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Posted on on June 6th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

Bonn Climate Change Conference – May  14-25, 2012 tells us that the while attention is riveted to RIO+20 in effect not only the UN Commission on Sustainable Development is bankrupt, but also the process that was started by the UN Convention on Climate Change is also bankrupt. THAT IS WHY WE SAY FOR A WHILE THAT THE MEETING IN RIO 2012 IS IN EFFECT A RIO MINUS TWENTY.

The following is the Analysis of the May 2012 Bonn Meeting as suggested by the Earth Negotiations Bulletin.

The Bonn Climate Change Conference took place from 14 to 25 May 2012 in Bonn, Germany. The conference comprised the 36th sessions of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). It also included the 15th session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (AWG-LCA), the 17th session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) and the first session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP).

Under the SBI, key issues discussed included loss and damage, national adaptation plans (NAPs), and reporting by Annex I and non-Annex I parties. The SBSTA focused on agriculture, research and systematic observation, and methodological guidance on REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries). Technology and response measures were considered under both the SBI and SBSTA.

Under the AWG-KP, the focus was on issues that need to be finalized to adopt a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol and for the AWG-KP to conclude its work at the eighth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 8). These include: matters relating to quantified emission limitation or reduction objectives (QELROs) with a view to adopting these as amendments to Annex B to the Kyoto Protocol and carry-over of assigned amount units (AAUs). While discussions under the AWG-KP advanced understanding of these issues, many outstanding questions remain, including the length of the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol and carry-over of surplus units.

Under the AWG-LCA, parties initially debated the agenda and whether it adequately reflected progress since the adoption of the Bali Action Plan at COP 13 in 2007. After agreement on the agenda, debates continued on which issues require consideration so that the AWG-LCA can finalize its work at COP 18 in Doha. Developed countries stressed “significant progress” and the various new institutions established in Cancun and Durban. They called for a focus on specific tasks mandated by Decision 2/CP.17 (Outcome of the work of the AWG-LCA). Developing countries identified the need to continue discussing issues, such as finance, technology, adaptation, capacity building and response measures in order to fulfill the mandate in the Bali Action Plan.

Under the ADP, discussions centered on the agenda and election of officers. After nearly two weeks of discussions, the ADP plenary adopted the agenda and agreed on the election of officers during the final day of the conference.

At the close of the Bonn Conference, many felt that the atmosphere had been “tense,” especially under the ADP. They expressed hope that this would not have a lasting impact, putting at risk efforts to rebuild trust in the process over the past two years since Copenhagen and the “delicate balance” of interests reflected in the Durban Package.

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin Summary of this meeting is now available in PDF format at and in HTML format



Six months ago, many delegates left the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban basking in the warm glow of success, imbued with the infectious spirit of  “Ubuntu,” or unity and interconnectedness. The conference had agreed on several landmark decisions including: the establishment a new Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) and “a process to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force applicable to all parties” to come into effect from 2020 onwards; a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol; and agreement to terminate the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA) and Ad Hoc Working Group on Annex I Parties’ Further Commitments under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) in Doha. Many saw these decisions as heralding a new era of multilateralism and turned to 2012 with anticipation, vigor and purpose.

Six months later, the pressure was on delegates in Bonn to live up to the promise of Durban. Delegates faced a heavy workload, including the tasks needed to operationalize the institutions and mechanisms established in Cancun and Durban. Parties also had to try to demystify what it was they had actually agreed to during the waning hours of the frenzied COP 17. However, negotiations in 2012 got off to an inauspicious start and the Bonn Climate Change Conference was marred by mistrust and unabashed posturing. The meeting was almost paralyzed by prolonged procedural wrangling, which many described as “unprecedented.” This analysis will discuss the underlying reasons for the disputes in Bonn and examine the implications for COP 18 in Doha, Qatar, in another six months.


Many could not begin to imagine how difficult it would be to begin implementing the Durban decisions. The new platform established in Durban introduced the notions of a “post-2012 or pre-2020” landscape; and a “post-2020” period, that will be covered by the new “protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all parties” to be developed by the ADP.

