No Breakthrough at Bonn Climate Change Conference Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC


At the end of the Climate Change Conference in Bonn (June 6th to 17th ), Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said that the negotiations on climate change were “the most important negotiation the world has ever faced.” [1] Unfortunately, there was no dramatic break-through at the Bonn conference. Maybe it is too much to expect that the UNFCCC multi-track negotiation process can deliver a decisive outcomes.  Figueres appeared to acknowledge this herself when she said that  “governments, business organisations and civil society can’t solve the climate (problem) with a single treaty.”[2]

In reality unless the various parties to the negotiations are more flexible at the Conference of the Parties (COP 17) in  Durban in late November and early December 2011, then the goal of keeping the average increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius which was set at the Copenhagen meeting in 2009, will not be possible.   Agreement in Durban is essential, because the Kyoto Protocol (KP), which is the only current legally binding treaty on reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), expires in 2012.  A breakdown in negotiations in Durban could lead to a free-for-all which would see GHG emissions soar rather than fall, with horrendous consequences for everyone, especially the poor of the world.

The most important goal of any climate change agreement is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  In the language of the UNFCCC this is called mitigation.  During much of the past 10 years the European Union has given a lead in setting reasonable challenging mitigation targets for the member states.  This too is beginning to change. At the  conclusion of the Bonn talks the Jurgen Lefevere, the EU’s climate policy coordinator, said that it was not feasible to expect the 27  member states of the EU to sign up to a renewal of the K P  unless other countries take their responsibilities seriously.  He pointed out that the EU’s  GHG emission is only responsible for 11 per cent of global emissions. He stated that “we need a solution for the remaining 89 per cent as well.”  Other  major emitters such as the U.S. and China must come on board if a comprehensive solution is going to be found in Durban.[3]

The most disappointing development on this front is that countries, which were very much involved in creating and designing the K P have signalled that they plan to abandon the Kyoto Protocol when it expires next year.  These countries are Japan, were the Protocol was first negotiated, Russia which brought the treaty into forces when it signed the protocol, and Canada which launched the  negotiations for the second commitment period to K P  at the Montreal conference in 2005.

Equally unhelpful were the comments of the chief US negotiator Jonathan Pershing. He ruled out making any further commitments beyond the 17 per cent  cut in emissions by 2020. He gave the usual excuse that the U.S. is not “prepared to have a legal agreement that would apply to us and not to others.”[4]  This shows no awareness whatever of  the historic contribution which the U.S. and Europe have made for over a century and a half to increasing carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere which is responsible for triggering the warming of the atmosphere.  It also means that there is little possibility of closing, what is now being called the Gigatonne, Gap between what has been  pledged by many countries and the 2 degree target.  The position of the UNFCCC  has been that every country must act “in a  spirit of common but differentiated responsibility.”  This position was endorsed in a important paper entitled the “Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene,” from the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences.


While some progress on a Green Climate Fund was made at Bonn, there is little point in having a well structured and managed fund unless there is a substantial amount of money in the kitty.   Concrete decisions must be made in Durban to guarantee that the climate fund will reach $100 billion by 2020.  Here again the U.S. negotiators at Bonn were trying to block any progress on this front.  Tim Gore, Oxfam’s climate change policy advisor that the  U.S. had “done its best (in Bonn) to block any meaningful discussions  on the sources of climate finance from 2013 to 2020.”[5] Without such funds farmers and other sectors in poor countries will suffer greatly because they will not be in a position to adapt to the climate change which is already underway.

[1] Frank McDonald, “EU not prepared to go it alone on Kyoto nenewal,” The Irish Times, June 18th 2011, page 11.


[2] Ibid.

[3]  ibid

[4] ibid

[5]  ibid


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