Roll Up! Roll Up! - The Bonn Climate Change Conference


Roll up! Roll up!  Make your way to Bonn in downtown Germany,  where the the forty-second session of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice and the next session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action are taking place right now!  But hurry. Places are limited and the seats are filling up fast.

Hard to believe that something which sounds so dull could actually be one of the most important gatherings on the planet this week. Its outcome could well determine whether we meet the obligations required to save the planet, and in the by-going determine how we heat our homes, power our cars, light our streets, boil our eggs, mow our lawns. Indeed put simply, how we live.

The representatives of nearly 190 countries have made their way to the former capital of West Germany with a single intention in mind; to whittle down an unwieldy 90-page document into something that those countries can actually agree upon in 200 days time, when the whole travelling climate change circus descends on Paris for the Big Event, the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

I find myself in Bonn, a curious observer of unfolding events, much like the rest of the climate change entourage which pitches up when the UN comes to town.  Interestingly, in Lima I was part of the European Parliament delegation and invariably outside the room where the deals were being done.  This time I am part of the European Commission delegation and actually inside the room.  Needless to say it was more fun outside the room speculating than it is inside watching.

Just as with the UN conference in Lima, it is way too early to say whether an agreement will be reached by the end of the ten days; we are only on day 2.  (Indeed if greater agreement had been secured in Lima, then the road to Paris would not be quite so devilishly challenging to navigate). The French, who will be hosting the great clanjanfree at the end of the year, are taking no chances.  They have scheduled an additional two meetings, the first in late July, the second in early September, just to be sure that the all the prelims are taken care.

So what then are the big issues? I’m glad you asked.

Two degrees or not two degrees?

Today the gathering got to perhaps the biggest issue of them all - is the 2oC target low enough to limit the impact of climate change. Helpfully the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) report found that the 2oC target should be sufficient, although ‘less warming would be preferable and efforts should be made to push the defence line as low as possible’.  Less helpfully, the report also declared that we were unlikely to meet the 2oC target anyway.

Christina Figueres, the UN Chief Negotiator acknowledged in the final briefing of the Doha conference that, ‘the current pledges under the second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol are clearly not enough to guarantee that the temperature will stay below 2oC and there is an ever increasing gap between the action of countries and what the science tells us.’  Authorities seem to agree that the current path will lead us toward warming of between 3 and 4oC by the end of the century.  Not an ideal place to be, but there is now ample evidence that the collective efforts are beginning to make a difference.

Money, money, money

Climate change is an expensive business. One of the achievements of the Lima gathering was the creation of a Green Climate Fund, capitalised at $10 billion. However, the scale of the fund pales into near insignificance against the expected cost post-2020 - some $100 billion a year.  A billion here, a billion there and suddenly you are talking real money.

Here in Bonn, just as it was in Lima, the word of the moment is ‘leverage’: how to use a small amount of public money to encourage greater private investment.  The onion diagram has been dusted off for another outing. You can check it out below.

Also at issue is what the money will be spent on.  The old mitigation versus adaption debate. Mitigation is about how to fund measures to reduce climate change going forward. Adaptation is about addressing the ongoing consequences of climate change. The debate has often been characterised as the developed world (which caused the problems) versus the developing world (which has to pick up the pieces).  Also worth noting a late arrival on the funding scene: the provision of monies to support lost opportunities (the cost for the developing world of ‘leaving it in the ground’).

Action this day

The agreement that emerges from Paris will only come into effect in 2020.  So the question is, what can be done in the meantime?  Step forward the Technical Experts who have been tasked with addressing these matters, with a focus on scaling up renewable energy commitments and prioritising energy efficiency in urban areas.

India and China have already announced that they will formally propose that rich nations (although it is less clear whether China considers itself such a nation) should set pre-2020 emission reduction targets. This approach is likely to find favour with the EU which is already committed to a range of energy and climate change targets.  Whether it will be widely welcomed by other developed nations remains to be seen.

‘All to play for,’ as Bruce Forsyth would say, if you are being optimistic, or ‘Men argue. Nature acts,’ as Voltaire says, if you are pessimistic by nature.


Post script

Tonight I’ll be appearing alongside Christiana Figueres to help launch a new report prepared by the London School of Economics examining the world’s carbon reduction legislation.  You can read that report here  and I will upload my speech tomorrow (once I have written it..)