These intermediates look like a COP

The intermediate climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany, ended on the evening of June 15th, 2023. For years now we were used to interim negotiations that were quite placid compared to the troubled COPs. In Bonn, far from the international press and the hype that characterizes every COP displaying Heads of State, demonstrations, journalists and helicopters, the delegations of the Countries usually find the time and the relative calm to deepen, reason, understand each other, prepare the next Conference.

Now the intermediates seem like COPs, instead. In Bonn this year the record number of participants was broken with over 4800 people, the double of the previous year. Nothing to do with the massive numbers of the COP but a great crowd compared to past years, when only the most daring activists and those who persisted in reporting even on days when it seemed nothing was going to happen went to Bonn. Like us. Well, the climate has changed.

A tiring session

While the Secretary-General of the United Nations Guterres railed, from New York, against the fake climate goals of the big oil&gas companies and against the idleness of the big Countries, asking for new and more ambitious targets, an arduous session came to an end, from many points of view.

The lack of approval of the work agenda, the basis for the two weeks’ work, held the court for days. This didn’t happen since 2013. In the end, an agreement was found and the agenda was approved on the evening of June 14th, the second last day of work. The political and negotiating process gave birth, once again, to a compromise that hardly anyone liked, but at least allowed the process to go forward: the European Union and AOSIS Countries (Alliance Of Small Island States) had to withdraw the point on the Mitigation Work Program while facing the opposition of some developing Countries, in particular of the members of the Like Minded Developing Countries group. Dismissing from the work an important point such as the strengthening mitigation actions may seem counterproductive, given the situation of accelerated global warming. Equally counterproductive, for the Like Minded, is the absence of concrete discussions on the strengthening of solidarity tools for climate finance, according to the logic that developing Countries would be willing to work on further mitigation goals if the Western ones put in place the resources to help them in this direction, while “nobody seriously talks about climate finance“.

Although the question on this topic is more complex and multilayered than the simplified North-South polarization, for example, in the negotiations on loss and damage (after all, the G77 group cannot always be as rock-solid as it wants to make it seem), one variable remains in place in the equation: the global North is asked to put more money on the table, but the feeling is that we are still (and after decades) way too far from seeing real and structured financial solidarity appear at an international level.

Mitigation Work… Problems

Among the delegates, some argue that the point on the Mitigation Work Programme was not in the initial work agenda due to a more or less wanted “mistake”. Who is responsible for it? Geopolitical pressures? We have not received answers to some of the questions. While the Europeans insisted on having the item on the agenda, the Like Minded Countries, always them, even proposed as a leverage point the addition of a further point on the strengthening of financial flows according to Article 4 of the Paris Agreement. In the middle of the negotiation. A completely new procedural oddity that in fact did not receive any follow up. In the end, the agenda was approved without the MWP, with all due respect to the Europeans who will re-propose the theme at the COP28.

Luckily, in the political chaos on the work agenda, the process has not stopped. Delegates optimistically continued working on the less controversial issues according to a tentative agenda, bringing home some results.

There is a draft for the Global Stocktake – the first report will be in September 

Extremely relevant is the outline of a basic draft from which the first global inventory of Countries’ policies will be defined at the COP 28, the so-called global stocktake – except for a few details, we talked about it here.

This discussion is also complex and technical, but it persisted despite everything. The very hot topic concerns the eventual counting of historical emissions prior to 2020, the year in which the period covered by the Paris Agreement began, raised by many Countries in the South of the world and obviously strongly opposed, in particular, by the United States of America. The Bonn negotiations ended with the assignment by the Countries to the co-facilitators of the session to draw up, by the beginning of September, a first summary report of what has been said and decided up to now, so as to facilitate the work of the delegates who will fly to Dubai at the end of the year.

Wanted: home for the Santiago Network on loss and damage 

No agreement has been reached on which organization, the UN or another one, should host the Santiago Network’s work on loss and damage. Two candidates came up at the final session: the UNDDR, the United Nations office for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the Caribbean Development Bank. Discussion postponed to the COP28, again. The Santiago Network is a tool designed to provide technical assistance to Countries in their work on loss and damage and is not formally linked to the fund launched at the COP27, on which an ad hoc transition committee is working on in parallel. During the two weeks, the follow up of the Glasgow Dialogues – in which a year ago, right here in Bonn, emerged the political crack from which originated the adoption of the new fund at the COP27 – gave the delegations the opportunity to interact and discuss with each other and with members of the transition committee on what the new fund should look like.

