Technical consultations with political undertones – assessment of the 2022 UN Bonn Climate Conference
Author: Tibor Schaffhauser

Although the recent UN Bonn Climate Change Conference was to be held at a technical level, the negotiating parties were unable to circumvent the major political issues of emissions reduction, financing, and loss and damage. Thus, although serious discussions have taken place, the incoming Czech EU Council Presidency will have ample tasks on its hands, because negotiations need to shift to a higher pace during the autumn in order to respond to the urgency required by climate change. An on-site analysis of the outcomes of the conference by the Green Policy Center.

Technical level meetings took place during the second and third weeks of June in Bonn, Germany under the Subsidiary Bodies of the UNFCCC, the UN body dedicated to climate change. This two-week conference was significant in several ways; as it was the first time these technical discussions were held in person since the two-year Covid induced break, and the Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed in June 30 years ago. On the one hand, this demonstrates the international community’s commitment to multilateralism, but it also shows that the pace of negotiations has not yet been able to keep up with the urgency of tackling climate change. During the conference, the Green Policy Center supported the work of the Czech Republic, which will take over the rotating EU presidency on 1 July, thus gaining insight into the negotiations. We present the main results of the conference, as well as the tasks ahead below.

Although there were already some surprises and diplomatic scandals during the preparatory talks and the opening sessions, the negotiations took place in a professional and technical manner during the two-week series of talks including delegates from more than 100 countries. During the opening session, representatives of the Russian Federation tried to rationalise the aggression against Ukraine, to which a significant part of the participants walked out of the plenary. Although Ukraine and Russia also tried to thematize the war – on one occasion for example, representatives of Ukraine, called for the autumn workshops not to be held in person but online because they did not have usable airports at the moment due to the war – these did not affect the international climate policy talks. The most controversial topics were rather the ambition levels of emission reduction, financing loss and damage, and financing climate action.

At the previous climate summit held in 2021 in Glasgow, countries agreed to develop a new emission reduction work program to increase ambition by 2030 in order to meet the 1.5 ° C temperature target set in the Paris Agreement. The details of this work program have now been addressed for the first time, leading to very serious discussions. Due to the fact that this work program applies to both developed and developing countries, developing countries have sought to slow down negotiations and squeeze concessions from developed countries in the areas of adaptation, financing and technology transfer. In addition, developed countries, led by the EU and its Member States, have navigated themselves into a smaller trap, as they have always tried to push countries to a higher level of ambition by referring to the latest scientific findings, but now this card has been played mostly by developing countries. In its recent report, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) addressed the topic of a global ‘carbon budget’ in detail.

The concept of a global ‘carbon budget’ refers to how much greenhouse gas humanity can potentially release into the atmosphere while still maintaining the 1.5°C temperature goal. According to developing countries, since developed countries have been emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since the 1800s, developing countries should receive a proportionately larger slice of this remaining carbon budget. The EU and other developed countries, of course, will not be able to dispute the scientific findings of the IPCC in their statements, since they were basin their arguments on other similar reports previously, so it will be difficult for them to sweep the subject off the table during upcoming negotiations.

The situation is similar regarding national climate commitments, as they are currently insufficient to reach the 1.5°C target, so it would be important for all countries to make more ambitious commitments ahead of the UN climate summit in November to be held in Egypt. However, according to the historical responsibility referred above, developing countries expect this increase in ambition to come from developed countries mainly. Thus, the EU is also in a difficult position here, having recently increased its 2030 commitment from an at least 40% emission reduction to 55% target – and the details of the package are still being negotiated – so it is questionable whether the EU and its Member States will come to the November climate summit empty-handed.

The perception of the EU and developed countries on some other issues is also problematic, as mentioned, there has been a debate between developed and developing countries in the run-up to the conference on the inclusion of Loss and Damage on the agenda. The latter wanting to include the topic of Loss and Damage, which aims to finance the costs of the negative effects of climate change, such as natural catastrophes. Developed countries, on the other hand, feared that this could lead to all sorts lawsuits to pay for these damages. They would rather finance these costs through the work of existing international green financial organizations such as the Adaptation Fund or the Green Climate Fund. At the end of the talks, however, the will of the developing countries prevailed, as the issue is likely to be addressed by the countries at the Egyptian climate summit in November.

When it comes to finances, we can also expect difficult negotiations in the coming months, as the $100 billion annual climate finance target set for 2020-2025 is to be revised and a new target should be agreed. Developing countries are expecting to agree on an even larger sum, and linking the implementation of their emission reduction commitments to the existence of available financial resources and technology transfer, not to mention raising their level of emission reduction ambition.

In contrast to the above difficulties, the negotiations on the modalities of the international emission reduction projects under article 6 were almost refreshing, the co-facilitators of the current session found the negotiations literally boring compared to the previous debates, i.e. the negotiations went smoothly. Although further work on a number of issues is expected in the autumn, it looks like it will be possible to reach an agreement on the subject in November, and international emission reduction projects could start soon.

