Is everyone negotiating in good faith in Bonn?

by Kyle Ash

June 8, 2010

Some say that Bonn is going as well as the the Bali negotiations in 2007 were going at this point in the process. The negotiators may soon have a negotiating text ready for the next round of talks, happening in Bonn this August. The most troublesome negotiating text regards “land use, land use change, and forestry” (also known as LULUCF), which contains a loophole large enough to negate all the pollution cuts under Kyoto.

Wealthy countries are scheming to include tricky accounting to avoid reducing global warming pollution. Developing countries are working hard to fix this loophole.

While negotiators are making progress in many other areas, the LULUCF shenanigans beg the question: Is everyone negotiating in good faith?

Comparing Bonn to Bali seems far-fetched. The Bali climate summit resulted in the Bush administration agreeing to a 2-year plan to culminate in a global climate agreement covering all the key issues. The Bali Action Plan deadline was the meeting in Copenhagen last December, and we saw how that turned out.

The Bush administration was filled with climate deniers and probably would not have cared so much that Copenhagen failed. President Obama, on the other hand, cared a lot about the outcome of Copenhagen, and I believe him when he says he wants the US to be part of a global climate treaty. Nonetheless, the Obama administration’s perspective and strategy on the international climate negotiations remains curious.

The US government pointed to the Copenhagen Accord as a laudable outcome of Copenhagen, as well as the result of US leadership. But this Accord did not really fulfill the Bali Action Plan. All countries did not sign it, and it was not a legal document. There are two reasons why the US having praised Copenhagen relates to problems with the negotiating strategy now in Bonn, especially since they keep bringing up the Accord.

The Copenhagen Accord really was a summary of all the political progress that had been made since Bali. Large developing countries like China, Brazil, and India for the first time announced targets and deadlines for reducing global warming pollution and protecting forests. Wealthy countries announced significant financial contributions, for helping poor countries adapt to the effects of climate change caused by wealthy countries. It makes sense to laud these developments, as long as we point out the truth that they are far from enough. Praising Copenhagen lowered the bar for what we can expect from the US position.

Even more relevant to continuing negotiations in Bonn, in hindsight the second reason that praising the Copenhagen Accord is problematic is the US doesn’t really agree with it. Almost as soon as the negotiators were back in Washington, they were contradicting what they signed. The Accord called for significant climate finance to be housed in and distributed by the UNFCCC, which the administration argues now should be managed elsewhere. Even it didn’t conflict with what the US signed in Copenhagen, this is a problematic change of position. There are few venues Parties could agree on for equitably assisting developing countries deal with climate change – the World Bank being one of the less transparent and less green alternatives promoted by the United States.

There is now agreement by all Parties in Bonn that a green climate fund will be established. The US says they like the World Bank as a home for climate funding because the bank has a proven track record of being able to manage large funding streams, and that the US is extremely worried about accountability. This argument really is ironic since the US also is not providing much money, and that the administration is admittedly using double counting in coming up with fast-start finance. Insufficient climate finance from the United States is the biggest obstacle to a global treaty, a problem that – unlike a commitment to emissions reductions – does need to be solved by Congress. So far, the administration has managed to scrounge up less than half a billion dollars.

Since the US negotiators constantly refer to the need for legislation, it does not bode well that the latest Kerry-Lieberman ‘climate’ legislation, the American Power Act, includes little to no long term international climate finance, and nothing for reducing deforestation. In comparison, Norway just signed a $1 billion agreement for a moratorium on deforestation in Indonesia. Certainly this bilateral agreement is another reason that progress is being made in Bonn on deforestation. Reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) is believed to be one area where all countries are very close to an agreement.

Kyle Ash

By Kyle Ash

Kyle Ash formerly served as Greenpeace's Legislative Policy Expert, responsible for domestic and international climate change policy analysis and campaign strategy. He has been quoted in Politico, Greenwire, the New York Times, and CNN, and was one of the most frequently quoted sources during the Copenhagen Climate Conference.

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