In Bonn, Countries Finally Focusing on the Substantive Issues

Reporting from the U.N. climate talks underway in Bonn, Germany

The 185-nation Bonn Conference, which will run until June 11, is the biggest international meeting on climate change since a summit last December in Copenhagen failed to agree to a new global deal.  At the beginning of the meeting, EDF urged countries to seize the momentum and start moving away from procedural arguments into a real, substantive negotiation of the critical issues like mitigation, finance, deforestation emissions and forestry accounting rules.

New negotiating text brings fewer fireworks than expected

Monday was a slow day as the scientific and technical panels started their discussions.  These are by nature not the most exciting negotiations but the fireworks were expected to begin on Tuesday when the real policy negotiations under the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol were scheduled to start.  The Chair of the LCA (Long term cooperative action under the Convention) was going to unveil a new text that some thought would be the basis of negotiations while others thought it could be turned, via further discussions and negotiations during this week, into a formal negotiating text that would draw upon last year´s negotiating text and additional sources, such as the Copenhagen Accord.  The Kyoto Protocol negotiations were also scheduled to begin yesterday.

And what happened? No fireworks, at least not the ones that usually happen at these meetings.  Blocs of countries welcomed the LCA Chair´s negotiating text though many said that there are gaps that need to be filled over the next two weeks. As late as Monday night, at the traditional reception hosted by the City of Bonn, I was hearing from many countries that no one was happy with the text and that there was a real risk that the text would be rejected by dozens of countries, including the US and major developing countries.

This would have been catastrophic and perhaps the final nail in the coffin of the UNFCCC process.  Maybe it was the inspirational farewell speech that Yvo Do Boer gave during Monday´s reception hosted by the mayor of Bonn and the Environment Ministry, or the optimistic message from the incoming head of the UNFCCC, Christiana  Figueres, but by 10 a.m. Tuesday, what could have turned into another nasty procedural fight, actually became the event that many of us hoped for–global negotiations in which countries act in their self interest but in a constructive and rational way with a real desire to reach compromise.

Forestry playing a leading role

Other EDF members who will help me to cover legal and finance issues, as well as forestry rules, have arrived.  In particular, Dr. Jason Funk has taken a break from helping out with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and assessing the impact of the oil spill on our precious wetlands.

Dr. Funk´s arrival is timed perfectly since he is our technical forestry expert.  The forestry rules in UN speak are known as “Land Use, Land use Change and Forestry“, or LULUCF, and they are the accounting rules that developed countries use to measure the increase in carbon from their forests and land areas, as well as the increase in sinks when for example trees grow.  This is quite different from the utility generating sector which only produces emissions.  Read EDF’s Forestry fact sheet for an overview of forestry issues in the U.N. climate talks.

John Ashe, chair of the climate negotiations under the Kyoto Protocol track, told countries that he expected to finalize the forestry and land use portion of the negotiating text on the last day.  I spent two days working with NGO colleagues to spread the message that these are bad rules that should not be finalized as they are currently drafted.  EDF and other NGOs have been highlighting this accounting loophole and we have been successful in receiving media attention.

We have had meetings with Heads of Delegation, walked them through our concerns and explained the quantitative analysis, using their own numbers and their own data that clearly show they are attempting to hide future emissions.  And some of them agree that the numbers do not add up and that we are setting up a bad system that will not be credible. And the pressure is getting to top negotiators, such as the lead Coalition for Rainforest Nations (CfRN), Kevin Conrad who called that (LULUCF accounting rules), “fraudulent accounting” and the co-head of the EU delegation, Artur Runge-Metzger, told Reuters that such loopholes must be closed, under “harmonized” reporting rules.

Today is the third day and as I have learned, the climate negotiations are unpredictable and a roller coaster.  But on this sunny day in Bonn, after three straight days of clouds and rain, it does seem that the clouds have parted for these negotiations to achieve progress on the road to Cancun and beyond.

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