Bonn climate meet takeaways: Old conflicts, some forward movement

Context: The Bonn climate change conference that finished last week was built up as an opportunity for course correction. Bonn was expected to act as the springboard for accelerated action. But just like the more famous year-ending climate conferences, Bonn underperformed. Developed and developing countries bickered on issues old and new, and could not even agree on the agenda of one of the meetings till the penultimate day.

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With current global efforts to keep rising temperatures in check abysmally inadequate, a massive and immediate scale-up in climate action is essential to keep alive any realistic chance of meeting the 1.5 degree or 2 degree Celsius targets.

Issues Discussed 

Global Stocktake

One thing that the countries did manage to wrap up, however, was the third and final round of technical discussions on global stocktake, or GST. 

The technical discussions just produced a short ‘framework’ on the elements to be included in the stocktake exercise. Even this saw repeated squabbling between the developed and developing countries, mainly over provisions related to finance and ‘historical responsibility’ of the rich countries.

GLOBAL STOCKTAKEMandated by the 2015 Paris Agreement, GST is an exercise aimed at assessing the progress in the fight against climate change, and deciding ways and means to enhance global action to bridge the adequacy gap (see box). The Paris Agreement says GST must be conducted every five years, starting in 2023.jezR9S643OI3Owp 18NZSbBF3wkn4d3Jczi3oG3WQSVuS C0EFi8W2LpCaVrCw9m0Uy0x6FM63arKOhNiX19J4Wa qvllUT9uO8XPihHi5EW 1LK SNbJ9nVdu7cztsR8ZMEqH3b1MKvqXzsDx w1A

Historical Responsibility 

Things riled the developing countries the most was a statement from Australia seeking to downplay the ‘historical responsibility’ of the developed countries in causing global warming. 

A bulk of the accumulated greenhouse gas emissions, the reason for global warming, have come from a group of about 40 rich and industrialised countries, usually referred to as Annex I countries because they were mentioned in Annexure I of the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC. This historical responsibility has been the basis for the differentiated burden-sharing on developed and developing countries in the climate change framework.

  • Australia argued that the historical emissions happened at a time “when there was no alternative to fossil fuel based energy sources”, and when there was little understanding or consensus on the harm caused by greenhouse gases.
  • It pointed out that since 1992, about 57% of the carbon dioxide emissions had come from non-Annex I countries. It said that 70% of the incremental warming since 1992 due to emissions from carbon dioxide, methane and sulphur dioxide had come from non-Annex I countries.
  • While maintaining that developed countries would take the lead in climate action, Australia said it did not believe there was “an unambiguous debt” owed by the developed countries for past actions.
  • The stand was similar to the one taken by the US at the start of the Bonn meeting, which said bridging the adequacy gap was not the sole responsibility of the developed nations and that it would not agree to references to pre-2020 commitments in the GST.
  • Erasure of historical responsibility is the most sensitive red line for developing countries. This issue would likely come back at COP28 and has the potential to result in major fireworks.

Money matters

  • Discussions at the Mitigation Work Programme (MWP) ran into trouble after developing countries complained that while they were being asked to strengthen their climate actions, developed countries were yet to offer the enabling finance and technology transfers. 

Mitigation Work Programme (MWP)

It is a temporary emergency exercise focused only on increasing emission cuts. It was set up at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021 for climate action.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says global emissions have to come down by 43% from 2019 levels by 2030 to keep alive hopes of meeting the 1.5 degree target. As of now, emissions are still growing and, in 2021, were higher than 2019 levels.

  • Most developing countries, including India, have said they would be able to act more if international support in the form of money and technology transfer was made available.
  • According to one assessment, developing countries need as much as US$ 6 trillion between now and 2030 just to implement their climate action plans. The loss and damage needs of developing countries are assessed to be about US$ 400 billion every year. More funds are needed for all kinds of other purposes, the total estimated to be running in several trillions of dollars every year. Against this, even a minuscule-looking US$ 100 billion per year that the developed countries had committed to raise from 2020 is not fully available.

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