There is a big gap in mitigation ambition, finance delivery and technology transfer to support less carbon-intensive development pathways in the developing world. | Photo: Rishika Pardikar

Wordplay takes centre stage as developed countries seek to shrug off responsibility at Bonn

The climate conference saw calls for equity in science, and a push for private finance from developed nations, yet a set of weak outcomes at the end of the technical negotiations leaves a yawning deficit of trust as the world prepares for COP27

On June 16, the Bonn climate conference drew to a close on an expectedly somber note. There was a slight delay in holding the closing plenaries of the subsidiary bodies (SB) to provide room for last minute informal consultations. As reported earlier by CarbonCopy, the main issues such as mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage were highly contested right from the start and only got more divisive as the days progressed. Nevertheless, the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) adopted their conclusions while both parties and observers registered their statements and disagreements. Outside negotiation rooms and plenaries, members of civil society marked their protest seeking concrete action on loss and damage. 

Discussions on mitigation at the conference were part of the first work programme on scaling up mitigation ambition, and they were hotly contested, including during the closing plenary when developing countries raised concerns of equity. India, speaking for the BASIC group that includes Brazil, South Africa, China and India, called for COP27 to be guided by the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR-RC). Other developing countries, too, underscored the importance of upholding equity and CBDR-RC during the 11-day conference.

The other issue related to CBDR-RC that India brought up repeatedly at Bonn relates to the agenda item titled “matters relating to science and review.” India sought a recognition of the global carbon budget and that pathways outlined in the IPCC reports on mitigation do not take equity into account. Developed countries, the US and EU in particular, were not in favour of holding such discussions.

Cristián Retamal, an advisor to the Chilean delegation at Bonn, told CarbonCopy that India spoke strongly on issues of equity and the carbon budgets. Referring to the Climate Equity Monitor developed by the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, he said equity is an important aspect of mitigation ambition in the context of the Paris regime because “not all countries have the same responsibilities and capabilities.” Other equity monitors like Paris Equity Check and GGCC at Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, too, highlight the need to take equity into account while analysing country-specific mitigation pathways. “Tools like Climate Action Tracker assume that all countries have to undertake the same amount of effort, which minimises equity and a right to development in such geo-political discussions because who has to increase ambition is a historical fight and a political one,” Retamal explained. “And to unlock discussions on mitigation, we must address equity,” he added.

At the closing plenary of the SBSTA, Richa Sharma, head of India’s delegation, noted with disappointment how agreements reached at Bonn do not recognise the concept of a global carbon budget that is “foundational” to ascertaining past, present and future responsibilities, which even IPCC reports have spoken of.  She also added that IPCC pathways are neither equitable nor is there any explanation of regional assumptions underlying the pathways. In response, SBSTA chair Tosi Mpanu Mpanu said he agreed with the statements made and also that there was a possibility to go beyond what was finally agreed to at Bonn and he now hopes that outcomes at Sharm-el-Sheik will be “more ambitious.” 

The final agreement at Bonn on the mitigation work programme is limited to diplomatic language like the subsidiary bodies taking note of “constructive discussions” held under this joint agenda item during this session that fostered “enhanced understanding.” The subsidiary bodies agreed to work on the programme with the hope of recommending a draft decision for adoption at COP27 in Egypt. 

The US employs word play to muddy the waters

Apart from parties, civil society, too, was frustrated with how negotiations on the mitigation work programme played out. 

“What I expected was a collective sense of ambition to close the mitigation gap in cutting 45% emissions by 2030 and limiting warming to 1.5°C. But what we’re seeing is a lot of political games,” said Eddy Perez, International Climate Diplomacy Manager, Climate Action Network, Canada. For starters, he explained, there was a battle of words to single out countries by using terms like “major emitters”, which refers to China and India. An informal note prepared by co-facilitators of the mitigation programme on June 9 references the term “major emitters.” But the problem, Perez added, was not the word in particular “but the intention behind it.” 

“The US is using language which should be attributed to themselves and projecting it onto developing countries,” said Katherine Robinson, Head of Campaigns, Natural Justice (South Africa). She explained that although emerging economies should take deliberate action towards a just energy transition, “developed countries who have historic responsibility must demonstrate solidarity rather than gaslighting all of us.” Pays to note, there is no legal basis for terms like “major emitters,” be it as part of UNFCCC or the Paris Agreement, that only recognise Annex I countries, which includes members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1992 and economies-in-transition; Annex II (OECD countries in Annex I, excluding those in transition) and non-Annex I parties that are mostly developing countries. 

Jazmin Rocco Predassi of Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN), Argentina, pointed out that the mid-century carbon neutrality is a global goal. This means the developed world has to reach the goal much sooner than developing countries. But, she added, there is “a huge gap” in mitigation ambition, finance delivery and technology transfer to support less carbon-intensive development pathways in the developing world.

The “gaslighting” seen during negotiations on mitigation ambition applies to finance, too. “If you cannot put finance on the table, how do you expect developing countries to cut emissions, adapt on top of dealing with the loss and damage caused by historic emissions,” Robinson added. 

On June 14, the co-facilitators prepared another informal note on the mitigation work programme on mitigation listed six disclaimers. Beginning with the note having “no formal status,” to stating clearly that nothing in the note must be construed as amending the Convention or the Paris Agreement. The note also expresses that it “does not represent agreed views, ideas or text” and neither does it draw any conclusions or make any judgements. And while generalised disclaimers are not uncommon, this one still stands out for exhaustiveness, a sign of how contested certain core issues were. 

