It’s all about time! – Week 1 of the Bonn Climate Change Conference summarized

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Time is at the center of the negotiations currently. The climate is changing, time is running out and action is becoming ever more urgent. Paris is coming, time is running out and the countries need to come to an agreement. This Paris agreement will last for a while, time will be running and how long it will last is unsure. How long it will last – this will be addressed in another article. Here we will look at the time now and the current process of these negotiations.

The process in Bonn is slowly moving forward. Forward in that sense that the text is slowly being reduced. This is in accordance with the aim of this year’s Intersessionsals, even if the process is moving much too slow. The chairs of the ADP – the working group negotiating the new agreement  – changed. Formerly it was Artur Runge-Metzger together with Kishan Kumarsingh, now they Ahmend Djoghlaf works together Daniel Reifsnyder. Many states announced before Geneva that they felt the process was a “co-chair driven” one. This means that the Parties (meaning the states) felt as though their influence on the process would have been restricted. With the new chairs this process changed. It changed in a way that meant that the Parties proposed the new text, resulting in an 89 pages draft, containing basically everything that could be imagined. Normally, the streamlining would have been partly an exercise of the secretariat. But as there have been protests about this process, with countries fearing that not all of their interests would be represented by it and wanting greater control, the secretariat did not want to risk countries feeling unconfident. Another point is that the negotiations about the content are expected to start slowly.

The negotiations in Bonn started on Monday with the opening ceremony and a statement by Laurent Fabius, France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. Tuesday was heavy loaded with procedural things, so much more progress did not happen.

From then on, the aim was to streamline the text – reducing doublings, inconsistency and to make the text more readable. The reductions are prepared in “facilitated groups”. In these groups proposals are discussed for how the text could be reduced. One question that emerged quite quickly was the question of slashes and brackets in the text. Slashes were used in Lima, during the first attempt to draft a negotiating text, to show alternatives. In Geneva brackets were used to show alternatives, especially content that is not yet agreed. The interpretation of this lead to confusion among delegates.

On Wednesday Morocco announced its INDC. INDCs are, in UNFCCC-language, the Intended Contributions to the new deal made by each country. The INDCs of Morocco are in the end quite ambitious and gave a boost to the negotiations. It plans to reduce at least 32% of emissions by 2030 compared to “business as usual” projected emissions and “to dedicate at least 15% of its     overall investment budgets to adaptation to climate change.”  It also includes plans to reduce fossil fuel subsidies and has references to human rights and gender-sensitivity which makes their INDCs stand out in comparison to other countries’ and this INDC more progessive.

On Thursday, the multilateral assessments were particularly important. In these sessions countries presented their climate action plans and progress reports and were questioned about them by other countries. These questions can be quite suggestive. Through this countries express their opinion about the plans. Australia, Japan and Canada were – as expected – less than unambitious, resulting in a twitter-storm of criticism.

Most of the week has been focused on a “mechanical streamlining” of the text – but it seems they are digging into actual negotiations – finally! Substantive questions about the architecture of the new agreement arose during the last week. One of the questions is about which part of the text should be in the agreement itself and which parts should be placed, for example, in a COP decision. The agreement in this case might then be legally biding, the decision not. Finally, in the stocktaking plenary that reviewed the progress of the negotiations, the main message was that the text was reduced by 5% in 30% of the time.

On Friday, the discussions continued. Most remarkable is the speed with which the text on climate finance is declining. A lot of possible options for the new agreement are dropped out, which then also might affect also the position of countries.


Imagine a snail sitting a snail on a turtle. And the snail says to the turtle “Slow down!”

This is Bonn.

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