Policy Update #2

What to Expect on the Bonn Voyage

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Winston Churchill, 1942

On Sunday afternoon, 29 March, the first major round of UNFCCC negotiations for 2009 kicked off in Bonn, Germany. The talks are set to run for another ten days, concluding on Wednesday, 8 April.

What should we expect from this event? How does it fit into the series of meetings agreed in Bali in late 2007 with the aim of securing success in Copenhagen two years later?

Most experts agree that 2008 represented only the first stage of discussions. Some viewed it as a “trust-building exercise” where parties could exchange views and start to understand each other's aims and concerns. Such exchanges can play an important role in constructing an outcome that accommodates parties' myriad goals and expectations. Although some had hoped for more progress – at least in the AWG-KP talks on Annex I commitments – there was a general sense that the time was not yet ripe politically to move into full negotiating mode.

In 2009, that first phase has finished. To borrow from Churchill, it is “the end of the beginning.” Delegates are now set to start their negotiations in earnest.

In reality, the new phase has probably already begun. In February and March, a series of submissions were put forward by parties and other stakeholders on almost every aspect of a possible final agreement. As readers of Climate Change Policy & Practice's Daily Feed will have noticed, these included parties' submissions for the AWG-KP (the group dealing with Annex I parties' commitments), as well as on elements of the AWG-LCA's work (which addresses mitigation, adaptation, technology and finance in relation to both developed and developing countries). A search of the Climate Change Policy & Practice database for March 2009 shows that submissions have covered issues ranging from improving the flexible mechanisms to industrialized countries' emissions reductions.

What to Expect on the Bonn Voyage

It is in Bonn over the coming days that the first serious efforts will be made to turn these inputs into negotiating texts. The AWG-KP will focus on possible amendments to the Protocol and related draft decisions. It is likely negotiators will be asked to work initially on two documents. The first will be a text on proposed amendments pursuant to Article 3.9 of the Protocol (which deals with commitments for Annex I parties after the first commitment period ends in 2012). The second will be a text on a critical set of issues raised during the AWG-KP session in Poznań in December 2008 and listed in paragraph 49 of the AWG-KP's official report. This list includes such thorny issues as the all-important scale of Annex I emission reductions, the duration of future commitment periods, improvements to emissions trading and the project-based mechanisms, rules for LULUCF, sectoral emissions and the inclusion of new greenhouse gases. Preliminary discussions started late last week.

The AWG-LCA is also expected to move into “full negotiating mode.” On Friday, 27 March, AWG-LCA Chair Michael Zammit Cutajar of Malta presented a document setting out his vision for fulfilling the Bali Action Plan and possible components for an agreed outcome in Copenhagen. This document identifies areas of possible consensus based on parties' submissions and proposals. It also pinpoints areas of disagreement. The document is expected to set the scene for negotiations in Bonn.

Many Ideas, Many Solutions?

The texts that should evolve in the coming days will not be finalized in Bonn. Many observers expect some of the texts to be little more than compilations of ideas. A review of the recent submissions suggests that some ideas are contradictory or highly controversial. For instance, there are a range of views on REDD, including whether to include land degradation and conservation activities. There are also numerous proposals relating to market-based mechanisms, including a possible sustainable development mechanism. How will parties respond to a proposal to include REDD or new technologies under the CDM, or to create a new mechanism for “nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing countries” (NAMAs)?  What about the legal form and legal implications of any future agreement, and whether (and how) to link discussions under the AWG-KP and AWG-LCA? According to submissions and previous statements, these are issues on which there is no clear consensus.

The current Bonn meeting will not resolve such issues. But it will start to address them more seriously. As such, Bonn represents not the end of the process, but the beginning of the next phase.

Reading the (External) Signs

Of course, the UNFCCC does not happen in a vacuum. Outside the UN arena, several recent events have implications for the process. On 28 March, new US President Barack Obama invited the world's 16 major economies to Washington, DC, for a meeting on climate change on 27 and 28 April. At least two further meetings are being considered. The announcement is a sign of the new administration's strong interest in reaching a global climate deal. It also raises questions about how external processes like this will contribute to the UNFCCC discussions. Is it possible that a small group of key players such as those to be invited to Washington will sign a political deal that would then be translated into a detailed agreement under the UNFCCC?

Meanwhile, how significant is China's recent proposal that its exports should not be counted towards its emissions levels, but rather to those of importing countries? Or the suggestion on 27 March by a Chinese government think tank that targets for countries should be based on historical emissions?

Also, how much should one read into the absence of any strong reference to financial support for developing countries at the EU's Spring Council for Heads of State? Is it a sign that the global economic crisis is affecting EU thinking on climate change spending, as some news articles suggest? Or is this just pure media speculation?

At this point, it is probably too soon to answer these questions. In the meantime, the work of the UNFCCC will continue, and the latest round of talks in Bonn will give at least some clues as to progress in this new stage in the process.

For those wishing to follow the Bonn talks in detail, a team of experts working for our sister publication, Earth Negotiations Bulletin, will be providing daily reports and photographic coverage. For more information, visit: http://www.iisd.ca/climate/ccwg5/