The Bonn summary: take-away messages from the May 2018 UN Climate Summit

Bonn, Germany
The UN climate summit, which took place in Germany this month, saw slow but steady progress on setting up the rules to implement the Paris Agreement. ARTHUR WYNS provides a comprehensive summary of the technical UN climate talks

Climate negotiators...kept up a good pace this week, but have left Bonn with a lot more ground to cover to get to the finish line at the next UN Climate Summit in Poland this December.

Two weeks, 3,000 diplomats and hundreds of informal notes. During the past two weeks the UN intersessional climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany, were set to formulate the "Rules" needed to implement the Paris Agreement. How far did we get, and what still needs to be done? The Ecologist gives you an extensive overview.

Like every year, the 'intersessional' UN climate conference takes place halfway between Conferences of the Parties (COPS) in the UNFCCC headquarters in Bonn. Coming from the Fiji-Bonn COP and in the lead-up to the Poland COP, this Bonn session (SB48) had set itself the ambitious goal to hammer out a draft of the Rules that will govern the Paris Agreement, once it enters into force in 2020.

Creating the complete operating manual for the Paris Agreement is no light task, however, and despite steady progress, the Paris Rulebook currently still only consists of hundreds of pages of so-called ‘informal notes’.

Considering the importance of upcoming COP24 in Katowice, Poland, in December, where the Rulebook needs to be finalised and approved on by a global gathering of ministers, negotiators in Bonn decided to add another week of meetings to the equation. Intersessional SB 48.5 is to be held in September in Bangkok.

The Rules for Paris

The 48th climate summit set itself the task to sort out the framework of rules needed to implement Paris from 2020 onwards. This includes topics such as what parties should include in their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), how parties should report on action they take and what financial aid should look like.

Primarily dealing with these discussions is the Ad-Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA), dividing points of discussion into Agenda Items: from NDC’s (APA Agenda item 3), to reporting on adaptation efforts (item 4), to transparent reporting (item 5) and how to take stock of collective progress (Global Stocktake, item 6).

Additionally, the two technical bodies of the UNFCCC, the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), also discuss parts of the rulebook, in particular finance.

The rules and reporting requirements for NDCs - country’s national climate plans - were heavily debated in the APA, and uncertainty remains whether these national contributions should only include greenhouse gas reduction (mitigation), or also the other pillars of the Paris Agreement: adaptation, climate finance and loss and damage.

Another stumbling block for NDC’s was whether they should either be universal - allowing for differentiation between climate plans of developed and developing countries - or should be separated into two clear categories depending on country’s historical emissions.

Climate negotiators...kept up a good pace this week, but have left Bonn with a lot more ground to cover to get to the finish line at the next UN Climate Summit in Poland this December.

The first option was supported by the EU, the US and Japan. The second by China, India and others. A third camp, lead by Turkey, even argued national climate plans should be left to the individual countries to be determined, and we should get rid of overarching NDC regulations completely. Separate negotiations on what timeframes the NDC periods should adopt were held in the SBI.

Many experienced delegates in Bonn confessed that the current discussions on NDC’s reminded them of negotiations before COP21 and Paris, when the divide between North-South or developed-developing in terms of climate duties prevented a global compact on climate action from materialising.

“Although differentiation of climate action for parties is key within Paris as well, even more central is the idea that we are all in it together, that we have a common responsibility to tackle this global issue. The current diverging discussions on NDC’s are distracting us from this common responsibility,” one delegate told The Ecologist.

A clear view on how the Global Stocktake should look like - the first one being planned for 2023 - started to take shape in Bonn as well. The stocktake will have the task to inform all parties how well their national 5-year climate plans are going (with the first one running from 2020 to 2025), and in which ways they can increase their ambition for the following 5-year plans.

This review process will be divided in 3 distinguished stages: gathering the necessary information, a technical review of the progress made and a political review of the progress, followed by an official statement.

Uncertainty remained during the Bonn session, however, on what this stocktake should actually be reviewing: only mitigation and adaptation? or also Loss & Damage? or maybe the 3 goals under Article 2 of the Paris Agreement: adaptation, finance flows and temperature limits?

Although the precise scope and focus of the Global Stocktake is still unclear, the Bonn session managed to establish in broad lines how the stocktake will look like and was able to limit to negotiated text to only a dozen of pages.

