Back to Square One. Or Rather Two? Bonn Climate Conference

7f6aff28-ebb0-4ed3-ac3c-e154430b2e83The moments of ‘déjà vu’ for international climate meetings are coming as frequently as extreme weather events. But the world is ever ready for negotiations.

The moments of ‘déjà vu’ for international climate meetings are coming more frequently, than before.But these déjà vu moments are important for the world community simply because they serve as remembrance of the grave future.

The frequency of déjà vu moments in climate meetings are also giving rise to growing complexities and entanglement of the issues, problems, and above all the agenda of the meetings themselves. Take for example the Bonn Climate Change Conference under United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Conference that has opened this week in Bonn, Germany is bundle of mind boggling meetings. Hold your breath, here is the list : twenty-third session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 23), the thirteenth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 13), and the second part of the first session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA 1-2). To top it there is meeting of the fourth part of the first session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA 1-4), if one  understand whatever it means.

Quiet flow of Rhine on the banks of which the meeting takes place in sprawling UN campus in Bonn and the freezing cold temperatures belie the ground realities.

The ground realities that world has witnessed over last two decades since the adaptation of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, include havoc caused by hurricanes and storms that touched the life of masses all over the globe, particularly small island countries and even rich countries. This year’s sweep of disasters in Caribbean and USA and nearly all over the world vividly exemplify these realities and more than prove what is being professed by the United Nations that the poor countries, who did not contribute much to the global warming would face the consequences in disproportionate way.

Apart from ground realities, there are realities in the atmosphere as well.  A week before, UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) revealed the data that included shocking observation that levels of carbon dioxide (C02) in the atmosphere have surged at “record-breaking speed” to new highs in 2016. The report indicates that carbon dioxide concentrations has reached 403.3 parts per million in 2016, up from 400 ppm in 2015. Such  level and the speed of rise of concentration was not observed over last 800,000 years.  UN agency bluntly reported, just one year after the historic and hard-earned Paris Climate Agreement entered into force, that “we are not moving in the right direction at all.  In fact, we are actually moving in the wrong direction when we think about the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement.”  Never before such blunt warning was ever given by UN agency who are known to add after sketching dooms day scenario that ‘there is hope and cracked-open window of the opportunity’.

But warnings, whether by United Nations agencies or by more than 3000 scientists from 130 countries Scientists working for the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), or by the World-renowned economists like Lord Stern, they have either been refuted or overlooked. ‘Adaptation to climate change’ is now considered as on top of the  ‘to-do’ list, taking ‘mitigation’ way down the priority list in the bottom. Mitigation is now used predominantly and interestingly, not in context of reducing the emission but for diluting the risks from the catastrophe and even the investments made in clean energy! Financial innovations are in play more vigorously in ‘hedging’ than action on reducing emission.

So, what is Bonn climate conference is expected to achieve?

In one sentence the simplified expectation is to make accelerated progress in operationalizing the Paris Agreement, due for completion not later than COP 24 in 2018.

The dilemma is, while the emissions are rising, the political support to the Paris Climate agreement by one of the two largest emitters, USA, has fallen. More than that there is dark cloud that looms large over the Bonn meeting: would the nationalist’s virus of ‘my nation first’ would spread and the political support would wane by bringing the process of operationalizing to square number one.

As per the Emission Gap Report of 2017,  released by United Nations Environment , stated that Paris pledges , called NDCs ( Nationally Determined Contributions),  are only a third of what is needed to avoid worst impacts of climate change and As things stand, even full implementation of current NDCs makes a temperature increase of at least 3 o deg C by 2100 ‘very likely’ – meaning that governments need to deliver much stronger pledges when they are revised in 2020.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. The investments in clean energy is growing over last 3 years as per many of the authentic studies, including that of Paris-based International Energy Agency. In 2016, 80 percent of all the investment in electricity sector has gone in renewable energy installations. Most of this has been in the developing countries. The development economist however feel that this light at the end of the tunnel is of the train coming from other direction. The policy-makers, in their zest of getting quick gains,  may reduce the policy and financial support for the renewable energy any time, making such investment risky.

I recall the speech of Al Gore, the then Vice President of USA, in December 1997 in Kyoto, when I was in audience. He said, “We have reached a fundamentally new stage in the development of human civilization, in which it is necessary to take responsibility for a recent but profound alteration in the relationship between our species and our planet. Because of our new technological power and our growing numbers, we now must pay careful attention to the consequences of what we are doing to the Earth — especially to the atmosphere”.

USA, though signed the Kyoto Protocol in November 1998, never submitted it to Senate for ratification, because Senate was unanimous that developing countries were favoured.

Now, USA, though ratified the Protocol by using special power by the former President, the new President, declared his intention to withdraw, because developing countries are unfavourably bestowed with the promise of finances from developed countries, mainly by USA.

Yes, we are back to square number one, may be two. END.

By Rajendra Shende, IIT Alumnus,

Chairman TERRE Policy Centre

Former Director UNEP,




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