Tradition of underdelivering continues at Bonn Climate Change conference

climate change, Bonn Climate Change Conference
A diplomatic deadlock ensues at Bonn Climate Conference with developed nations refusing to acknowledge their historical role in climate change, casting shadow over COP28.

Bonn Climate Change Conference: Climate conferences, despite being in vogue, have developed a tradition of underdelivering. This year’s Bonn climate meet was no exception to its more famous climate counterparts. Diplomats from around the world gathered in the German city of Bonn for climate negotiations. This served as a prelude to the UNFCCC’s COP28 in Dubai, UAE, scheduled for December this year. The objective of the conference was to outline a massive and immediate climate action plan to maintain any realistic chance of meeting the 1.5-degree or 2-degree Celsius targets.

However, despite discussions on a range of issues from previous years to newer problems, developed and developing countries could not agree on the agenda until the penultimate day. The chief reason? Developed nations do not accept the role they played in warming up the planet or refuse to take responsibility for it.

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Bonn Climate Change Conference

The Bonn meeting was scheduled from June 5 to June 15, 2023. It succeeded last year’s COP 27 in Egypt and continued discussions on crucial issues such as the global stocktake, global goal on adaptation, just transition, loss, and damage, and more. In essence, Bonn was seen as a precursor and a mid-way check to gauge the ambitiousness of international climate talks leading up to COP28 in December.

The significance of these meetings cannot be overstated in a time when rising temperatures have become a harsh reality. Just two days ago, nearly a hundred people died in UP due to severe heat. It has been established that current global efforts to limit rising temperatures are woefully inadequate, and the chances of making any significant course correction are slim. Without unwavering determination, a massive and immediate scale-up in climate action, and dedicated political action worldwide, the planet is rapidly heading towards exceeding the 1.5-degree or 2-degree Celsius targets. The expectation from the Bonn meeting was to catalyse action.

The December conference could be the most significant one on climate change since Paris as it provides an opportunity for the world to get on track with the 2015 Paris climate protection commitments. Since Bonn served as a precursor to the Dubai meeting, achieving concrete climate action outcomes from this meeting was crucial. There is an adage that says, ‘Well begun is half done.’ Sadly, this was not the case with Bonn, despite the presence of representatives from 200 countries.

One achievement of the Bonn meeting was the conclusion of the third and final round of technical discussions on the global stocktake. The global stocktake, mandated by the 2015 Paris Agreement, is an exercise aimed at assessing progress in the fight against climate change and determining ways to enhance global action to bridge the adequacy gap. The Paris Agreement also stipulated that the GST should be conducted every five years, starting in 2023.

The extent of progress made in terms of the GST in Bonn will only be determined at COP28, the year-ending climate conference. In Bonn, countries continued discussions on provisions related to finance and the ‘historical responsibility’ of rich countries in relation to climate change.

Erasure of historical responsibility

However, rich countries are unwilling to acknowledge their role in the rise of global temperatures and provide compensation or assistance to developing nations in mitigating its effects. The unfortunate aspect of climate change is that while it was primarily caused by the actions of developed nations, poorer countries will bear the brunt of its consequences. This was evident in the recent devastating floods in Pakistan.

In fact, despite the clear debt owed by developed nations to developing countries, a statement from Australia downplaying the ‘historical responsibility’ of developed countries in causing global warming sparked anger among the developing world at the Bonn meeting. This serves as a classic example of why climate actions often fail to materialize, as those responsible either deny their part or display insensitivity towards their actions.

The accumulated greenhouse gas emissions, the primary cause of global warming, can be attributed to a group of approximately 40 wealthy and industrialised countries. These countries are referred to as Annex I countries as they were mentioned in Annexure I of the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Given that these countries bear the most blame for climate change, ethical considerations call for a differentiated burden-sharing between developed and developing countries within the climate change framework.

Australia argues that historical emissions occurred at a time when there was little understanding or consensus on the harm caused by greenhouse gases. Australia also dismisses the clear debt owed by developed countries for their past actions, while maintaining that developed nations should take the lead in climate action. Canberra is not alone in this matter. In fact, at the beginning of the Bonn meeting, the United States also took a similar stance, stating that bridging the adequacy gap was not solely the responsibility of developed nations and expressing disagreement with references to pre-2020 commitments in the global stocktake (GST).

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This is a sensitive issue for developing nations, and this conflict is expected to be a prominent topic of discussion in Dubai as well.

Developed countries are also obligated to support the implementation of climate action plans in developing countries through financial and technological transfers. However, developed nations have failed to fulfil their part, and funding has been insufficient. According to one assessment, developing countries require up to $6 trillion between now and 2030 just to implement their climate action plans. Additionally, developing countries are entitled to an estimated $400 billion per year financial assistance for loss and damage. The pledge made by developed nations stands at a meagre $100 billion per year, and even that amount is not fully available.

It is not that the world has not recognised the importance of raising funds to combat climate change. In this regard, a fresh effort to raise financial resources is being made in Paris this week, with several heads of state in attendance. Until the world can secure massive capital, discussions on combating climate change and mitigating its effects will remain futile.