Special Bonn Edition
As I write this, I’m sitting in the back of the plenary hall of the Intercessional United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference here at the Maritim Hotel just outside of Bonn, Germany. The meeting I am observing goes by the impressive name: AWG-LCA workshop on clarification of the developed country Parties’ quantified economy-wide emission reduction targets and related assumptions and conditions. Thus far, delegates from various countries have restated what their emissions reductions targets are and listed the actions they are currently taking to meet these targets. They also explained the various challenges they face and the many reasons why it’s difficult to meet existing emissions reductions targets, let alone do much more to address the climate crisis.
Sitting here can be a bizarre experience. There are times when delegates passionately call for action as they describe in painful detail the ravages climate change will bring to their people. In the case of small island states, climate change poses a truly existential crisis. Yet, just an hour later, delegates seem to slip back into a slow, bureaucratic series of processes and formalities that fail to reflect the urgency everyone previously agreed to. Imagine the head of surgery informing you that you have a horrible brain tumor. You are on the brink of death and a complicated procedure is required immediately if you are to survive. All is not lost, but the moment to act is now. But, rather than immediately preparing for surgery, the doctor then informs you that he has a plan. Even though he knows exactly what he needs to do, he’s going to confer with his colleagues in several weeks. After they spend a few days hashing out a plan, they will get back to you with a report… and hopefully in several months will present an agreement to operate.
At times, this is exactly how the UNFCCC process feels, which points to the need for more civil society engagement and greater work across the board to enact the host of policies needed to decarbonize our economy and prepare for climate impacts.
These are primarily planning meetings—setting the stage for the run up to COP-18 in Doha, Qatar in November—so media coverage is low, as are expectations for groundbreaking decisions. However, these gatherings are quite important since they shape the agendas, work plans, and the tenor of discussion for future negotiations. As such, the level of ambition for reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs), how equity will be included in both mitigation pledges and adaptation support, and next steps for the Durban Platform are all being closely watched.
Why is “equity” such a big deal here? In short, as parties hammer out the next phase of an international climate agreement, they’ll need to decide on critical issues including emission reduction targets as well as who pays for climate impacts and adaptation. Everyone agrees that the burden of these challenges should be distributed fairly–but defining what is “fair” and translating it into specific numbers is easier said than done.
Closely tied to equity is the often-mentioned topic of “ambition.” Raising the level of ambition for GHG reduction targets is acknowledged by everyone here as absolutely necessary if we are to stay on a pathway close to 2 degrees of global warming. Actually committing to realistic numbers proves vexing. The roll-out of the Durban Platform for Action (ADP), which kicked off this week, will be one of the key pathways through which countries will engage on this important issue.
Make no mistake, as the International Energy Agency has recently indicated, the current emissions trajectory puts us on a collision course with climate catastrophe. Delegate after delegate has expressed the level of urgency under which we should be operating. The window for dramatically ramping down emissions and rapidly scaling up renewable energy is quickly closing.
As this intercessional continues, US Climate Action Network and others will continue to follow the negotiations. However, the truth is that unless civil society in the US can drive US political and business leadership to lead on climate change, the international process will continue to crawl slowly, falling well short of what’s called for by science and morality. So, whether you are working on protecting the Industrial Carbon Pollution Standard, energy efficiency, or ramping up renewable energy, make sure the Administration and Congress knows you are watching and that we need a strong global climate agreement now. To get the latest on what’s happening here in Bonn, I encourage you to check out USCAN’s climate talks page which is compiling resources, updates, other useful sites like CAN-International’s ECO Blog.
JP Leous, Outreach Director, US Climate Action Network.