New Round of Climate Talks Focuses on Setting Deadlines

Photographer: Channi Anand/AP Photo

In this May 11, 2010 file photo, an Indian boy swims in water covered with moss on the outskirts of Jammu, India. Close

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Photographer: Channi Anand/AP Photo

In this May 11, 2010 file photo, an Indian boy swims in water covered with moss on the outskirts of Jammu, India.

Bloomberg BNA – The latest round of United Nations climate talks began March 10 in Bonn with a call for “concrete action” from the UN's top climate change official.

Christiana Figueres, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said during the opening plenary session that she has received support from local political leaders, nongovernmental groups, private citizens and even military officials, and she urged delegates to help put that support into action at the highest level.

One of the big issues to emerge early in the talks, which run through March 14, is when proposals for national greenhouse gas reduction targets must be submitted to the UNFCCC and made available to parties.

The issue was one of the most difficult at last year's climate summit in Warsaw, and the final agreement to emerge from those talks said the deadline would be in early 2015, a timeframe pushed strongly by U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern, although countries can submit their targets earlier if they choose to do so.

The U.S. communication on priorities for 2014-2015 submitted Feb. 12 reiterated the early 2015 deadline, but most other submissions since then—including the one from the European Union on March 3, and from Switzerland March 4 and a group of Latin American countries March 10—called for the targets to be submitted either ahead of the Dec. 1-12 climate conference in Lima, Peru, or before the end of this year. The extra time would be used to push for the difference between initial pledges and the level of greenhouse gas emissions required to keep overall global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.

Calls for Earlier Deadline

On March 10, the delegation of Nepal, speaking on behalf of the group of Least-Developed Countries, and Bolivia, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries, formalized that view, called for the deadline to be changed to Dec. 31 or earlier. The statements sparked some applause from delegates.

But a UNFCCC legal expert said it was not clear how the deadline could be changed, given that the early 2015 deadline was part of an official decision from the Conference of the Parties, making it a legal document. There is a process for changing official COP decisions, though most of them require another COP decision (not applicable in this case, since the next COP is in Lima).

“The most realistic formula would be for countries to agree individually or in some other form to make their targets known this year,” the legal expert said.

According to Artur Runge-Metzger, the chair of the Ad-hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, or ADP, the “ambition gap” between expected targets and necessary action is the central issue at play at the current meetings in Bonn and at subsequent meetings this year—at the mid-year meeting of the subsidiary bodies to be held in Bonn, at the Lima summit, and at a proposed new set of talks likely to take place in October, also in Bonn.

The ADP, the only negotiating track meeting at the current talks, is the body charged with hammering out language that will become the global agreement on climate set to be finalized at the 2015 summit in Paris.

“If we cannot close this ambition gap then nothing else will matter,” Runge-Metzger told Bloomberg BNA.

Clean Energy Umbrella

In her remarks, Figueres said renewable and clean energy technologies aimed at increasing energy efficiency would be centerpieces of the talks in Bonn, and in the closed-door meetings following the plenary session that appeared to be the case, with several delegates telling Bloomberg BNA the issues were main topics of conversation, with talk focusing at least in part on what technologies should be included under the umbrella of clean energy.

Most of the first day's work took place behind closed doors in small-group sessions.

U.S. delegates declined to comment. But representatives from other parties said the U.S. is leading a charge to have carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies included as an acceptable option under the clean energy category. But that view has so far run into stiff opposition from developing countries and some European parties.

CCS involves taking greenhouse gases created by traditional energy sources such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas, and pumping them underground, where they are stored.

Environmental groups in Bonn called for the current talks to at least achieve a consensus on the priorities for upcoming talks, even if no conclusions about those priorities are reached before the talks close.

“That would be the minimum we can expect from this week's talks,” said John Nduna from the ACT Alliance.

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