As the two-week talks drew to a close on Friday (12 June), the negotiating text had swelled to hundreds of pages as all parties raced to add their amendments. There was, however, no movement towards agreement on financing for climate mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries, recognised as a prerequisite for any agreement in Copenhagen next December.
The European Union was criticised for sending the wrong signals, as EU finance ministers at their meeting on 9 June did not put forward any concrete figures but merely agreed on criteria for how developed nations should share the burden of future funding (EurActiv 09/06/09). The US was equally criticised for a lack of leadership.
"The US has been very quiet this time around," said Tim Gore, Oxfam International's climate change adviser, drawing a comparison to the first round of talks two months ago. Back then, the global community broadly welcomed the engagement of President Barack Obama's administration after years of inaction under President Bush.
It is far from certain whether the US will be able to get its climate bill through Congress by the end of the year, which would cement the government's mandate to sign up to emission reduction targets. Concerns are now being raised that the anticipated US leadership on ambitious commitments to reduce emissions will not materialise in the face of domestic realities.
Indeed, rich nations did not come any closer to agreeing a collective emissions reduction goal. They came under heavy criticism on the final day of the Bonn conference, when 40 developing countries of the G-77 specifically called for a 40% below 1990-level emissions reduction target for industrialised nations.
Neither the EU's 30% offer in case other developed nations sign up to comparable efforts, nor the target of returning to 1990 levels in the draft US draft climate bill come anywhere close to this. Moreover, Russia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Belarus and Ukraine refused even to define an initial target.
Japanese target 'pathetic'
The eagerly awaited unveiling of Japan's midterm target for emissions reductions turned into one of the greatest disappointments of the talks. Japan's Prime Minister Taro Aso announced that his country would cut its greenhouse-gas emissions to 15% below 2005 levels by 2020. However, this only translates into an 8% cut from 1990 levels.
"It was essentially a slap in the face of developing countries that called for a 40% target," Gore said.
Aso, however, asserted that the target was ambitious and pointed out that Japan was already the most energy-efficient economy in the world.
But observers were quick to note that the target was only marginally above the 6% commitment that Japan had made under the Kyoto Protocol.
"This is a great shame, and it sets the wrong tone for the negotiations here in Bonn. Aso's decision, influenced by polluters rather than the public, makes reaching a good deal even harder," said Kim Carstensen, who leads WWF's Climate Initiative.
The EU was cautious not to criticise Japan's feeble commitment, and simply "encouraged" Tokyo to take further steps.
Aviation and shipping to contribute
But observers noted that discussions on funding mechanisms had seen some progress, as consensus was building around a Mexican proposal for a climate fund. The idea of the fund - to which all parties, including developing and developed nations, contribute according to their GDP, population and level of emissions - is proving popular due to its universality.
The contribution of the aviation and shipping industries to climate funding was raised, as a group of developing countries proposed a levy on international flight tickets and shipping fuel. This could be used to help them deal with the consequences of climate change, they said.
Australia also proposed a mechanism to cap emissions in the two sectors. But it did not say how the money raised via the mechanism should be spent.
The EU has included the aviation in its emissions trading scheme (EU ETS; see EurActiv LinksDossier), but it has been waiting for the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to come up with a framework for shipping emissions. Nevertheless, it has pledged to address maritime emissions alone in the event that the IMO continues to drag its feet on the issue, and the pressure is now on for it to put its weight behind an international framework within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Call for high-level intervention
With the talks continuing to produce few tangible results, NGOs started calling for intervention at the highest political level.
"It's clear that many of the government officials negotiating in Bonn are in their own little bubble, impervious to both public concern and climate science," said Martin Kaiser, Greenpeace International's climate policy director.
World leaders should step up to the plate at the G8 meeting in July in Italy and start fighting for an ambitious outcome in Copenhagen, green groups said.