The Durban Package, which had been negotiated sensitively to accommodate the myriad of parties’ interests, presented challenges and complexities in Bonn, when parties began the business of interpreting its ambiguous language. For example, while many parties see mitigation as the core of the ADP, some developing countries insisted that all elements, including financing, adaptation, capacity building and technology transfer, should also be central to the ADP’s mandate.

For many, enhancing ambition to close the “mitigation gap” was a crucial part of Decision 1/CP.17. The decision establishes that the ADP process for the post-2020 regime shall raise the level of ambition and also launches a post-2012 work plan on enhancing mitigation ambition for all parties. However, the decision does not stipulate when and which body will implement the work plan. While some developing parties supported addressing pre-2020 mitigation ambition under the AWG-LCA, many others insisted on addressing it under the ADP.

The reason why some preferred to address enhancing mitigation ambition under the AWG-LCA is that the Bali Action Plan affirms the Convention’s core principles, including common but differentiated responsibilities. This implies that developed countries have commitments, while developing countries only take nationally appropriate mitigation actions contingent on support from developed countries. This level of comfort is missing under the ADP for developing countries. Indeed, the decision adopting the ADP does not include references to the Convention’s principles nor does it make a distinction between developed and developing countries. As one insider highlighted, “some parties have started to panic about the ADP; they feel as if they are walking into a dark room and don’t know if there is anything there or where anything is.” This uncertainty manifested in disagreements over both the AWG-LCA and the ADP agendas. On the ADP agenda, parties ultimately agreed to address two work streams, one on the post-2020 regime and the other on the post-2012 work plan on enhancing the level of ambition.

Uncertainties also arose when considering the termination of the AWG-LCA in Doha. Decision 1/CP.17 extends the AWG-LCA’s “mandate for one year in order for it to continue its work and reach the agreed outcome pursuant to decision 1/CP.13 (Bali Action Plan)”, until COP 18 at which it “shall be terminated.” However, Durban left room for different interpretations on how to proceed with the inconclusive work beyond Doha. The lack of clarity on the AWG-LCA termination provided room for discussions on whether the AWG-LCA should finish after the Bali Action Plan was accomplished or if the Bali Action Plan was accomplished by the termination of the AWG-LCA. Some parties, particularly a group of developing countries, wanted to assess the progress achieved toward fulfilling the Bali Action Plan, including some elements that were not agreed upon in Durban but were reflected in a compilation document referred to as “CRP.39,” such as intellectual property issues in relation to technology, rights of Mother Earth, trade, and response measures. Meanwhile, many developed countries wanted to focus on specific issues mandated by COP 17. They highlighted that many issues mandated by the Bali Action Plan had already been properly addressed and forwarded to the permanent subsidiary bodies or other relevant institutions created for that purpose, such as the Technology Executive Committee, the Green Climate Fund, the Adaptation Committee and the Durban Forum on Capacity Building.

Nevertheless, the extent to which the permanent subsidiary bodies and the new bodies can address these issues is limited to their technical nature or their particular mandate. Moreover, many of the established bodies still need to be operationalized, as many highlighted. The fact that progress towards their operationalization was not achieved in Bonn did not help to enhance the environment of cooperation. On finance, the Philippines provided examples of this phenomenon, underscoring that the GCF is still “an empty shell, and the Standing Committee is not standing.”

In Durban, under the AWG-KP track, parties agreed to “decide that the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol shall begin on 1 January 2013.” However, it is clear to everybody that to “really adopt” the second commitment period parties will have to agree on its length, put forward QELROs and adopt the necessary amendments to the Kyoto Protocol in Doha. Some questions remain on key issues such as how to ensure a smooth transition to the second commitment period, how to deal with excess units from the first commitment period, how rules can be continued and, in particular, how to continue with the flexibility mechanisms, including who will be able to participate, given that some countries indicated they would not be part of a second commitment period. In Bonn, developing countries reiterated that parties intending to participate in the second commitment period should submit ambitious QELROs in line with the goal of limiting temperature increase to below 2°C. Venezuela vociferously demanded that Annex I parties “show their QELROs” as opposed to pledges. The EU highlighted their submission of QELROs and also called upon his Annex B colleagues to follow suit.

