The UN climate conference in Bonn, Germany ended with delegates expressing tempered optimism that a new global pact may be within reach. Strong divisions remain as developing nations demand increased support.
The latest round of international talks on climate change closed on Friday with delegates generally pleased about the growing collegial spirit at the negotiation table. "The session has been quite positive," said Andrés Pirazzoli, a negotiator with the Chilean delegation. "We were able to be more open, more frank."
Sabine Bock, the director of the German branch of Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF) echoed his enthusiasm. "I'm pleased with it and I share that with many others here," she said. "It's a positive, concentrated atmosphere, which is always very important at these talks."
More than 1,000 participants, including delegates from 176 countries, were gathered in Bonn to continue negotiations on a global treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in seven years. They discussed strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep the average global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius. This is considered the best strategy for avoiding dangerous climate change.
There was a heightened sense of urgency at the talks, following new evidence that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are about to cross the critical threshold of 400 parts per million.
The delegates were also tasked with addressing the needs of nations most affected by climate change. Developing nations are likely to pay the highest price for the effects of global warming, including loss of land to rising tides and desertification, vast deforestation, dramatic biodiversity declines and increasingly extreme weather.
One of the dividing issues at this round of talks was whether global powers should focus on mitigating climate change or on helping affected nations cope. "Richer nations feel developing countries and emerging economies are emitting more and will soon be equal in terms of the share. So they think mitigation should be the focus," Pirazzoli explained.
That position provoked a sharp reaction from Bernaditas de Castro Müller, a negotiator with the Philippines delegation. "Yes we will take mitigation action," she said in a fiery speech at the conference. "As soon as we stop drowning!"
She expressed frustration at the call for action from developing nations, when they played almost no role in damaging the environment and do not reap the benefits of the industrial activity which caused the damage in the first place.
"It is the obligations of those who have responsibilities for historical emissions to share the resources that they have acquired through a misuse of the global commons," she said.
She balked at the suggestion that developing nations move to reduce their carbon footprint. "Many developing countries, including mine, have low emissions. What do you reduce when a man eats once a day? How do you ask them to diet?" she asked.
But Pirazzoli explained that - while he understands this position - everyone, including developing nations, has a role to play. He said the Chilean delegates want to see wealthy nations to lead by example. "We believe that nations that profited from a world without carbon constriction should lead the way in terms of ambition," he said.
Climate change affects women
Another issue tabled at this round of talks was the effect of climate change on women. As they are usually responsible for raising children and running households, they are often tasked with securing water, fuel and food. As small scale farmers, they have less access to resources than men to cope with failing crops or other fallout from climate change. Women are at a greater risk for disease and violence if they are displaced by desertification, flooding or other climate stress.
Women like Apolonia Alvarez, a farmer in Mexico, have limited access to resources for adapting to climate change
Sabine Bock from the WECF was at the talks representing more that a 100 environmental and women’s organizations. She explained that an estimated 70 percent of the world's poor are women. "The poor will be affected by climate change most," she told DW. "It's really important to put measures in place to enable women, so that they can contribute to mitigation and adaptation, and to put safeguards in place for them as well."
The long road to Paris
The talks were part of the lead-up to a major climate conference in Paris in 2015, where it's hoped a new global deal on climate protection to succeed Kyoto will be signed. Earlier this week, at a roundtable event, the delegation from Indonesia said a clear plan was needed in order to shape the 2015 agreement.
"We have to choose the most effective and efficient actions which produce less emissions and benefit the country's sustainable development," the Indonesian delegate explained. They called for the involvement "of public and private sectors at different levels of governance, to actually implement mitigation and adaptation actions."
Sabine Bock from the WECF said she believes delegates are increasingly aware of opportunities provided by new green economies. Her own country, Germany, is investing heavily in renewable energy as part of a national effort to reduce emissions. "People should be aware that there is also a new chance in this big transformation. If you follow this low carbon path, there are real opportunities in terms of jobs."
China is investing heavily in renewable energy, but climate negotiators want the country to commit to lower emissions
China has overtaken the United States as the world's biggest producer of carbon dioxide. Getting both nations to agree on a new, global climate pact will be a major challenge in the lead-up to the talks in Paris.
"I would like to see China commit. There is this game between the US and China. They are both waiting for the other to make a move." said Chilean negotiator Pirazzoli. "Meanwhile, people in China are suffering, people in the US are suffering. We see what is happening on the coasts. Food is going to be a big issue for China."
He thinks China and US have an important role to play in defining the future. "I would like to see these two nations being more ambitious, that would raise the bar for the world."
Ahead of the UN climate summit in Paris key issues remain on the negotiating table, European cities find novel ways to reduce their carbon footprint, and all aboard the climate train.