Momentum – but uncertainty – in final pre-Paris climate talks


There’s one last stop on the road to this year’s much-hyped global climate talks.

Delegations from nearly 200 countries meet in Bonn, Germany this week to begin the arduous process of finalizing a draft agreement, dissecting line by line each aspect of a potential accord to reduce carbon emissions worldwide. The Bonn talks will be the final formal meeting among negotiators  before the UN Paris climate talks in December, which aim to determine global climate policy after the current Kyoto Protocol winds down in 2020.  

Headed into this week’s talks, officials and analysts say they are optimistic about a successful outcome both in Bonn and Paris. They point to bold climate pledges from major emitters across the longstanding divide between developed and developing economies. They praise the private sector’s increased commitments to decarbonizing their energy use. They cite the plummeting costs of renewable energy technology as motivation for countries to wean themselves off carbon-heavy fuels.

But when it comes to nailing down the nitty gritty of who exactly does what – and how they will be held accountable for their pledges – negotiators face some of the same obstacles that have long dogged international climate efforts.

“There is a deep desire by all the countries to have an agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions,” says Scott Barrett, professor of natural resource economics at Columbia University. “But it is not clear that the pledges being made will meet the goal, or how the pledges will be met at all.”

The United Nations gave the world a glimpse of what the Paris agreement would look like when it published the most recent draft version of the accord, a document that was slimmed down from its original 90 pages to just 20, earlier this month.

But aside from a pledge to ensure that global warming doesn’t reach 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels – which scientists say could cause highly dangerous changes to the Earth’s climate –, the document contains almost no specific details. In its current form the agreement still leaves numerous points left to be negotiated, and exactly how each country will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, and thus curb global warming, has yet to be determined.

“Parties aim to reach by [X date] [a peaking of global greenhouse gas emissions][zero net greenhouse gas emissions][a [n] X per cent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions][global low-carbon transformation][global low-emission transformation][carbon neutrality][climate neutrality],” the current drafts reads, employing brackets to signify undecided components.

Despite the many details that still need to be hammered out, officials close to the negotiations say the reduced version of the text is a sign that the countries involved are coming closer to consensus.

“The new draft text provides a much more coherent and concise approach,” says David Waskow, director of the Global Climate Initiative at the World Resource Institute. “There are a number of elements that could be improved on, and Bonn will be about making clear what additional options are needed in the negotiating text.”

Insiders stress that the negotiations in Bonn will probably get “messier” and more complicated as new points are added to the document in the run up to Paris.

A main point of contention is how much, or whether, to differentiate between the obligations of developed and developing nations. While developing countries like India have expressed their willingness to reduce carbon emissions, they also argue that they have the right to develop the same way western countries did during the industrial revolution. Many developing nations fear they will stunt their economic growth by cutting down on fossil fuel consumption.



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