Tough issues remain as climate change negotiators chart the year’s work in Bangkok.
This week’s climate talks in Bangkok started on a high note with overviews of countries’ climate efforts, but quickly spiraled downward into arguments over the year’s work plan, the place where the politics were being played out. More than petty bickering, these disagreements were a stark reminder of the political divisions that remain to be overcome.
In the end, after intense negotiations, the meeting delivered modest progress: an agenda to build on the Cancun Agreements before the next Conference of the Parties (COP) in December in Durban, South Africa, and to discuss the broader political issues that were left unresolved in Mexico.
The meeting in Bangkok was the first time since the standing ovations of the Cancun talks last December that countries had met. Bangkok reaffirmed that Cancun offered progress on important issues
including commitments and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and frameworks for adaptation, technology, forests and finance.
However, it is also clear that the Cancun Agreements are not the end of the story. If progress is to be maintained, two things need to happen this year. First, negotiators need to fill in many details to implement the Cancun decisions. Second, certain larger political issues that were left unresolved in Mexico need to be addressed.
The Cancun Agreements struck a delicate balance between issues of concern to developing countries, such as adaptation, the provision of financing and deeper emissions cuts by developed countries, and issues of concern to developed countries, such as promises by developing countries to take action and report transparently on their climate efforts. In Bangkok, both sides wanted to make sure their issues stayed on the table this year. At the same time, developing countries were insistent that the bigger political issues that were unresolved in Cancun, such as the future Kyoto Protocol, be addressed in time for COP-17.
The Bangkok agenda sets the groundwork for discussions at the next negotiating session in June in Bonn, Germany on the various elements of the Cancun Agreements, in order to design institutions and rules by COP-17. We also got a glimpse of the important discussions ahead on implementation. Developed and developing countries presented their actions to address climate change in open workshops. In the room, the tone was constructive as countries learned about their counterparts’ efforts to turn broad international pledges into concrete action on the ground. But these workshops also emphasized the need to provide more transparency and consistency around countries’ efforts, as mandated in the Cancun Agreements.
Negotiators also took initial steps to tackle the bigger political questions that were left out in Cancun. Among other developments:
- Developing countries made clear in Bangkok that they want developed countries to agree to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. This is a difficult but very important issue that risks derailing the talks in Durban in December if not addressed properly, but some developed countries showed willingness to take that step under certain conditions to be discussed at the next session.
- A continued discussion of the legal form a future additional climate agreement is also on the agenda for the year.
- Finally, a review of countries’ commitments to be developed by Durban will aim to bridge the gap between current pledges and the level of ambition needed to meet the 2 degree goal.
Moving forward, countries must implement the provisions of the Cancun Agreements and address the bigger political questions. The agenda is ambitious. The next negotiating session of the UNFCCC in Bonn in June should be the time when process gives way to substance. Countries should get to work on these difficult questions in a spirit of compromise to stay on target for COP-17. There is no time to lose.
In addition, as the details of the agreements are negotiated over the coming weeks and months, countries need to continue to move ahead with their own national plans to reduce carbon emissions and shift to cleaner, lower carbon energy sources. More action is urgently needed at the national and international level.