G-7’s Fossil Fuel Pledge Fails to Spur Momentum at UN Talks

Pledges by some of the richest industrial countries to phase out fossil fuel emissions by the end of the century failed to translate into substantial progress at United Nations climate talks this week.

Envoys from some 190 nations capped 11 days of discussions in Bonn with no breakthrough on how nations should pare back the pollution blamed for causing global warming or how to pay for changes to energy use.

Delegates drawn from energy and environment ministries cut five pages out of a 90-page draft text that will form the basis of a historic deal heads of state are due to adopt in December. They have yet to produce something concise enough for actual negotiations to start.

“We have not seen as much progress as we would have liked to,” Elina Bardram, chief negotiator for the European Union, said on Thursday at the close of the meeting in the German city. Negotiators still face an “unworkable text of everything on anything,” she said.

Environmental groups said slow progress in the talks raises the risk that the agreement that comes in December will be too weak to contain the worst effects of global warming -- or that the talks themselves will crumble the way the last push for an all-encompassing deal did in 2009 in Copenhagen.

Bold Promises

The lack of progress in Bonn stood in contrast to a pledge by the Group of Seven nations at the start of this week to work toward phasing out fossil fuel emissions by the end of the century. Also, Norway’s $890 billion sovereign wealth fund was ordered by lawmakers in Oslo to limit investment in companies burning coal, a fillip for the movement to prod investors to curb support for polluting industries.

“This week, strong signals were sent for ambitious climate action from outside negotiations, but they did not inspire a faster pace in Bonn,” said Jennifer Morgan, global director of climate programs at the World Resources Institute.

The co-chairs of the Bonn meeting, Daniel Reifsnyder from the U.S. and Algeria’s Ahmed Djoghlaf, were given authority by the envoys to draw up a new text for nations to work on when they return to Bonn for the next round of talks in August. UN officials were confident that the process is moving smoothly.

“It’s a step-by-step process,” said Christiana Figueres, the chief UN diplomat coordinating the talks. “There has been very interesting progress here with the text, most of which is in fact not even expressed in the text.”

‘No Way’

Djoghlaf said “there is no way” that world leaders will walk away from an effective global climate protection deal when it’s put to them in December in Paris.

“Good things have happened here,” the Algerian envoy said. “You will have by the end of October the draft package.”

Previous UN gatherings have been hobbled by too much work accumulating in the final days -- something that France, which is hosting the culminating round of discussions, is seeking to break.

Delegates did make headway in talks on how to accelerate action on climate change before 2020, and by agreeing on guidelines to reduce deforestation in developing countries. More is to be done before Paris sorting out which nations will cut emissions and to identify the legal nature of the deal.

Finance remains the thorniest issue. Industrial nations have pledged to step up funding for climate-related aid to poorer countries to $100 billion a year by 2020. Oxfam, which tracks aid flows, said less than $20 billion of the total is flowing now.

Finance Roadmap

“There will be no agreement in Paris without a clear roadmap how to get to the $100 billion,” said Martin Kaiser, a climate expert for Greenpeace.

And delegates remain convinced they will achieve success in Paris, that there’s political will to do so and that talks are well on track, according to a U.S. official who asked not to be named because of his department’s policy. Behind-the-scenes, the U.S. sought to identify where compromises can be made.

France is “confident we’re going in the right direction,” one of its climate envoys, Laurence Tubiana, told reporters. “We need” leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama to attend the Paris talks and lend them a “political impulse” to drive the talks forward, Tubiana said.