Ultimately, both the informal notes were dropped and are not part of the final agreement at Bonn which is again a sign of serious differences between parties. 

Switzerland, Norway, EU and the US block meaningful discussions on loss and damage 

At the opening plenary on June 6, loss and damage was not adopted as part of the formal agenda. And while discussions were held on the topic, they hit a roadblock, too. Harjeet Singh, senior advisor, Climate Action Network International, explained that despite acknowledging the finance gap to address loss and damage caused by climate change induced storms, drought and rising seas, the European Union, Switzerland, Norway and the US, blocked any discussion on the possibility of establishing a financing facility. And so, the discussions became a talk shop on issues like governing structures of the Santiago Network without any concrete outcome on establishing a loss and damage facility with financing mechanisms. 

At the closing plenary, Antigua and Barbuda, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States, said the processes under loss and damage are “out of step” and “progress is too slow.” Zambia, speaking for the Africa Group, too, expressed concerns over lack of progress on loss and damage, while Pakistan, speaking for the G77 and China group, noted how discussions on loss and damage remained “stymied.”

A push for private finance 

The other important agenda item at Bonn was the work programme on the new collective quantified goal on climate finance (NCQG). The aim is to set a new goal on finance in terms of amounts required, roadmap for delivery of finance, instruments to be used etc. And two issues that came up were related to inadequacy of $100 billion and questionable reliance on private financing. 

At COP21, parties to the UNFCCC decided to set up a new financing goal “from a floor of $100 billion per year, taking into account the needs and priorities of developing countries.” As regards what “needs and priorities” means, the UNFCCC Standing Committee on Finance released a report last year that stated that developing countries need $5.8-5.9 trillion upto 2030 to finance around half the climate action listed in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Pakistan, speaking for G77 and China, said the level of the goal must be based on science and also on the needs and priorities identified by developing countries. While the Pakistani delegation pressed on with the need to prioritise the quantum of the goal, any recognition of such actual needs of developing countries remained questionable at Bonn. 

“There were commercial banks in the room during the NCQG discussions, and a corresponding push for private finance and mitigation finance,” said Avantika Goswami, climate policy researcher and programme manager at Center for Science and Environment, a New Delhi-based environmental research and advocacy organisation. Terming it a “disappointing direction” for the talks to proceed in, Goswami stressed on a need for more grant-based public climate finance, as well as more adaptation finance. “As someone commented at the Bonn conference, if the loan sharks are in the room, there is little hope to chalk out a just and equity-based finance goal,” she said. 

According to experts, developed countries’ push for private finance is a solution of the past to a finance problem that is current and ongoing. The EU’s 2022 Climate Diplomacy document, for example, seeks to “leverage private and public funding for energy projects” to help developing countries achieve their sustainable development goals. This takes away developing countries’ democratic ownership of climate finance strategies. The inadequacy and inaccessibility of climate finance, flagged even in developed economies, is only magnified when seen in the context of developing nations.

Add to this, the effects of existing climate vulnerabilities in much of the developing world. Experts have previously pointed out how climate vulnerability erodes  a country’s sovereign credit ratings and results in lack of credit-worthiness, higher costs of borrowing and, in many cases, defaults, all of which are not ideal scenarios for investment flow from the private sector. 

Other issues include uneven distribution via private financing that focuses only on large, emerging economies and severely low funding for adaptation activities that take needs of developing countries into account but aren’t considered “bankable projects”


India, speaking for BASIC, underscored the need to operationalise the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA). Saudi Arabia, speaking for the Arab group, too noted the importance of implementing GGA while Bolivia, speaking for the Like-minded Developing Countries (LMDCs) called for “balanced progress” on all issues, meaning equal weightage for mitigation and adaptation in particular. A concern developing country parties had is that developed countries were prioritising mitigation at the cost of adaptation. 

The final agreement invites parties and observers to submit views for upcoming workshops on GGA and requests SB chairs to provide concept notes and guiding questions on the theme and areas of each workshop. It was also agreed that such workshops “be more interactive,” have contributions from practitioners and experts from relevant organizations, UNFCCC bodies and the IPCC, “ensuring equitable geographical representation, as appropriate.”

Apart from GGA, another item related to adaptation on the agenda at Bonn was a discussion on “gaps and needs and the implementation of national adaptation plans.” At the closing plenary of the SBI, Nabeel Munir, chair of the G77 and China group, intervened on behalf of the group to register a “serious concern about the multitude of challenges” developing countries face in accessing financial support for the formulation and implementation of national adaptation plans. It’s an issue the group has been raising throughout the session, he said, but one which has not received the attention it deserves. They now hope Sharm-el-Sheik will deliver a substantive outcome on financing national adaptation plans in developing countries, he added. 

A stage set for COP27 in Egypt

Speaking for Egypt as the incoming COP27 Presidency, Ambassador Wael Aboulmagd said that while some progress was achieved at Bonn, “others continue to be affected by divergent views, and hence will require more intersessional work to ensure that the work in Sharm El Sheikh will start from the most advanced point possible.” As for loss and damage, Ambassador Aboulmagd called for a recognition of the needs of countries and communities by working towards achieving progress on loss and damage. 

He also added that parties should refrain from dealing with climate change as a zero-sum game in terms of Global North versus Global South or pitting mitigation against adaptation. “The issue of climate change must be the area where we commit to working together and where we demonstrate unity against this existential threat and show leadership as we move forward to address it,” he said. 

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