Coming to a Global Climate Agreement in Paris, with a Stopover in Bonn

This year’s Climate and Society class is out in the field (or lab or office) completing a summer internship or thesis. They’ll be documenting their experiences one blog post at a time. Read on to see what they’re up to.

By Dan Kandy, Climate and Society 2014

Photo: UNclimatechange/Flickr

Photo: UNclimatechange/Flickr

Twice a year, delegates from 192 countries, along with a range of non-governmental organizations, news outfits, and for-profit groups under the guise of non-profits, descend on the small German city of Bonn for a session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC. This year, starting at about 9:30 on Monday, June 2, and ending after two weeks of seemingly endless talks at 8:00 in the evening on June 15, delegates try to come to an agreement on a range of topics that tend towards the highly technical. But those details are what could ultimately drive a new global compact to deal with climate change.

For many in the climate field, there is a mystique about what exactly happens in the halls of the Maritim Hotel, where the Bonn negotiations take place. I must report that the talks (at least those I had access to – some happen literally behind closed doors) are, like the Maritim Hotel itself: large and unassuming, and pretty dull.

In addition to not being terribly exciting, these sessions can be frustrating. To really follow the discussions, one must have knowledge of the Durban Platform of 2012, the Bali Action Plan of 2007, and so on through the preceding 12 years of negotiations.

Despite not being as exciting as watching two talking heads debate the existence of climate change on cable news, this is where a lot of decisions are made that will determine to a large degree how the global community faces the challenge of global warming. As a non-profit observer with the climate policy consultancy, Ecofys (actually a for-profit that belongs to a non-profit umbrella group for the express purpose of gaining access to UNFCCC conferences, from which for-profits are barred), I was at the conference to learn about Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs.

At the June 2014 Bonn Conference INDCs were on almost everyone’s mind. They’re what will form the backbone of a new climate agreement slated for 2015 that will, for the first time in the history of the UNFCCC, require all countries to create a legally binding agreement to address rising greenhouse gas emissions. This is a big deal because previous agreements were either not legally binding or applied only to developed countries.

As part of this agreement, each country will have to submit a plan that details their planned greenhouse gas reductions for the coming decades. The hope is that these contributions will keep global temperatures from rising more than2°C, a target agreed to by the world’s governments at previous international negotiations and supported by scientists.

The UNFCCC meetings hold a lot of importance to students of the world of climate change. From the triumphs of Rio and Kyoto, to the failures of Copenhagen, and the washout of Doha, the outcomes of the UNFCCC are followed and parsed over by climate change students in classes and bars alike.

It seems that every year, a global agreement is just around the corner. This year feels both the same and a little different. With the all countries outlining how much they’ll reduce greenhouse gas emissions through INDCs, we could finally see an agreement that will ensure global temperatures don’t pass the 2°C threshold in just 500 days at negotiations in Paris in 2015.


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