Bonn conference wraps up another bid for global climate agreement

Пленарное заседание на переговорах ООН по климату, Бонн, июнь 2010.

Publish date: July 13, 2010

Written by: Andrey Ozharovsky

Translated by: Maria Kaminskaya

June 11, 2010 saw the conclusion of yet another round of global climate talks – this time, in the German city of Bonn. Sent to the conference by 184 member states of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the 1,669 negotiators continued their attempts to agree on further ways to try to save the planet.

Closely watching the Bonn talks were 1,090 representatives of 274 non-profit organisations, including envoys from three Russian NGOs: the Russian branch of WWF, Ecodefense!, and the St. Petersburg-based ECOperestroika.

It is quite a challenge to keep track of the continued negotiations, much less make assessments as to their success. The UNFCCC came into force in 1994, but the convention has only been able to enter into record the parties’ agreement on the answers to these two questions: “Who is to blame? What are the causes of global climate change?” (Man is. Human activities leading to greenhouse gas emissions, forest destruction etc.) and “What are we to do?” (Reduce the anthropogenic impact on the planet’s climate). Yet, the convention is still to provide the answer to the most pressing question: “How do we do it?”

The issues of who is to be cutting emissions and through which mechanisms were settled by the Kyoto Protocol, but that agreement expires in 2012. The time is now to work out and agree on the new rules and methods to reduce emissions.

The following is the result of a series of conversations with both official delegates and representatives of non-profit organisations, who were asked to assess the progress made during the talks in Bonn and what prospects are now in store. The opinions expressed below were elicited from: Oleg Shamanov, a department head in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a member of the Russian delegation; Alexander Grebenkov, an expert with the Belarusian delegation; Alexei Kokorin, director for climate programmes at WWF Russia; Vladimir Slivyak, co-chairman of the Ecodefense! group; and Rashid Alimov, co-chairman of the St. Petersburg organisation ECOperestroika.

What happened in Bonn? 

The negotiations in Bonn took place six months before the next, Sixteenth, Conference of the Parties gathers in Cancun, Mexico in December this year. At the previous conference, in Copenhagen in December 2009, the parties failed to reach an agreement on further joint actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – or even, indeed, on what future climate agreements would look like. The Copenhagen accord, the result of some very arduous negotiations and eleventh-hour manoeuvring, finally forced member states to make pledges to cut emissions by 2020, but these are just promises, and not unconditional ones at that…

Vladimir Slivyak: “There is progress, in comparison to Copenhagen. There is understanding, among the parties, that one must start moving at least somewhere from here, and, as a result, there is some advancement with regard to the negotiating texts, especially where it concerns certain components of the negotiations (such as stopping tropical deforestation – [the UN programme for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation] REDD+, for instance). That said, there is still a very long way to go toward a joint post-Kyoto agreement.”

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Oleg Shamanov: “I wouldn’t say that we are midway through the negotiation process. We are approaching a new stage – a post-Copenhagen stage. The June session is basically the first attempt to rethink the negotiating approaches at this new stage after Copenhagen. The Russian negotiating team intends to suggest to our partners that we focus on a pragmatic approach and on discussing the essence of the issues, that we try to avoid fruitless political debates about whether Kyoto is dead or not.

Thus, we are hoping that if such an approach is accepted by all the delegations, we might expect that a second attempt will be made to agree on an international legal regime of climate cooperation for the period after 2012. If we fail to do that, well, then we’ll have to each go back to our national apartments and act on one’s own.”

What will happen in Cancun?

Though not all hope is lost, landing a comprehensive global agreement in Cancun does seem to be a mission impossible, with the most that could be expected shaping up slowly as a package of decisions aimed at stopping tropical deforestation. This disappointing chain of developments gave Alexei Kokorin reason to joke bitterly that “Cancun is expected to be a festive celebration of a World Day Against Tropical Forest Degradation” – something that does not exist.

Vladimir Slivyak: “What we expect from Cancun is the final adoption of decisions regarding the forests (tropical forests, for sure, but not just those), and maybe, some progress on the financial aspects of the new agreement. Unfortunately, what we do not expect at all is the post-Kyoto agreement – the impression is that if it is reached in 2012 at least, that will be success enough. There is the opinion that under certain circumstances, there will be in place of a unified post-Kyoto agreement an assortment of separate decisions on key issues instead – that is something we would like to try to avoid.”