Given that the November conference will be held in Egypt, there is a great deal of pressure on the incoming Egyptian presidency both from African countries to make serious progress on finance, adaptation and agriculture, while developed countries and small island states expect significant progress in reducing emissions.

Overall, the June session showed the topics on which the incoming Egyptian Presidency needs to bring the various interests closer. Meanwhile also pointed out that the EU and its Member States need to review and update several of their previous positions for example on loss and damage and financing, and that we have to find new allies in order to make the November climate summit a success. Experts from the Green Policy Center will continue to support the Czech Republic, which will take over the rotating EU Council Presidency on 1 July, in addressing the above-mentioned international challenges within the framework of the UN.

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UN climate conference – Balancing between finance and ambition

UN climate conference – Balancing between finance and ambition

This week, the 27th annual climate conference of the United Nations the COP27 begins under the presidency of Egypt. The “African COP”, as the developing countries refer to the conference, faces serious challenges: it must simultaneously increase the ambition to reduce emissions in order to maintain the climate goals and preserve a ray of hope for small island states of survival, as well as meet the developing countries’ huge financial expectations. Will the Egyptian presidency manage to reach agreements acceptable to all parties and what role will the European Union play in all of this?
Although we are currently mostly occupied with the energy price crisis, we must not forget the challenges caused by climate change. That is why it is worth paying attention to Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, where delegates from nearly 200 UN countries are expected to discuss the most burning issues of international climate policy in the next two weeks. And there are plenty of burning issues; this year we have all felt the negative effects of climate change on our own skins, just think of the summer droughts and forest fires, or the floods in Pakistan that claimed 1,500 lives and caused 30 billion dollars in damages.
One of the most controversial topics in the coming weeks will be related to these events; the so-called Loss and Damage negotiations. According to the IPCC, the climate change scientific advisory body of the UN, climate change threatens the lives and livelihoods of 3.3-3.6 billion people in the future. Climate change strongly affects the poorest strata of the population, as they are much less able to adapt to its negative effects; developing countries are therefore demanding a new financial fund to compensate for the damage caused by climate change. Since developing countries generally emit less greenhouse gases and they are still affected by climate change, they are calling upon developed countries to finance this new fund due to climate justice and the “historical responsibility” of developed countries. However, opinions differ as to what amount would be sufficient; calculations are about expected damage between 1-1.8 trillion and 5.6 trillion dollars by 2050.
The United States, as well as the European Union and its member states, have so far opposed the establishment of a separate financial fund, fearing that, if it is created, there will be no limit to the financial claims of developing countries. During the negotiations, the EU has also underlined that there are already an existing fora for the topic under the UN umbrella, and that developed countries have undertook to mobilize 100 billion dollars yearly to support the climate protection efforts of developing countries. Since we have not yet succeeded in achieving this goal, the developing countries are distrustful of the developed countries for the time being.
In order to rebuild trust, several European member states have already offered resources to deal with Loss and Damage, and developed countries have pledged to double the resources offered for adaptation action. Furthermore, developed countries are also developing a delivery plan on reaching the 100 billion dollar per year goal, and started negotiations to define the new long-term climate financing goal as well. However, according to the position of the EU and its member states, public resources alone will not be sufficient to curb climate change, so we recommend starting negotiations on how to bring global financial processes in line with the 2050 climate neutrality goals. It is still an open question whether this topic will be on the agenda or whether developing countries will only see it as a distraction from the immediate mobilization of finance.
The chance of survival of small island states is an open question at the moment as well. If we cannot keep the rise of the global average temperature below 1.5°C, several of these countries may drown in the sea, so it is really a matter of life and death for them to reduce emissions as ambitiously as possible. Last week, the UN environment and climate change organizations both published their assessments on how we are doing in the fight against climate change. While we could be optimistic after last year’s climate conference because of the new commitments announced there. according to these latest analyses, we are no longer doing so well in terms of implementation. Among the major emitters, only the EU and the USA have reduced their emissions, while the global GHG emissions have reached new all-time record high levels. Another cause for concern is the fact that even if the current commitments are fully fulfilled, we can still expect a warming of around 2.8°C by the end of our century – not aligned with the 1,5°C pathway recommended by science and necessary for the survival of small island states.
For the EU and its member states, the progress under the mitigation work program up to 2030 during COP27 is therefore of outstanding importance, so that the countries of the world can formulate more ambitious climate policy steps as soon as possible. This is not only important for the survival of small island states, but if we can keep climate change under control, its negative effects will cause less loss and damage, and the we need to mobilize less resources to compensate for those. As we can see, everything is connected with everything, which is why the Egyptian COP presidency will be in a difficult situation in the next two weeks. We can hope for all of our sake that they manage to deliver on the expectations of all sides, both on ambition and finance.