At the Bonn Climate Talks, Developing Countries Will Need to Hold Their Own

As the Bonn climate talks begin, there are clear signs that developed countries want to renegotiate the Paris Agreement. Developing countries must ensure they do not let this happen.

A previous UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany. Credit: UN Climate Change/Flickr

One hundred and ninety-seven countries, the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), will meet in Bonn, Germany, from May 8-18 to kick off the mid-year climate change talks.

The focus of the talks will be the implementation of the provisions of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, approved in December 2015. Implementation of the agreement at this stage essentially involves rulemaking in various areas such as mitigation, adaptation, means of implementation (finance, technology, capacity building), reporting arrangements under transparency framework and matters related to compliance. The rulemaking responsibilities have been distributed to a host of different bodies by the Paris Agreement, with a 2018 deadline to finish crafting the rules.

Countries, therefore, will be under considerable pressure to advance work in each of the respective areas during the Bonn session. They will also be expected to move from stating their understanding of issues to drafting a negotiations text by the end of the year.

As the climate talks convene, there is uncertainty over whether the US will remain in the Paris Agreement. While it is not clear whether a final decision on the issue will be announced during the climate talks, what is clear, however, is that US’s decision to slash funding to UN systems will have an adverse impact. This will play out especially in the discussions on UNFCCC’s budget at the May session. As a result, countries will now have to reassess their priorities.

Unfortunately, this comes at a time when the Earth’s temperature has risen about 1.1°C since the industrial revolution, the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels has hit 410 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human history and 2016 was recorded to be the warmest year. According to science, 450 ppm is the “danger level” at which there is only a 50% chance of keeping global temperature rise to 2°C. The Paris Agreement talks about restricting global temperature rise to well below 2°C, its long-term temperature goal, and pursue efforts to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. Realising this objective will be Herculean, more so because of the differences in approaches of developed and developing countries on practically every issue under consideration.

Consider this. Under the Paris Agreement, countries submitted nationally determined contributions (NDCs). These NDCs essentially are actions that countries will undertake at home to address or restrict climate change. Developing countries have also included as a core component in the NDCs their adaptation efforts, plans and extent of suffering from the growing impacts of climate change. Most developing countries’ NDCs unequivocally state that they will need support in terms of finance, technology and capacity building from the developed countries to fulfil their NDCs. This means that the actions they undertake are dependent on the support they receive.

Various assessments point to the requirement of $2-4 trillion to fulfil developing countries’ NDCs. Assessments also reveal that the NDCs put together would restrict global temperature increase to about 3°C, which is way off the mark. The key word, therefore, is ‘more’ – more ambitious action to be supported by more ambitious support from developed to developing countries. Without the support, the world can forget about the NDCs being fulfilled.

To make matters worse, developed countries only want to focus on the mitigation efforts of countries, quantify these efforts and evaluate progress against the temperature goal. Even though they know that fulfillment of NDCs is dependent on support, they do not attach much importance to discussions on the support. Such an approach will not be helpful to advance the cause.

Also, focusing on the mitigation aspect of NDCs is a limited reading of the Paris Agreement. The agreement is comprehensive in that the NDCs cover mitigation, adaptation as well as means of implementation.

Besides mitigation, support for adaptation too is expected to be heavily contested in Bonn. The position of developing countries is clear that they will need support on adaptation from the developed countries and that they should provide information on that support. However, there is no indication of support for adaptation from the developed countries.

The EU, in fact, calls on developing countries to provide information on south-south cooperation on adaptation, which is preposterous, because providing such information is outside of the mandated scope of the Paris Agreement. The context of negotiations under the mother convention (the UNFCCC) is developed countries caused the problem of climate change and will help developing countries with finance and technology to adopt low-carbon or alternative pathways. It does not talk of any south-south cooperation, which is purely voluntary.

Then, with respect to the reporting rules under the transparency framework of the Paris Agreement, developed countries want to create common rules for developed and developing countries. These rules are essentially about how countries’ efforts on climate change are measured, reported and verified. With different countries at different development stages, developing countries are calling for a differentiated transparency framework between developed and developing countries. Operationalising differentiation in the framework will be another bone of contention during the rulemaking process.

The transparency framework comprises transparency of action (efforts by countries) and transparency of support (support provided for the efforts). Here, too, developed countries do not appear very keen on providing information in a manner where its support can be reviewed or verified. Developing countries are expected to resist such an approach.

While there will be other contentious areas, such as climate finance, technology issues and compliance matters, overall, there are clear signs that developed countries want to renegotiate the Paris Agreement. Developing countries must ensure they do not let this happen.

Indrajit Bose works with Third World Network and can be reached at boseindrajit@gmail.com


    Crucial problem is with developed nations, especially US as the Trump government has been opposing Paris agreement and the policies have been very disappointing towards climate change. It is to be seen to what extent can the developing countries exert pressure on rich nation’s governments to adopt climate change agreements and work for a safer pollution – free world by reducing carbon emissions