Alexei Kokorin: “The unified agreement is not happening, at least not this year. And maybe not next year, either. Decisions will be made gradually… There is progress on the funding structure. There is no progress on the obligations to reduce emissions or on the fate of the Kyoto Protocol.

The fate of the Kyoto Protocol 

The international community is thus facing the real threat that no new agreement will be reached before the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, nor that concrete terms will be worked out for the extension of the Kyoto agreement itself, should the first option fail.

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Alexander Grebenkov: “The problem is – and this is being discussed at the moment – that there arises this time gap. If one is to follow the [Kyoto Protocol], then amendments must be introduced six months before the Conference of the Parties, which is to pass it by consensus. But already now it is clear that, with a few exceptions, there is not enough time to make it with the texts of the amendments before the Conference of the Parties in Cancun.

There are two negotiation forums here. One is working out the text of the new climate agreement (the [Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention], AWG LCA). And the other is adapting the Kyoto Protocol to the new conditions. That is, introducing a whole number of amendments into it. Heated discussions are under way on both platforms, as countries are trying in one way or another to outline and defend their position.

A new negotiating text on long-term cooperative action is being discussed. This text complements the UN Framework Convention and is the primary text that, as is implied, will include the United States and other countries who did not join the [Kyoto Protocol].”

Transfer of unused emission quotas

One of the most controversial issues of the day is whether countries will be allowed to transfer their unused emission quotas over into the new agreement. This is an especially poignant issue for Russia and other former Soviet states, which were able to stock up substantially on surplus emission quotas – so-called “hot air” – as a result of the 1992 break-up of the USSR and the following economic collapse of the 1990s.

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Alexei Kokorin: “This is the ‘baggage’ that our countries paid for by the crisis of the 1990s. The NGOs’ position is: ‘No transferring of the quotas!’ What, they’re going to use them for the benefit of the environment or the people? This is very hard to believe! Yes, it’s a rainy-day reserve, but why would one need it? It is best to agree on real actions, I think even the negotiators will be all the happier for it, it’s just that they can’t say it openly, for diplomatic reasons.”

Vladimir Slivyak: “Russia is speaking against extending the Kyoto Protocol, which would have allowed it to transfer (and, possibly, sell) large emission quotas over for after 2012. At the same time, Russia does not want to give up its unused quotas. How Russia is going to have it both ways is as yet a mystery to most. If only maybe the Russian delegation understands it. The NGOs’ position is that the quotas must not be transferred under any circumstances, because this has nothing to do with real reduction of emissions. More like, selling the quotas could lead to additional emissions.”

Russia demands due consideration for Russian forests 

In November 2009, Russia’s prime minister Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would support a new global climate deal, but on certain conditions. It agreed to back the efforts to promote the ideas of the post-Kyoto period if the world’s major powers also signed up and if the new document took into account Russia’s interests. He said at the time that Russia would insist “that the capabilities of [Russia’s] forests to absorb CO2 should be taken into account,” which, he said, had not been fully done by the Kyoto Protocol. The condition is part of official information on Russia’s intentions with regard to standing by the agreement reached in Copenhagen.

Oleg Shamanov: “In these negotiations, Russia is interested in due consideration of the impact of its forests as factors of greenhouse gas sinks and, in particular, boreal forests in the future climate regime. The discussion should not be limited to tropical forests alone.”

Vladimir Slivyak: “With regard to its forests, Russia has stated that if its – highly criticised – proposal on forests were taken into consideration, it would keep its obligations to cut emissions down by 25 percent (from the 1990 level) by 2020. If not, it would reduce its obligations to 15 percent. This was taken extremely negatively during the negotiations, because President [Dmitry] Medvedev was just last year talking about a 25 percent target that was not dependent on any other factors and was unconditional.”

Russia: Increasing emissions or cutting them down? 

Russia’s emission reduction targets are a special subject well worth looking into. Unfortunately, the stated goal of “reducing” emissions by either 15 percent or 25 percent from the 1990 level by 2020 means that in reality, no reduction will take place, but rather an increase compared to the current level. This situation is best illustrated with a graphic chart.

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In 1990, emissions in Russia equalled about 3,300 million tonnes in CO2 equivalent. Owing to the catastrophic economic slump following the 1991 break-up of the USSR, emissions dropped by 39 percent by 2000 (to a value of 2,029 million tonnes). A temporary growth was observed after that, and at present, taking the consequences of the global financial and economic crisis into account, Russian emissions come to around 2,147 million tonnes – or 35 percent below the 1990 level. This is why the 2020 reduction target of either 15 or 25 percent below 1990 will actually mean a growth in comparison with today’s levels. And this growth will not be insignificant – almost 16 percent over current levels in the case of a 25 percent reduction target and over 30 percent if the 15 percent target is chosen.


