The latest round of international climate change talks finished on Friday in discord and disappointment, with some participants concerned that important progress made last year was being unpicked.
At the talks, countries were supposed to set out a workplan on negotiations that should result in a new global climate treaty, to be drafted by the end of 2015 and to come into force in 2020. But participants told the Guardian they were downbeat, disappointed and frustrated that the decision to work on a new treaty – reached after marathon late-running talks last December in Durban – was being questioned.
China and India, both rapidly growing economies with an increasing share of global emissions, have tried to delay talks on such a treaty. Instead of a workplan for the next three years to achieve the objective of a new pact, governments have only managed to draw up a partial agenda. "It's incredibly frustrating to have achieved so little," said one developed country participant. "We're stepping backwards, not forwards."
Connie Hedegaard, the EU climate chief, said: "The world cannot afford that a few want to backtrack from what was agreed in Durban only five months ago. Durban was – and is – a delicately balanced package where all elements must be delivered at the same pace. It is not a pick and choose menu. It is very worrisome that attempts to backtrack have been so obvious and time-consuming in the Bonn talks over the last two weeks."
There was also little progress on the key issue of the financing by rich countries of actions in the developing world. Meeting in Bonn, negotiators and officials from around the world haggled over the set-up of a 'Green Climate Fund' that would channel cash from the developed world to poorer countries, to help them cut greenhouse gas emissions and cope with the effects of climate change.
However, they agreed much of the detail that will be needed to extend the Kyoto protocol – currently the world's only legally binding treaty on emissions cuts – beyond 2012 when its current provisions expire. That extension should be finalised at a conference in Doha, Qatar, this November – but may not be if the EU does not see sufficient progress in negotiations on the proposed new post-2020 treaty.
Chrisiana Figueres, the top climate change official at the United Nations, who presided over the two weeks of talks, said: "Work at this session has been productive. Countries can now press on to ensure elements are in place to adopt the Doha amendment to the Kyoto protocol. I am pleased to say that the Bonn meeting produced more clarity on the protocols's technical and legal details and options to enable a smooth transition between the two commitment periods of the protocol."
However, the only major developed countries that have agreed to continue the Kyoto protocol are those of the European Union. Canada and Japan have dropped out, and the US never ratified the 1997 accord.
The fortnight-long talks in Bonn followed an unexpected last-ditch agreement in December at a meeting in Durban, when countries resolved to spend the next three to four years thrashing out the terms of a new global treaty on climate change and emissions cuts, which would come into force from 2020. Such a treaty would follow on from the Kyoto protocol and from the Copenhagen pledges made at a 2009 summit, in which both developed and developing countries agreed for the first time jointly to curb emissions by 2020. Those pledges do not have the legal force of a full treaty, however, and have been shown in a variety of studies to be inadequate to stave off dangerous levels of climate change.
One of the main tasks for the fortnight-long meeting in Bonn was to flesh out a programme of work towards a new post-2020 treaty. That has been partially achieved, but participants said more needed to be done to draft a clear negotiating timetable. The last major international treaty on the climate that had full legal force - the Kyoto protocol - took five years to negotiate, so the current round of talks will be on a tight deadline if they are to finish in a fully drafted agreement by the end of 2015, as planned.
Countries also discussed at Bonn whether they should try to cut emissions faster than currently planned within the next eight years. That question will be discussed further in the November talks. Green groups were pleased that the possibility of strengthening the 2020 targets was still on the table. However, some participants worried that it could prove a distraction to the difficult task of crafting a whole new post-2020 treaty by 2015.
Celine Charveriat, advocacy and campaigns director at Oxfam, said: "No progress was made to deliver the financial support that the world's poorest and most vulnerable need to deal with the growing impacts of climate change. It is now vital that, at the next UN climate summit in Qatar in November, rich countries commit to an initial US$10-15bn to the Green Climate Fund between 2013 and 2015, as part of a broader financial package.
"At a time when ambitious emission reductions are more urgent than ever, developed countries in Bonn made no progress to close the gap between current climate targets and what is required to avoid the worst of climate change. Developed countries must improve on their current low level of ambition and accept higher reduction targets no later than at the Qatar summit."
Tove Maria Ryding, coordinator for climate policy at Greenpeace International, said: "Here in Bonn we've clearly seen that the climate crisis is not caused by lack of options and solutions, but lack of political action. It's absurd to watch governments sit and point fingers and fight like little kids while the scientists explain about the terrifying impacts of climate change and the fact that we have all the technology we need to solve the problem while creating new green jobs."
["Stop cooking our planet!" protest via WWF Climate / Flickr]