate talks wrap up

un climate talks resume

Creative Commons: UNFCCC, 2014

With 2015 tipped to be the hottest year on record “by a mile”, negotiators gathering in Bonn this week had a timely reminder of what’s at stake as unprecedented hurricanes and record-breaking heat cast their shadow over the talks.

A deadly storm in Dominica reportedly set development back 20 years, Cape Verde braced itself for its first night ever spent under a hurricane warning, and – in what was another never-before-recorded event – the Pacific Ocean played host to three major hurricanes at the same time.

Yet this urgency didn’t fully translate into the UN talks, as progress on refining the negotiating text remained slow.

Christian Aid’s Mohamed Adow, said:

Against the background of recording breaking temperatures and extreme weather events helping the poor adapt and recover is vital to any global deal. But progress in Bonn has been painstakingly slow and to get a deal worth the effort then they must speed up the process between now and the next session in October.

Positive momentum from high-level meetings outside of the UN process in recent weeks, however, is starting to get reflected in the talks, resulting in promising signals from a range of parties.

Negotiators showed willingness to find compromise on contentious issues, revealing potential shifts in positions and an increase in flexibility.

Getting to grips with the new text on the table dominated the week’s discussions, but countries did signal a new preparedness to openly discuss potential roadblock issues.

On Loss & Damage – aimed at helping vulnerable countries deal with irreversible climate impacts – efforts to block or slow progress by the US, Australia and EU are softening, with the group of countries putting forward a new proposal raising hopes that the issue will be given weight in the 2015 agreement. LDCs and AOSIS also merged their proposals on Loss & Damage, which were put forward as a new submission by the G77, further advancing conversations.

Movement on each piece of the negotiations travelled at a different speed, and some important pieces moved in the wrong direction altogether.

As campaigners filled the halls with buzz supporting a strong role for human rights in the Paris Agreement, Saudi Arabia moved to strip the language out. A number of issues NGOs worked hard to advance in recent months – gender, a just transition, and indigenous rights – have lost ground in the draft negotiating text.

Negotiations on finance saw new, promising proposals, including submissions by parties on how to scale up support for developing countries, and what the institutional framework for climate finance might look like in the Paris deal.

On the mitigation front, an impressive contribution by Saint Lucia added weight to our push for countries to increase their climate action plans every five years – especially essential given the weak pledges currently on the table. Conversations around how to differentiate between country’s mitigation obligations – one of the most difficult issues to grapple with – continued as well.

As negotiators leave Bonn, focus will now shift to Minister and Heads of State to inject the process with more of their presence, especially following a series of high level meetings scheduled for the next six weeks, and to provide further clarity on crunch issues ahead of the next round of UN talks in October, again in Bonn.

They will be expected to further craft compromises on key outstanding issues, which can be translated into formal submissions to the negotiations between now and the start of the next session.

This will help the co-chairs of the negotiations as they produce a well-organised and concise new tool that can drive negotiations in October and provide a strong basis for faster progress ahead of the December deadline.

Greenpeace’s Jasper Inventor said:

The clock is ticking, and country negotiators cannot just sit and wait until October. They need to find compromises on the key outstanding issues between now and the start of the next session. We need a better mutual understanding than they currently have—ready to build a Paris agreement together that can deliver the action needed for a climate safe future.

The French COP21 Presidency’s Ministerial meeting on 5-6 September will address adaptation and Loss & Damage. Just a few weeks later, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will gather Heads of State in New York to push for progress on climate action.

Observers insist that these deliberations need to be reflected inside the negotiations if we are to build an agreement which moves beyond current national commitments which scientists say would see the climate spin out of control, devastating vulnerable communities and impacting human rights.

Those countries which have yet to do so, such as Brazil and India, will be expected to put forward their climate pledges – or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.

To date, nearly 60 countries, representing around 60 per cent of global emissions, have submitted their pledges – including some of the world’s biggest emitters such as Canada, the EU, the US, China and many of the world’s most vulnerable nations, most recently the Marshall Islands and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This week Indonesia and Algeria became the latest countries to put forward their pledges, with Indonesia’s submission quickly criticised by local NGOs as unachievable if the country remains hooked on dirty coal. They stressed that it is “critical that Indonesia moves away from coal, and embrace what could potentially be abundant sources of clean and renewable energy”.

With new analysis showing that pledges currently on the table will leave government’s overshooting their aim of holding warming below the internationally agreed 2DegC threshold, civil society groups are urging governments to consider what more they can do to scale up the collective effort before their plans come into effect.

On top of this they stress that governments need to agree to regularly review and increase them thereafter, and make sure their policy choices are consistent with their national action plans – as maintaining fossil fuel subsidies and investing more in major fossil fuel projects now while resenting pledges to move away from dirty energy in a few years time doesn’t make sense.

Adow said:

Right now, the country commitments won’t keep us under 2°C, much less 1.5°C. A good deal will to create a framework for countries to continually increase their ambition, protect the most vulnerable, and prevent catastrophic climate change. This means the deal needs to provide support for poor countries to adapt and develop on a low-carbon path.

In doing so, these governments could ensure that they end up on the right side of history, getting on board with the fast growing transition from risky fossil fuels towards a future powered by 100% renewable energy.

In the latest sign that fossil fuels are no longer an attractive investment, this week has seen the US state legislature of California pull its money out of fossil fuels, while food giant General Mills announced a plan for deep emission cuts.

New announcements like this on a daily basis are adding weight to the global call from citizens, businesses, investors, health professionals, faith leaders, scientists and many others for governments to do the right thing and speed up the ongoing transition rather than watching from the sidelines or standing in the way, together with the vested interests that keep ignoring the writing on the wall and pretend we can continue with business as usual.

350.org Strategy and Communications Director, Jamie Henn said:

Negotiators are still playing catch up with a world that is rapidly turning away from fossil fuels. Many countries’ pledges to cut emissions and increase finance are grossly inadequate with what science and justice demand. Negotiators must mind the gap, and fix it, before Paris. While negotiations dawdled in Bonn this week, the transition away from fossil fuels accelerated: California voted to divest its pension funds and Newcastle, the world’s largest coal port, dumped its own coal stocks. Countries should follow their lead and commit to keep fossils fuels in the ground and finance the transition to an 100% renewable energy future.

When they meet back in Bonn in October, governments are expected to match real world momentum with swift negotiations towards a Paris agreement that puts the world on a pathway towards a safe climate future.

Tasneem Essop, WWF’s Head of Delegation to the UN climate negotiations said:

There is consensus that we really, really need to get cracking. Negotiators will have to come to the next session ready to roll up their sleeves and tackle the key issues. We have seen a little progress in simplifying some of the options which should make negotiation and compromise on these issues easier at the next session.

Key to this success will be building an architecture with enough bite to review, renew and scale up commitments regularly, and including a growing package of support for developing nations to roll out renewable energy and to protect people and prepare them to deal with worsening extreme weather and rising seas, while ensuring there’s a concrete way to address loss and damage caused by climate impacts hitting across the globe.

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