Bonn Climate Talks Manage Slow Technical Progress, but Key Political Differences, Questions Loom

June 17, 2011


Gus Silva-Chávez, 202-316-0829,
Annie Petsonk, 202-365-3237,
Jennifer Andreassen, 202-288-4867,

(BONN, Germany – June 17, 2011) Amid devastating floods and record heat waves ravaging the United States, the latest United Nations climate negotiations in Bonn made incremental progress on some technical issues, but the large differences that have been part of this process for more than 20 years remain unresolved at the end of the two-week session, said Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

“There is still a potentially useful role for the U.N. talks regarding common rules for measuring and accounting for emissions necessary to create strong markets – but only if countries find ways to negotiate decisions more efficiently. It looks increasingly likely that the real progress on fighting global warming will take place outside the U.N. process, in national, regional, and state-level carbon markets,” said Annie Petsonk, EDF’s International Counsel.

One of the biggest shake-ups in the negotiations was a proposal by Mexico and Papua New Guinea to amend the 1992 climate treaty, to let the parties make decisions by majority instead of by the current standard of “consensus.” This stemmed from a move in December’s Cancun conference in which Mexico, then the conference chair, showed major decisions cannot and should not be blocked by a single party.

“That proposal has really begun to concentrate the minds of negotiators on improving the way the U.N. climate negotiations are conducted,” said Petsonk.

Among specific policy issues, the meeting launched a consideration of how agriculture, which has a large potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers around the word, should be included in a global climate treaty.

And once again, the most progress was made on policies to reduce emissions from deforestation (REDD+). “Tropical forest nations made good and steady progress on the key technical issues they need to resolve to be able to offer to carbon markets well-verified reductions in emissions from deforestation,” said Petsonk.

However, after looming over the two-week negotiations, some of the biggest questions remain unresolved:

  • Will the world’s biggest-emitting countries, including the United States and major emerging economies, join the EU in making significant emission reductions after the current phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012?
  • Where will nations get the financing to stimulate investment in low-carbon development and to fund adaptation?
  • Can countries find a way to extend and improve the Kyoto Protocol, or will they need to move to a bottom-up world based on national and regional carbon markets?
  • With growing concern among countries that Kyoto is not the ideal basis for a global agreement, how much of a new framework can be built in Durban?

“The growing danger signals from a warming planet underscore the importance of mobilizing low-carbon economic development as swiftly as possible - and that means mobilizing large-scale capital,” said Petsonk. “If the U.N. process can’t get decisions made about the future of the Kyoto Protocol, then the smart money will move into low carbon development opportunities in those countries and communities that deliver the incentives to go low-carbon.”