Reality check on the Bali promises after Bonn II: Where is climate heading to in Copenhagen?

June 23, 2009

In mid-December 2007, the US delegation finally stopped blocking the way towards reaching agreement and the Bali Action Plan was approved late at night. After two weeks of tough negotiations, which included booing in the room, , the approval was a “real breakthrough and a real opportunity” as Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, put it. The ministers and the entire international climate community left Indonesia feeling that the negotiations on stabilizing rising greenhouse gas levels would finally start. The mandate given by the Road Map from Bali states that the 2009 summit in Copenhagen should ensure ”full, effective and sustained implementation of the Convention through long-term cooperative action now, up to and beyond 2012”. Now for a brief reality check of where we are six months before the deadline expires.

At the second climate session in Bonn in this year, the first draft of the text for negotiation was presented. The 50-page document, prepared by the chair, summarized the four building blocks and the shared vision as laid out in the Bali Action Plan. The parties conducted political and technical discussions on each of block – on mitigation (of developing and developed countries and forestry), on adaptation, and on implementation, i.e., technology and finance. As a result of the two-week session, the text is now four times as long. Even though the parties are happier now  because the text better reflects their ideas, this does not change the fact that it is now even less digestible and contains more internal contradictions.

In the case of mitigation, both mid-term and long-term, the parties’ views have not come any closer towards consensus. The range of reduction targets proposed by developed countries does not approximate what the science says is needed to sustain the global temperature increase to within 2°C. The EU’s target of20 % cuts by 2020 remains dignified, but uponcloser examination (including all the “hot air” from the new Member States and the external offsets) it will probably deliver only between 4-5 % in purely domestic reductions compared to 1990 levels. It is yet not clear what the EU sees as comparable efforts by its counterparts that might induce it to move to 30% reduction (even though it still reiterates it has promised to do so). However, even this target barely touches the lower range of the IPCC target reduction of -25-45% by 2020, which even the latest science tells us might not be enough. However, the EU thinks it might be able to use its domestic reduction offsets to support developing countries. Double-counting of international reductions also appeared in the finance ministers’ conclusions in the middle of the Bonn negotiations. Such tactics clearly violate the provisions of the Convention agreed  in 1992.

Not to criticize the EU only -  there is even worse news on targets from all over the world. Everyone eagerly awaited the Japanese government’s announcement of which mitigation target it would choose out of the six proposed. The Japanese PM finally announced Japan is willing to reduce by 8 % over 1990 levels in the eight years between 2012 and2020, a mere 2 % below their actual Kyoto commitments. The new US bill is about to introduce enormous long-term reductions of 80 % by 2050 - but don’t ask them for anything in the mid-term! First, the Waxman-Markey bill counts on a lot of offsets, and second, it would ensure peaking no earlier than 2026.

With such a political setup, in whichmany developed countries such as Switzerland or Russia remain silent on their targets, the aggregate target for all of the Annex 1 parties was eventually not agreed, even though reaching such agreement was the official agenda of the Bonn session. Another consequence of this lack of ambition and fading leadership is that developing countries are getting extremely disappointed and nervous about the progress of the negotiations. Mitigation targets are the very beginning of determining the scale and magnitude of adaptation and finance. Therefore, developing countries as well as NGOs insist that for the developed countries a minimum of40 % binding reductions by 2020 over 1990 levels are absolutely crucial in order to move the deal forward.

Finance is another area which can make or break the deal. The developed countries were not able to come up with any reasonable offers of public support for now. Vulnerable countries, including small island states and the least developed countries, keep hearing that the private sector and the carbon market will play an important role and will deliver the major source of finance. This might be true, but without clear public guarantees and incentivizing of the private sector, it will never work. There are regions and conditions, such as those in least developed countries, where there is no hope for a major market blossoming, purely due to their low purchasing parity. Therefore, NGOs are asking for at least 110 Billion EUR from public budgets to be reserved for adaptation, forestry, technology,  R&D, and the energy needs of developing countries. The EU share of this portion would be one-third. Even though that might seem huge, it is not large compared to the EU’s current shares in global GDP and in the costs of impacts and losses. As a per capita expense, it means each European would pay a price equivalent to a public transport ticket. Finance experts in the Joint Working Group under the Ecofin Council acknowledged this and put a similar number into their June report, but the suggestion unfortunately did not make it through the firewall of the finance ministers’ political cowardice. It would make a big difference if the EU  wouldadmit the scale of public finance in their Council Conclusions.

Where do we stand as Copenhagen approaches? The outlook is not especially optimistic. Yvo de Boer and other high-ranking officials are starting to recognize that it will be impossible to achieve a detailed, all-encompassing deal in December. We are rather heading toward something like a framework, the details of which will be negotiated later on. The primary task, however, is to ensure that this framework is solid and comprehensive enough to rescue and restore the dignity of millions of impacted peoples and ecosystems.