Bonn preview: hesitation, repetition and deviation

Governments meet in Bonn at the beginning of June for the next round of formal climate negotiations.  Jonathan Grant gives a preview.  They will start where they left off in Geneva in February with an 84-page text that is a long wish list containing nearly all possible options for the Paris agreement.  The aim will be to slim down the text.  Real progress is unlikely as countries will not compromise much at this point.

The co-chairs’ plan

The two chairmen of the talks have set out a plan for the two weeks.  Not inspiring much confidence, they proposed that the first few days will be spent editing the text to “reduce duplication, overlap and repetition”.  The remaining seven days will be devoted to the substantive discussion of the options in the consolidated text with the aim of finding compromise – or at least more clearly defining the alternatives.

The Co-Chairs’ plan or ‘scenario note’ sets out the working arrangements for the Bonn negotiations in an unusual amount of detail.  It describes the layout and location of the rooms that will be used.  It notes which sections which co-chair will manage and describes the role of 11 facilitators who will assist them. The co-chairs also state that they will abide by the principles of openness, transparency, inclusiveness and fairness. And they’ll maintain their ‘no surprises’ policy. 

Finally the Co-Chairs plan to discuss the format of what is agreed in Paris.  They suggest that durable elements (such as the objectives and long term goal) may best be included in the Paris agreement.  Those elements which are expected to be revised in the future (such as national targets) may best be included in a COP decision.

Managing the politics and expectations

While this is the first UN meeting since Geneva, there have been plenty of formal and informal discussions.  Negotiators have met in their regional groups, at the Petersberg Dialogue, the Major Economies Forum and on fact-finding missions.  And the French Presidency has been industrious in promoting interaction among countries, the business community and others.  Along with the UN Secretariat it has also been carefully managing expectations for Paris downwards. 

The French Presidency notes that the four main pillars of the agreement will be the national mitigation targets, finance, adaptation and commitments by business, states, cities and others.  It has already suggested that the national targets are unlikely to be legally binding.  The UN Secretariat also conceded that these targets are not in line with two degrees.

In the last few months, several countries have come forward with their proposed mitigation targets. Analyses of these INDCs[1] from the EU, US, Canada and Mexico compared to a two degrees pathway and their business as usual scenario are on our blog linked below.  Expect further national plans to be published during the Bonn negotiations. 

Lessons from past COPs

These efforts by the French Government, the UN Secretariat and the co-chairs aim to address the failures of previous summits.  Clearly the ghosts of COPs past are haunting the climate negotiations this year.  Copenhagen is the spookiest, given the acrimonious breakdown of that climate summit.  Many objected to a perceived lack of inclusiveness and transparency.  But the Kyoto Protocol is also scaring negotiators: few want an agreement in Paris that collapses when it gets back to national capitals.  The approaches this year show lessons have been learned from these previous attempts to reach a global climate deal.

A policy paper[2] published by the LSE and Grantham Institute places much of the blame for the failure in Copenhagen on the Danes and the UN Secretariat.  It also points to the open and collaborative practices adopted by the Mexicans in Cancun the following year, which contributed to a much more successful summit.  The paper goes on to make sensible recommendations for managing the climate process, many of which align with the co-chairs’ plan.  But the paper’s implication of ‘dreadful Danes vs excellent Mexicans’ is rather too simple and too convenient[3]

Copenhagen failed for more fundamental reasons than mismanagement.  Two stand out.  The first was that China and other major emerging economies were not keen to take on quantified commitments post-2020.  This was not least because some developed countries were not doing so under Kyoto pre-2020.  The second was the chasm between rich and poor countries on mitigation and finance (or more specifically, the perceived lack of action or ambition or finance from rich countries).  Times have moved on.  In particular many of the emerging economies including China and Mexico have taken on quantified targets (or are expected to).  But much of the division and lack of trust between rich and poor countries remains. Overcoming this and conveying the sense of momentum of increasing ambition and cooperation by all countries will be critical to success this year.


Our analysis of national targets is linked below:


[1] Intended Nationally Determined Contribution

[2] The management of multilateral negotiations: lessons from UN climate negotiations by Kai Monheim

[3] In the interests of full disclosure, my mother-in-law is Danish