In general, the work on the Paris Rulebook moved forward by way of 21 different workstreams (that’s right, 21 of them, if you want to get an overview, go here), and all of them made some, albeit small, progress.

Important here is that all workstreams move forward at a relatively similar pace: with many agenda items being strongly interlinked, a delicate balance has to be maintained at all times in bringing all of them forward.

This sensitive balancing act of these workstreams takes time, however, and an additional week of negotiations was added in the end, to be taking place in Bangkok during the first week of September.

To bridge the gap from Bonn to Bangkok, and to help order the 180-page summary of informal notes that remain, the co-chairs of the APA were tasked to develop a series of “streamlining tools” by August 1st to speed up and streamline the current working documents, as well as a “reflections note” by mid-August - together with the chairs of the subsidiary bodies - to take stock on the progress on the Rulebook so far.  This way, parties can pick up the thread in Bangkok from “an agreed basis for negotiations”.

Catherine Abreu from Climate Action Network Canada said: “Negotiators came here to work and have achieved measured progress in Bonn. The addition of a session in Bangkok signals Parties’ intention to get the job done in 2018.”

Paula Caballero, who leads the Climate Program of the World Resources Institute, added: “Climate negotiators kept up a good pace this week, but will be leaving Bonn with a lot more ground to cover to get to the finish line in Poland this December. At the next negotiation session in Bangkok delegates will need to maintain that same focused approach to turn the corner on the politics and policy.”

Let’s talk finance

The importance of balancing equal process on all fronts when negotiating the Paris Rulebook is the most straightforward in the discussions on finance, where many parties, in particular the African block, emphasised that they will not agree to 'a package deal of rules' during COP24 without significant progress on finance.

Central to discussions on finance was the imphamous Article 9.5 of the Paris Agreement, which will regulate how developed countries communicate the financial resources they plan to deliver to developing countries. Traditionally, Article 9.5 has been a stumbling block during UN climate talks, and is expected to be one of the main hurdles to pass to have a successful COP session in Poland later this year.

Other financial topics under discussion were the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which is the main structure for providing climate finance, the Adaptation Fund, which will have to transform from a financial structure under Kyoto to one under Paris, and Article 9.7 of the PA, which decides how to report on financial flows.

"All in all progress [on finance] was slow," Eddy Perez, policy analyst at CAN Canada, told The Ecologist. "Parties understand that to respond to climate change impacts, this commitment of the 100 billion dollar goal is just the start to engage countries to give money to developing countries. We need to see a higher commitment and clearer rules.”

Closely linked to climate finance, and developed as a way to "put a price on carbon", Carbon Markets and other market mechanisms were heavily discussed during the Bonn session. Placed under Article 6 of the PA, discussions on carbon markets led to 50+ pages of informal notes, with the discussions running high on whether the word "Human Rights" should be included in the text or not. After heavy pressure of the Arab Group, all mention of Human Rights was removed from the notes, leaving limited to no provisions on the table to protect people's rights.


Bonn also saw the launch of the global review known as the Talanoa Dialogue, a series of meetings in which countries, businesses, cities, investors and civil society discuss both action taken so far and additional measures still required to meet our collective climate commitments. Named after a traditional Fijian storytelling process, the dialogue has, in effect, become a reality check on where we stand on climate action.

The dialogue will run during most of 2018. Its main idea is to share experiences and stories around 3 questions: where are we, where do we want to go and how do we get there, with the aim to reflect on climate change ambition and inform the preparation or revision of the national plans.

Many countries and non-party stakeholders expressed their expectation that the Talanoa Dialogue must now quickly be translated into a political outcome that ultimately leads to countries stepping up their climate pledges by 2020.

Parties raising this expectation included the delegations of the EU, the Small Island States (AOSIS), the Least Developed Countries group, a group of eight Caribbean and Latin American countries (AILAC), the 43 countries most vulnerable to climate change (CVF) and the Fijian COP23 presidency (you can see this well reflected in the Talanoa plenaries).

Loss & Damage

The issue of dealing with the losses and damages already occurred due to climate change has taken up front and center in the global news during the past 12 months.

This was also reflected in the recent UN negotiations in Bonn, where for the first time a dedicated space was created where countries were given the chance to share views on how to minimise and address loss and damage, called the Suva Dialogue.

