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Heady Heat

It all started with an agreement actually, to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere that were contributing to climate change worldwide. At the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992. The Conference of the Parties (COP) which signed the Convention and now has 195 members, has met repeatedly since. And the most recent meeting was at the Bonn Climate Change Conference. A staggering 1,480 government delegates, 900 observers and 30 media representatives came together to brainstorm from June 3 to 14, 2013 at the Maritim Hotel, in — you guessed it — Bonn, Germany! But what did they ultimately decide? GT has a round-up of the round-table right here...

Touchy Talk
ghThe UN Climate Change Conference in Doha in 2012 had already got matters off to a heated start. It tried to chalk out fixed emission targets that pinned the game changers of the Kyoto Protocol, signed in Kyoto, Japan in 1997. We are talking about industrialised countries and countries on their way to becoming full-fledged market economies. These countries, known as Annex I parties under the UNFCCC, were Kyoto-bound to reduce their overall emissions of six GHGs by an average of 5 per cent below 1990 levels in 2008-2012 (also known as the first commitment period), with specific targets varying from country to country. Doha saw a key decision to make amendments to the Kyoto Protocol, to hash out its second commitment period.

PHOTO: We need to keep two-thirds of proven fossil fuel reserves undeveloped if the 2°C target is to be achieved, said Fatih Birol, Chief Economist, International Energy Agency (IEA), at a side-event at the Bonn Conference. Panel from left to right - Fatih Birol, Chief Economist, IEA; and Halldor Thorgeirsson, UNFCCC Secretariat. Courtesy IISD Reporting Services

    But its flexibility on targets would be wrestled tooth and nail at the Bonn Conference. The main players: the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI 38) and Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA 38).

Say what?
SBI? SBSTA? If acronyms phase you out, worry not, let us decode that for you. SBI 38 basically updated the Conference on previous, country-specific targets to curb GHG emissions, particularly curbing actions by developing countries and challenges that faced the least developed ones.

How did, or would, they account for the loss and damage resulting from climate change? Or make provisions for requisite finance, technology, capacity building and response measures and intergovernmental meetings? Phew, that was a heavy round-up and not without its share of acrimony.

The Russian Federation, Belarus and Ukraine were quick to raise brows on the decision-making process under COP. Stakes were not equal, and neither was the scope of representation, they grumbled. And the answering suggestion to reserve their grouse for less pressing meetings means they now look with some anxiety to COP 19 and CMP 9 to be held in Warsaw, Poland in November 2013.
From here, where?
The second part of the Bonn saga, dominated by SBSTA 38, had relatively greater success, in paving consensus. Not just on reducing emissions courtesy deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries, but also on the role of conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks (REDD+) globally.  Hooray, said the ADP. Who? Umm, the resumed second session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.  Whoa! Who are these guys now?

Basically they had got together earlier, in 2011 at Durban, to develop a new protocol, replacing Kyoto and re-setting emission targets for the Annex I parties.  

But is it too early to celebrate, or too late?
The ADP is scheduled to complete all its negotiations by 2015, to ensure that the new protocol enters into effect from 2020. But the 2020 target to limit the global average temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels seems woefully out of reach. Brazil, for one, is asking: what about historical contributions to the temperature increase, different for all countries, and perhaps, setting different targets for reducing emissions? And while several (developing and least developed) countries echo that grumble, India and China stay unanswered on a basic hurdle.

Developing the technology that would allow them to take early and effective action on reducing emissions. Here was the ADP’s reply: no need to set up more parties to further formalise matters, thank you. Hard core negotiations from here on. Hmm, a little wave of déjà vu there, no?

Meanwhile, the danger line in the global ratio of carbon dioxide, 400 parts per million, was silently crossed in May. With the negotiators nitpicking on administrative issues.