Two main items on the agenda for the Bonn conference are the Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh work programme on the global goal on adaptation (GGA) and the work programme for scaling up mitigation. | Photo: Rishika Pardikar

Adaptation and mitigation in focus at Bonn Climate Conference, loss and damage dropped

The “inter-sessional COP” of the UNFCCC will seek to lay the groundwork for COP27, to be held in Egypt in November

On 6th June, the agenda for the Bonn Climate Conference was formally adopted by the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The ongoing negotiations are a prelude to COP27 which is scheduled to take place in Egypt in November 2022 and also a continuation of agreements at COP26.

The conference marks the 56th meeting of subsidiary bodies of the UNFCCC— the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). SBI works on developing implementation modalities as part of the Convention, including mitigation, adaptation and climate finance while SBSTA works on providing scientific and technical inputs related to climate impacts and vulnerability, emerging technologies in energy and other means of decarbonisation.

Two main items on the agenda for the Bonn conference are the Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh work programme on the global goal on adaptation (GGA) and the work programme for scaling up mitigation. Both aim to build on agreements arrived at COP26 in Glasgow.

Decisions at Glasgow included the establishment of the Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh work programme on GGA and an emphasis on the “urgent need” to accelerate action and implementation of domestic mitigation measures.

Initially set out in the Paris Agreement, GGA aims to build a system for assessing adaptation action and mobilising funding for the same. It was also discussed in a host of workshops related to the last two COPs.

In response to questions about the prominence of GGA, especially for highly vulnerable countries like those in Africa, Karlsen Marianne, SBI chair, told CarbonCopy that it is “a catalyst” for reducing vulnerability and enhancing resilience and adaptive capacity. This, she added, is essential for the countries and communities around the world that are most impacted by climate change, including many countries in Africa, in particular the least developed countries as well as those that are small island developing states. 

The two-year work programme on GGA will be carried out jointly by SBI and SBSTA.

Interestingly, GGA was included as a separate agenda item for discussion at Bonn only after a proposal calling for it was tabled by Bolivia, on behalf of the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDCs) group, supported by the Africa Group. “This is a party-driven process… the subsidiary body chairs are carefully listening to all parties during this week’s pre-sessional consultations with groups of parties to understand parties expectations on the way forward on this and other matters pertaining to the agendas,” Marianne explained.

During the discussions to adopt the agenda, there was serious deliberation on whether to hold “at least two sessions” on GGA or “only two.” A small group of countries comprising Switzerland, Liechtenstein, South Korea etc. were pushing for “only two” which would mean serious limitations on substantive discussions on an important topic, especially for vulnerable countries. Bolivia made the distress developing countries face clear by stating “we are tired of fighting for the balance between mitigation and adaptation.” Finally, on being pushed by Africa and the LMDC group, the agenda was adopted with an assurance to address concerns of all parties with substantive discussions on GGA. There is however no mention of the number of meetings that would be pursued under the aegis of the GGA.

Loss and damage sidelined

Submitted early this April, the proposal by Bolivia on behalf of LMDCs also sought the inclusion of the Glasgow Dialogue on Loss and Damage as a separate agenda item. But this was not formally adopted as part of the agenda yesterday. And while informal consultations could still result in its inclusion into the agenda, chances of this happening are slim.

And this when governments across the world endorsed the report on adaptation published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just over three months ago which clearly stated with “high confidence” that “Adaptation does not prevent all losses and damages, even with effective adaptation and before reaching soft and hard limits. Losses and damages are unequally distributed across systems, regions and sectors and are not comprehensively addressed by current financial, governance and institutional arrangements, particularly in vulnerable developing countries. With increasing global warming, losses and damages increase and become increasingly difficult to avoid, while strongly concentrated among the poorest vulnerable populations.

The LMDC group had called on parties to take note of the COP26 commitment to establish the Glasgow Dialogue on Loss and Damage. The COP26 agreement specifically notes that the dialogue is meant “to discuss the arrangements for the funding of activities to avert, minimise and address loss and damage associated with the adverse impacts of climate change” and “requests” SBI to organize the dialogue in cooperation with the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism.

The reasoning for the inclusion of loss and damage as a separate agenda item was clear. “Through the SBI… Parties should exercise political oversight with respect to the progress and process of the Glasgow Dialogue,” the group said.

When asked about why GGA and loss and damage were not even on the provisional agenda until a specific proposal for the same was put forth, Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary, UNFCCC said the provisional agenda that is up for consideration by the parties is based on “a very detailed analysis of the mandate from previous conferences.”

What this means, she explained, is that GGA and the Glasgow Dialogue on Loss and Damage are set to start with some technical workshops for which arrangements have been made by the secretariat to the UNFCCC along with SBs. So, she added, the fact that these were not in the original provisional agenda “does not mean that these issues were being ignored. I understand that it is in the interest of developing countries to have these included in the agenda.”

Though questions still remain given how the Secretariat holds discretionary power over setting the agenda and why such discretion was not used to build on agreements arrived at COP26 with both technical workshops and also discussions at SBs.

The contentious work programme on mitigation

As for mitigation, the work programme for scaling up ambition could detail the role of sectoral commitments and suggest improvements to national climate plans. Here too though there is contention.

China intervened during SBI deliberations, urging that the agenda on mitigation not be adopted if it’s not treated on par with GGA which was supported by Bolivia and opposed by the United States of America.

The other issue relates to how the United Kingdom presidency at COP26 prepared a cover decision termed ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’. The informal closing document, the compilation of which is not mandated on the COP Presidency and is done with minimal technical or political negotiation, remains the sole product of the UK’s presidency of COP26. The document itself does not set out any procedural modalities or binding commitments but is rather a document of broad political consensus meant to signal intent coming out of the conference. Although the pact pays lip service to doubling adaptation finance and calls for more ambitious climate pledges, the lack of strength in the language used and imbalances between mitigation and adaptation priorities remained a sore point for many observers.

A concern developing country parties have is that the cover decision is being used to design mitigation-centric programmes which they never signed up for. SBI chair Marianne has not yet responded to questions related to these concerns. If and when she does, the copy will be updated.

This article is a part of a series of on-ground reports from the 56th meeting of the UNFCCC subsidiary bodies in Bonn, Germany