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Climate crawl

June 17, 2011

After two weeks of talks on the future of global climate policy came to an end at the UN in Bonn much was left to be desired. As the end of the Kyoto Protocol draws near, major progress is slow in coming.

A melting iceberg
The future of climate policy remains uncertainImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

After nearly two weeks of the United Nations Climate Conference in Bonn, delegates from some 180 nations left the former German capital on Friday not knowing when or where they'd see each other again. The date for the next preparatory meeting ahead of a UN summit of environment ministers in Durban, South Africa November hadn't yet been set. The next set of climate-related travel plans will have to wait until that announcement next week.

The head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, Christiana Figueres, did her best to put a constructive spin on the two-week conference in Bonn, despite the lack of a major breakthrough. Negotiations, she said, remain a complicated process where progress should not be expected in leaps and bounds.

"If you're in this business, you know that these international climate negotiations are the most important that the world has ever had," she said, adding that in such a complex process will never yield quick results.

Two realities

However, even Figueres had to admit that few tangible steps forward were made in Bonn. The divide between scientific findings and political motivation is still too large, she said.

Christiana Figueres
Figueres remained positive at the end of the talksImage: picture alliance/dpa

"There are at least two realities here that we have to bring together," Figueres said. "On one hand, science is saying our emissions in the atmosphere have to peak in 2015. That makes things that much more pressing for governments. The other reality is tied to politics and economics, which also affect climate deals."

Martin Kaiser, head of international climate politics at Greenpeace in Germany, said he sees many governments that aren't interested in pushing negotiations forward toward an acceptable deal.

"There are still many countries in the climate talks that don't want to see results and try to slow things down by bringing up procedural questions about the negotiations," Kaiser said. "Unfortunately, we saw that here in Bonn again."

Kaiser was critical of the role of the United States. Many had hoped US President Barack Obama would breathe new life into the climate negotiations, but Kaiser said the president lacks the political backing in Washington to take on major climate policy changes.

No love for Kyoto

One of the sticking points in Bonn was, once again, the Kyoto Protocol. The agreement's first commitment period covering nearly 40 industrialized countries expires at the end of 2012.

Japan, Canada and Russia have said they will not sign up for a new round of carbon-cutting vows. The European Union said it will only do so if other nations - including emerging giants such as China and India, which do not have binding targets - increase their efforts as well.

"It is not enough for the EU to simply sign up for another commitment period," said Jurgen Lefevere, the European Commission's representative at the talks. "We only represent about 11 percent of global emissions. We need a solution for the remaining 89 percent as well."

Developing nations, however, have pushed for Kyoto to be renewed in its current form, which does not set binding targets for developing countries.

Norbert Röttgen
Röttgen will host his peers next month in BerlinImage: picture alliance/dpa

One of the agreement's biggest shortcoming was the fact that the world's biggest polluters - China and the United States - never ratified it.

Unfinished business

Lack of movement on the future of the Kyoto Protocol isn't the only thing that has stalled. The world's "Green Fund," an international climate fund, has hardly cleared any hurdles either.

To give that project a jump-start, the German government has invited environment ministers to a meeting in Berlin next month. There, German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen hopes to use informal talks with his global peers to salvage the negotiations.

As for the next official talks, another meeting has been agreed to in principle ahead of the summit in Durban in November to keep the ball rolling. The full details of that meeting, such as a date and a place, are another piece of unfinished business from the climate talks in Bonn.

Author: Helle Jeppesen / mz

Editor: Sean Sinico