Moreover, in order to finish shaping the second commitment period and properly adopt it in Doha, parties have to agree on its length and on the text of the Kyoto Protocol amendment, but negotiations in Bonn did not lead to any further progress in this regard. With so many relevant details to be defined before Doha, developing countries expressed fear that parties are “jumping from the Kyoto Protocol ship” by shifting the focus on the ADP. The EU and other developed countries argued, in turn, that their agreement on a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol was based on a transition to a global and comprehensive post-2020 climate treaty to be negotiated under the ADP.


If anything, the Bonn session brought to the fore the universally acknowledged fact that the UNFCCC, drafted in 1992, reflects a reality light years away from the 2012 global landscape. Since the negotiation of the Convention, the outlook for many G-77/China members has changed dramatically and resulting tensions from these divergences are increasingly playing out in the negotiating rooms. For several years now, many have been wagering bets on how long the G-77/China tinderbox diplomacy can prevail, when it is evident that many of the members appear to sit uncomfortably around the same table. A discernible chasm was evident in Bonn. As one delegate said, “Members of the group are now washing their dirty linen very publically.” The group did not have a common negotiating position on the ADP and many other issues. Moreover, they had trouble agreeing on fielding one non-Annex I candidate for the position of ADP Chair. As one practitioner explained, the UNFCCC governance structure assumed certain things, including that parties fall neatly into two groups: Annex I and non-Annex I countries. This “binary” dynamic has changed. As one delegate noted: “GRULAC and the Asian Group are the dominant forces but they do not represent the interests of the entire group.” This means that, in addition to the traditional distinction between developed and developing countries, a third category of “emerging developing countries” or “advanced developing countries” may need to be factored into the mix.

Ultimately, the specter of having to vote for the ADP officers and the resulting damage to the process proved too much for parties to stomach, and they eventually agreed to a “delicate arrangement,” where the candidate from the Asia-Pacific Group will serve an initial one year term from 2012-2013, with his counterpart from an Annex I party, and the subsequent Co-Chair from GRULAC will serve for a term of 18 months. Many said that creating a voting precedent under the UNFCCC would be difficult, almost unfathomable but, at times during the meeting it appeared as if the taboo would be broken.

Other dynamics also played out within the G-77/China, which caught many practitioners by surprise. Bonn witnessed the emergence of a group of approximately 40 countries primarily comprised of the Arab Group, Latin American countries, including Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, as well as India and China, who, on the face on things, appear to have forged an alliance to uphold the Convention’s principles of common but differentiated responsibilities and equity, as well as developed countries’ historical responsibility for climate change. They maintain that any outcome under the ADP must be equitable so that “universality of application” does not become “uniformity of application.”

In contrast, another group of developing countries, including members from AOSIS, LDCs, and some Latin American countries, such as Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Peru and Panama, are looking for such action on mitigation from developed and developing countries and for action to be “incentivized for all countries,” which they describe as the “beginning of a new paradigm for responding to climate change.”

Reflecting on the developments within the G-77/China, one insider said “history is being made and the wedge within the group is helping to bring about an exciting geo-political shift, which is about how countries deal with each other politically and economically and also a reflection of where they are and where they will be.”


Bonn demonstrated that, as many have said, Durban was a carefully negotiated package contingent on all elements of the outcome moving forward in tandem. However, what is clear is that parties have a very different perspective of what the future looks like in terms of, inter alia, the ADP’s mandate, how to terminate the AWGs and what to focus on for effectively addressing climate change. As evidenced in Bonn, constructive ambiguity results in uncertainty that can sometimes breed mistrust. This mistrust is often manifested through disputes over procedure and consequently hampers progress. Looking ahead, parties have their work cut out to accomplish tasks they agreed to in Durban. They will need to exercise goodwill, integrity and congeniality in order to deliver on the ultimate objective of meaningful mitigation action for the post-2012 era.

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