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climate talks

Irene QuaileJune 15, 2014

The latest round of UN climate negotiations in Bonn ended on Sunday. Delegates and observers say a new constructive approach by key players has brought an upswing to the climate debate.

Demo für erneuerbare Energien in Bonn 06.06.2014 Klimakonferenz
Image: B. Arnold/Greenpeace

Two weeks of climate talks in Germany's UN city Bonn ended with widespread agreement that, in spite of obstacles ahead, the climate process could be on track towards a new world climate agreement in Paris in 2015.

Although the interim working meeting made little visible progress on details and an additional session has been planned for October, participants and observers told DW they sensed a new will among the key players to commit to binding targets and promote the shift to renewable energies to reduce emissions and halt global temperature rise.

Extreme weather as incentive for action

Greenpeace Climate Policy Chief Martin Kaiser told DW there was a “light of hope” in the negotiations. US President Obama's announcement ahead of the meeting that he would reform the coal sector and signals that China could be ready to commit to targets early next year had been “clear signals that the two biggest polluters will work towards a climate agreement in Paris”, said Kaiser.

USA Wirbelsturm Sandy New York 2012 VORHER/NACHHER
Hurricane Sandy convinced New York about climate.Image: Reuters

“President Obama himself has put climate change as a top priority for his last years as president. He wants to build his legacy on that issue and it's clear that he is driving the discussions behind the scenes,” Kaiser added. Extreme storms and flooding in the US had convinced Americans of the need to reduce emissions to halt warming.

The Greenpeace expert believes China, too, is serious in its new commitment:

“What we can see is that the pollution in the big cities from the burning of coal and traffic is basically driving the political agenda in the country where we have seen the largest emissions over the last couple of years. And they are actually preparing more and more policies in limiting the emissions from the coal sector, and working also towards a more comprehensive nationwide target,” Kaiser noted.

Chrisoph Bals from Germanwatch said “for the first time there are signs that climate protection is coming out of the defensive. The Bonn talks were serious and constructive, and many states are preparing their commitments for an international agreement in Paris, including the key players”.

No emissions cuts without finance pledges

The key to a successful agreement on emissions reductions at the Paris meeting lies in climate funding, says Matthias Söderberg, head of the ACT alliance delegation. The group of church and human-rights organizations promotes the interests of developing countries at the negotiations:

Philippinen Folgen Haiyan
Developing countries need help to cope with effects of disasters like Hurricane HayanImage: DW/R. I. Duerr

“If there is no progress, there won't be an agreement in Paris, because finance and means of implementation in a broader sense are fundamental,” Söderberg told DW.

Greenpeace Climate Policy chief Kaiser agrees:

“Behind the doors governments clearly admit that the financing issue has to be resolved this year. Otherwise there is no way countries like China, India, South Africa will come with commitments on the mitigation of greenhouse gases. We expect that heads of states in Germany, France, the UK and the US know that they have to give a clear signal and contribute to the Green Climate Fund”.

The Green Climate Fund, designed to help developing countries cope with climate change and reduce their own emissions is now open to take contributions. Germany promised a “substantial contribution” during the talks. Peru's environment minister said in Bonn he expected 10 billion dollars to be available by the Lima meeting in December.

“There are many concrete ideas for how to move climate funding forward. But there is still reluctance mainly from western countries who think they are already doing a lot”, said Matthias Söderberg. “But it is still far from what is needed and what their responsibility should be”, he stressed

Compensation for Loss and Damage

At last December's Warsaw climate conference, an additional new mechanism for “Loss and Damage” was introduced, in the wake of the devastation caused by typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. But the ACT alliance is worried that some countries do not see this as an important issue in a future agreement:

Pam Pearson
Ex-climate negotiator Pearson: "Cut emissions to stop ice melt"Image: DW/Irene Quaile

“Countries like the USA, the EU and many other western countries see loss and damage as just a part of adaptation. But for those people who are affected, there is quite a big difference. Adapting to a changing climate where you live or losing your livelihood and being forced to move are quite different. This has not been on the agenda in Bonn as much as we would have liked.”

But Söderberg, too, sees a positive shift in the negotiating climate.

“One of the key challenges in the climate talks is the lack of trust and confidence between parties. This is linked to the lack of action. If no countries are showing concrete activities, it's more difficult to trust that they will actually do what they are talking about.”

He said the signals from the US and China, and also from countries like Mexico and India, improved the atmosphere in the talks and made it easier to reach agreements.

Antarctic melt lends urgency to UN talks

Recent scientific research has added urgency to the need to tackle emissions to prevent a devastating rise in sea levels which would threaten small island states and coastal communities around the world.

Anders Levermann PIK Antarktisexperte
We have entered 'a new era of irreversible climate change,' says Anders LevermannImage: DW/Irene Quaile

In a side event, a group of policy-makers and former climate negotiators, the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative (ICCI), updated negotiators onthe melting of Antarctic ice, long considered immune to climate change. IPCC lead author Anders Levermann from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research told DW that the latest reports from the far south of the globe showed “we have entered a new era of irreversible climate change”. West Antarctica had reached a “tipping point”, where the discharge of ice into the ocean could no longer be stopped. “This will eventually raise sea level by several meters”, he said.

ICCI Director Pam Pearson stressed the importance of reaching a new world climate agreement to reduce emissions. This would slow down the process and give countries the chance to prepare and adapt. In an interview with DW she said “we are talking about the next commitment period, how much countries are going to decrease their emissions between today and 2030. Things are happening so very quickly in the icy regions of the world that this period is key. We need to bring emissions down during this period or we will get things started that we cannot stop."

When the negotiations resume in October, the negotiators will have to present the structure of the new agreement. By March 2015 countries need to state the contributions they will make. Meanwhile, it is hoped a special summit to be hosted by UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon in New York in September could be the stage for top-level announcements of commitments to the new global treaty.