The discussions in the Suva dialogue were clearly led by developing countries and island states, with many giving concrete example of how climate damages are affecting their economy, their citizens’ daily life and the future of their country.

The developed world was surprisingly quiet for most of the discussion. Germany was the only country speaking up on how finance needs to be more central in the loss and damage discussion.

Bonn talks on Loss & Damage will feed into the the meeting of the Executive Committee for the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM Excom) in September, and will lead to a technical paper published before next years’ intersessional. This will inform the review of the WIM happening in 2019 at COP 25.

Conflict of Interest

As has been the tradition for the past two intersessionals, this Bonn session saw a recurring issue being picked up again: what to do with the non-party stakeholders that participate in the negotiations, but have vested interests in limiting any strict measures on current, fossil fuel dependent, energy industries.

The issue of Conflict of Interest was specifically addressed, in so-called AIM sessions, dealing with logistics and issues of implementation.

“Over the past two weeks, the issue of Big Polluters’ corrosive interference in climate policy-making once again dominated the talks,” stated Jesse Bragg from Corporate Accountability. “Over the course of five days, Global South governments representing nearly 70 percent of the world’s population stood steadfast and determined to reach a mandate for a conflict of interest policy.”

Despite pronounced concerns during the Bonn session by civil society and more than 70 countries, the actual term ‘Conflict of Interest’ was not mentioned in the draft text that was proposed during the AIM sessions, and talks were postponed until May next year.

Indigenous People’s Platform

Bonn also saw the first sessions of  the Local Communities & Indigenous Peoples Platform. Launched during COP23, the platform aims to strengthen the knowledge, technologies, practices, and efforts of local communities and indigenous peoples related to addressing and responding to climate change.

During the May 2018 intersessional, negotiations started to operationalise the platform, to develop a workplan and to create a facilitative working group to address the initiatives’ 3 main functions: (1) to gather and share traditional knowledge and practices, (2) to build the capacity of indigenous peoples and local communities to enable their engagement in the UNFCCC process, and (3) to integrate climate policies and actions related to indigenous communities into national and international climate policies.

Despite technical progress on the platform, negotiations during the May intersessional did not manage to finalise the set-up of the working group. China in particular, blocked any progress by disagreeing to add human rights into the equation. “We do not agree with mentioning the ‘Principles of Human Rights’ into the Indigenous Platform, since it is too broad a concept.” Other points of objections were the mentioning of ‘Local Communities’, although a central concept in the platform.

Helen Magata, representative in the platform of a local Philippine community, told The Ecologist: “Local and indigenous communities are on the frontlines of climate change, and are often not taken into account sufficiently in national plans or international policy.

"The indigenous platform helps to make up for that gap. And despite opposing actions by some parties, this platform will help communities around the world to get their voice heard in international climate politics,”

What’s Next?

Now the Bonn session is over, the ‘reflection note’ by the co-chairs of the APA and the additional intersessional are setting the stage for the COP24 in Poland, in December of this year.

Leading up to the COP, however, is a year packed with crucial events across 2018 that touch upon climate action at various levels of governance. From the G7 in Canada to the G20 in Argentina, to the California Climate Action Summit launched by governor Brown.

With so much at stake this year, fear for the lack of clear climate leadership has persisted in the media. The United States’ president’s plan to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, however, seems not to have weakened the constructive atmosphere that pervades in the UN climate talks.

“I am optimistic the rulebook will be finalised at COP24 in Katowice,” Ulrik Lenaerts, head of the EU delegation in Bonn, told The Ecologist. “The US President’s withdrawal plan has had “no domino effect whatsoever.”

More well-founded concerns, however, are caused by the behavior of the new COP president Poland. The logistical hassle developing around the medium-sized city of Katowice might actually stand in the way of a smooth course for the most important climate negotiations since Paris in 2015.

And lastly, news on where the COP26 in 2020 should be taking place, after number 25 to be held in Brazil, reached the public during the last days of Bonn: both the United Kingdom, Italy and Turkey expressed their interest in hosting the UN summit that will see the launch of Paris its first five-year implementation period.

This Author

Arthur Wyns is a tropical biologist and science journalist who writes about climate change, environment and migration. He reports from the UN negotiations and is the program manager of Climate Tracker, an organisation supporting environmental journalists worldwide to bring climate change into their national debates. Arthur tweets from @ArthurWyns. Image:

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