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Climate change talks nudge forward but difficulties remain

Negotiators working towards a global climate change agreement claim they are making steady progress, but many details remain to be hammered out

Interim talks held in Bonn during June achieved mixed results in smoothing potential problems ahead of November’s annual UN climate change summit in Warsaw, where it is hoped countries will prepare the ground for a new global climate change agreement to be signed at a Paris conference in 2015, which would be effective from 2020.  

The 2015 agreement is designed to be ratified by all countries and set significant emissions reductions targets and other goals for both industrialised and developing countries. That contrasts with the Kyoto Protocol, which entered force in 2005, whose targets only applied to a group of developed countries, which excluded some big emitters such as the US.

Those running the Bonn talks said nations now had a clearer idea of how to make demonstrable progress in Warsaw. Christina Figueres, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said the Bonn meeting showed governments were designing and implementing solutions faster than before.

“Governments are demonstrating increasingly broad support for this energy transformation. It is achievable with existing financial and technology resources, encourages best efforts by all countries without shifting the leadership responsibility of developed countries to respond to climate change, and mobilises and speeds action at all levels – international, domestic and private sector,” she said in a statement on the talks.

Delegates point to progress on some key issues, notably the concept of “equity” – effectively drawing up a framework for how much richer countries with greater technical abilities should shoulder of the financial burden and technical requirements of fighting global climate change, compared to their poorer counterparts. 

Bonn also produced advances towards standardising greenhouse gas accounting rules in developed countries, notably recognition that thorny issues – such as how to account for land use, forestry and credits garnered through emissions trading – must be tackled if globally acceptable measurements are to be produced.

The Bonn meeting also looked at how climate finance could shift investment patterns faster toward low carbon projects by, for example, cutting risk for investors and stimulating public-private partnerships.

But much remains to be resolved, not least ensuring that countries submit and agree their proposed climate change mitigation commitments well ahead of the Paris meeting, rather than risk the conference being marred by last minute squabbles. 

The dangers posed by political jousting was highlighted by a dispute at June’s Bonn meeting, when Russia, Belarus and Ukraine blocked one part of the talks – the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI) – from making progress with its work. Russia wanted to include an agenda item on revamping decision-making procedures, apparently in response to a late decision at the 2012 UN climate summit in Doha to quickly push through rules for an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, despite Russia’s objection.

However, while the potential for disputes is high and many details of the various strands of the climate change process are still to be filled in, progress there, however stately, does provide hope that the global talks in Warsaw, then Peru in 2014 and, most importantly Paris in 2015, could yet produce a meaningful global pact. 

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