Indeed, one is forced to question the propriety of the very idea to enter negotiations focused on real measures to curb the harmful impact on global climate with a condition that, if not agreed to, would lead to emissions rising by almost a third.

Russia’s position has already caused some raised eyebrows and more than one indignant protest – both among negotiators and observers. During the Bonn talks, the international NGO coalition Climate Action Network (CAN)’s “Fossil of the Day” award – the daily “dishonour” bestowed upon the country that gave the worst performance during the previous day’s negotiations at an ongoing UN climate change conference – again went to Russia.

This is what the Russian NGO bulletin Menshe Dvukh Gradusov (Below 2ºC) – the title bears a reference to the goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in order to prevent the worst consequences of climate change – had to say about the event:

“The anti-award was given to [Russia] for a statement that stands in stark contradiction to the emission reduction commitments announced in Copenhagen. It is worth reminding that Medvedev earlier announced that Russia would cut its emissions down by 25 percent below 1990 by 2020, and that this obligation was not dependent on such factors as obligations assumed by other countries or whether a new agreement was signed. According to the head of the Russian state, Russia will enhance its energy efficiency and energy conservation, which in and of itself should allow it to reach the established goal even without any other special efforts. But now the Russian delegation is stating during the negotiation on forests that the Russian Federation’s reduction target will be either 15 percent or 25 percent, and that the final target is directly contingent upon whether Russian forests are taken into account. It is worth mentioning that the 25 percent reduction that the president was talking about was based on calculations made without considering the role of Russia’s forests. Of course, the role of forests is important and if taken into account, this should strengthen Russia’s commitment. But it must not be about weakening the previous position, but on the contrary – taking the forests into consideration would allow Russia to commit to a reduction target of 30 percent or 35 percent.”

What were NGOs doing in Bonn?

Alexei Kokorin: “The NGOs were working, this work has to be continued, they have to keep track of negotiations and try to influence them.”


Vladimir Slivyak: “The role the NGOs are playing in the negotiations is extremely important at this time, because new approaches and suggestions have been appearing after Copenhagen (inspired, to a degree, by the desire to compensate for the Copenhagen fiasco). NGOs are the only party at the negotiations which can adequately assess the harm or benefit of this or that proposal not from the point of view of somebody’s national situation, but from the point of view of the common good or the detriment to the environment on an international scale. For instance, forest initiatives are a subject of major controversy. And furthermore, NGOs are actively raising the point that the proposals various countries put forward in the Copenhagen accord are not enough to keep global temperature rise limited to two degrees. It is the NGOs that are now playing a key role in pushing countries toward bigger commitments, as well as in keeping an eye over the favourability or liability associated with this or that new proposal, [and they] exert a principal influence over the coverage of new initiatives, essentially determining what attitude a number of countries will have toward the proposals.”


Rashid Alimov: “This time, a series of street actions was organised by activists on the sidelines of the negotiations. On Sunday, a demonstration took place in Bonn in which around 1,600 people participated – these were mostly participants of the сlimate сamp [set up by] Klimaforum, observers at the UNFCCC talks, and local activists. They were calling for “climate justice” – which implies, first and foremost, an expedited signing of an agreement fulfilling which could avert the threat of climatic chaos – and for renunciation of atomic energy, development of renewable energy technologies, for the vegetarian [lifestyle]… Also I participated in the Critical Mass Bicycle Run, this run was dedicated to [the issue of] climate change.”

What’s next?

The next negotiating session will take place in Bonn in August, but even before then climate issues will be debated in other formats. The problem of climate change was to be on the agenda of the most recent G20 meeting – the June summit of the Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors that took place in Toronto, Canada – though, much to environmentalists’ dismay, problems of the ailing global economy and the ongoing financial and economic crisis took precedence over climate discussions at that meeting. Additionally, the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate has scheduled a Clean Energy Ministerial to take place in late July in Washington, DC. The event, according to its website, will “bring together ministers and stakeholders from more than twenty countries to collaborate on policies and programmes that accelerate the world’s transition to clean energy technologies.”

It is possible that using efficiently all available negotiating formats, the world community – though it will likely have to work through numerous disputes, bridge bitter rifts, and grapple with disappointments along the way – will still reach a compromise on measures that will be able to stop man-made climate change. Just when this might finally happen, no one knows.