Fewer resources than expected for the Secretariat and some extra-budget

The Secretariat that organizes and regulates the work of the UN within the context of climate negotiations receives the approval for a two-year budget for 2024-2025 corresponding, all in all over the two years, to €74,105,511 for the core budget, less than initially proposed two weeks ago with a net decrease of over 8 million euros, net of a possible +7% already calculated to meet the costs associated with the rising inflation – here is our analysis from a few days ago. Towards the end of the last plenary session, the Secretariat pointed out that the set of decisions adopted previously and during these intermediate ones already involves expenses exceeding the previously approved two-year budget of over 5 million euros for the current year, 2023.

Disappointment for the lack of acknowledgement of the most technical points of the IPCC reports 

Many Countries and groups of Countries, from the European Union to Chile to small and vulnerable island countries, expressed their disappointment in the final plenary for the lack of acknowledgement, in the final texts, of the latest IPCC reports in the most technical documents approved on impacts and vulnerabilities, systemic research or observation, emissions data collection systems. It can be assumed that in the hours preceding the plenary some less ambitious Countries requested some pejorative “small rectifications” in this sense.

Global Goal on Adaptation

After two weeks of work, a basic structure for the text to be approved at the COP28 has been reached, which concretely points out how we will work in the coming years in defining new global goals on adaptation. In the text approved in Bonn there are still a few points to be solved, mainly of political relevance: should hypotheses and specific (content-wise) options on indicators, quantitative and statistical goals be inserted or not in the formal decision of the intermediate? In the end, all the options and proposals ended up in an informal note prepared by the facilitators of the session, even if some Countries – especially from the global South – would have rather preferred to have them included in an annex to the formal text being approved. We talked about it here.

Definition of Just Transition postponed to the COP28

After ten days of discussions on the very definition of “just transition” in the context of the negotiations on the thread of “Just Transition Pathways”, which saw the United States of America and, in particular, some African countries in total contrast – we talked about it here – the negotiation ends with nothing done. The Countries will now have until 15 September to send observations and declarations to the Secretariat, in order not to start from total scratch at the COP28. The G77 countries + China underlined the importance of starting a working group with clear goals on this subject at the COP28, in order to give concrete results to a conversation that seems to have no practical outlets, for now.

Believe in the process

“The credibility of the process is at risk.” This sentence was pronounced by the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Simon Stiell, at the end of the negotiations. In a geopolitical context marked by growing international frictions and a North-South re-polarization with tones that are at times much more than ideological, these intermediate negotiations have shown that now, more than ever, it is necessary to politically invest in the multilateral process under the aegis of the United Nations, the only place, the only context in which a dialogue is still possible. But who takes part in this process? Who enters the COPs? Who can speak to the delegates on a daily basis?

In this regard, strong concerns were expressed during the two weeks about the possibility to access to the COP28 negotiations by civil society and the creation, on-site, of effective spaces for the free expression of thought, as we talked about here. These concerns follow similar complaints raised during the COP27 in Egypt. The fear is that civil society will be inhibited in its functions as advocate and watchdog of the protection of human rights when the COPs are held in countries certainly not known for activism in this sector.

Furthermore, these intermediate negotiations have seen, in the first days of work, protests and creative demonstrations related to the conflict of interest of the President of the COP28 Sultan Al-Jaber, Minister of Industry of the United Arab Emirates but above all CEO of ADNOC, the national oil company, visiting right here in Bonn in the past days. His presence has revived the concerns of the growing presence of fossil lobbyists in national delegations to the COPs, a more or less explicit presence but nonetheless now an integral part of the process.

Credibility passes through transparency: new rules for badges from COP28

So, here’s the news. To re-launch confidence in the process and re-motivate the many delegates and observers in Bonn and remotely, Stiell announced something new that had been in the air for at least a few hours for the most informed people: starting on the COP28, every delegate – from civil society, governments or industry – will have to attach to his badge request a detail specifying his professional affiliation and link with the organization admitted to the negotiations, something that today can be largely evaded – today a member of a multinational fossil fuel company, in fact, can be accredited in the official delegation from their country (e.g. Saudi Arabia or Mauritania) via a “Party” or “Party overflow” badge, with nothing else appearing on your badge other than first name, last name, “Saudi Arabia – Party” or “ Mauritania – Party”. In this way, people more or less unrelated to the world of climate enter the COPs, blending perfectly with technicians from ministries and political delegations. The one promoted by Stiell is a step forward towards the transparency of the process – therefore, in its credibility – precisely on the technical eve of one of the probably most controversial COPs ever, in one of the least exciting geopolitical contexts ever.

See you in Dubai.

Article by Jacopo Bencini, Policy Advisor and UNFCCC Contact Point

Cover photo: credits IISD

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