“You guys really need to do something,” a restaurateur in Bonn, Germany told us when he learnt that we were in the city to attend United Nations Bonn Climate Conference from 17 to 27 June 2019. His comments were prompted by the record-breaking heat waves across Europe while we were looking for a cool corner for dinner.
Just four kilometres away in the World Conference Centre, governments were wrangling over whether to consider or bury the latest scientific report on the impacts that would be wrought by 1.5 degree Celsius of global warming. They finally expressed appreciation and gratitude to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for preparing the report but closed down further consideration of the findings of the report in formal negotiations. The expectations were already low even before the start of the conference. For 25 years the world has come together and talked without any concrete actions to avert the climate crisis. With existing pledges made by countries, we are on track for a temperature rise of minimum 3°C. Nevertheless, the 50th meeting of the Subsidiary Bodies (SBs) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was expected to make concrete progress on implementation and operationalising the 2015 Paris Agreement – the agreement to limit average global temperature rise to as close as possible to 1.5°C. The meeting had taken place after a series of climate strikes across the world highlighting the climate emergency. Instead, the negotiators delayed decisions on several key issues to the upcoming annual ‘conference of the parties – COP’ to be held in December 2019 in Chile. If only the negotiators listened to the evidence from frontline communities around the world already facing displacement due to floods, cyclones, drought and extremes exacerbated by climate change. Evidence shared by practitioners like us who observe climate negotiations – if they listened, the climate conferences would be delivering the systemic change necessary to transition society towards low emission, resilient future as expected by majority of people including the restaurateur.
While the political will to tackle the climate emergency was absent, the Bonn conference made incremental progress in some technical areas. It agreed to set up a process for the review of six years of work of the Warsaw International Mechanism to address loss and damage caused by climate extremes. Going forward, the developing countries are looking for architecture and sources to provide them with much needed financial support to address unavoidable loss and damage resulting from floods, cyclones, drought, sea-level rise and other extremes and slow onset events.
On technology development and transfer, the parties struggled to reach consensus on how to take forward the recommendations of the updated evaluation report of the Poznan strategic programme on technology transfer with the aim of helping developing countries to address their needs for environmentally sound technologies to address climate impacts.
On agriculture, the Bonn conference included two workshops to discuss methods and approaches for assessing adaptation, adaptation co-benefits, and resilience; and improving soil carbon, soil health, and soil fertility including water management. The parties discussed the need to establish permanent mechanisms to continue agriculture work on which there was no consensus while they agreed on organise additional workshops on sustainable land and water management.
Other major issues in the Bonn conference included determining the roles of markets in reducing emission; finalising the common reporting formats on national action, support (finance, technology and capaci
ty building) provided by developed countries and received by developing countries; the composition of the board of adaptation fund in which developed countries want more representatives. None of these were agreed and will be discussed further in Chile in December 2019.
The international climate policy process is often frustrating due to the perennial lack of ambition and failure to deliver on the ground. Economic interest of so called developed countries mostly overrides the needs of the developing countries. However, it provides an important multilateral space in which all governments can engage with the same rights and conditions and civil society organisations can keep vigil over the progress and/or lack of it. Practical Action participates in these negotiations as a civil society observer supporting developing countries, bringing in much needed evidence of the impacts faced by the communities we work with and the ingenious solutions we co-create with these communities.
In Bonn conference, Practical Action followed the negotiations specially relating to agenda items on Loss and Damage, Agriculture and Technology. We presented our work and views in the events organised by UNFCCC that included the Expert Dialogue on technologies for averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage in coastal zones, Technical Expert Meeting – Mitigation: Off-grid and decentralised solutions for smart energy and water use in the agri-food chain, and UNFCCC Technology Mechanism: Implementing the Technology Framework to Support the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, we partnered with the Climate Action Network (CAN) International and other civil society organisations to organise a special event on Loss and Damage Deep Dive for negotiators and civil society participants.
The remainder of the year 2019 will see several high level climate events including the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in September in New York and COP 25 in Santiago, Chile in December. With scientists declaring that we have less than a decade to prevent irreversible damage, the outcome of 2019 will pave the way towards safeguarding our mother Earth or creating a recipe for disaster. To bridge the huge gap between the rhetoric and deep transformation needed, sustained mobilisation and demand from citizens and stakeholders across the world will be required something Practical Action is committed to deliver so that we can help communities build resilience that protects.