The latest round of international climate talks in Bonn last week ended with disappointing results, raising concerns that a lack of progress is now effectively making a comprehensive climate deal in Copenhagen in December unrealistic.
The informal talks under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on 10-14 August were intended to cut down the negotiating text, which swelled to over 200 pages after the last talks in Bonn in June.
Only “selective” progress was made to consolidate the huge text, according to UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer stated. “If we continue at this rate, we are not going to make it,” he warned.
Anders Turesson, climate negotiator for Sweden, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, agreed that progress is too slow. He argued that a dramatic change of gear will have to happen at the next round of talks in Bangkok in late September if a deal in Copenhagen is still in the cards.
Disagreement over who picks up the bill
Funding for climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries remains the main stumbling bloc.
Poor countries that are just going through with industrialisation insist that rich nations have a historical responsibility for climate change and should assist them in acquiring technologies needed to halt greenhouse gas emissions. But the EU and other industrialised countries want the developing countries to chip in, at the very least, by compiling national emission reduction strategies, before they put any money on the table.
Another central disagreement remains the scale of each party’s contribution to emissions reductions in the spirit of the principle of common but differentiated responsibility. Little progress was made however last week to define the respective responsibilities.
Figures released by the UNFCCC on 11 August showed that the emission reduction pledges so far tabled by industrialised countries would result in a 15-21% cut from 1990 levels. But this falls far short of the 25-40% that the UN scientific body Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says is necessary to halt global warming below the critical 2°C threshold.
Crucially, these numbers exclude the US, which did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Including the world’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter after China would water down the overall goal as it only plans a return to 1990 emission levels by 2020 in its draft climate bill that pledges to cut emissions by 17% from 2005 levels.
Developing countries have called for the developed countries to shoulder their full responsibility by committing to at least 40% cuts in the midterm. The EU has so far made the most ambitious offer by pledging to raise its 20% goal to 30% in case other industrialised countries, notably the US, take on comparable targets.
The US has, however, clearly indicated that it will not budge from its 2020 targets, preferring to focus on the long-term instead.
“There has been a general feeling of unhappiness about the level of efforts that [developed nations] say they will take,” China’s climate ambassador Yu Qingtai told Reuters on the sidelines in Bonn. He accused the rich nations of trying to shift the burden to developing countries instead by demanding them to take action that might jeopardise their economic growth.
Industrialised countries, however, insist that developing countries make their contribution to the fight against climate change.
“We also need to see the cards of the developing countries,” the EU’s climate negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger argued. He said it is still not clear what these nations are prepared to contribute while developed countries have by and large already put their cards on the table.
Observers are now toning down their expectations for Copenhagen, as a complete agreement seems to be slipping out of sight in favour of a basic framework that could then be filled with substance in the course of 2010.
The next meeting carrying real political weight will be the Bangkok meeting at the end of September. Between now and the December climate conference in Copenhagen, only fifteen negotiating days remain, with the last meeting taking place in Barcelona in November.