Near-Collapse of Bonn Climate Talks Bodes Badly for COP 28

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Fresh off a set of deeply dysfunctional climate negotiations in Bonn that threatened to throw this year’s COP 28 talks into disarray, dozens of world leaders are set to gather in Paris this week to discuss a broad menu of international finance issues, including the funds needed to drive down carbon emissions and help developing countries confront the impacts of climate change.

At this week’s Summit for a New Global Financing Pact, French President Emmanuel Macron “will be joined on Thursday by dozens of world leaders to discuss climate finance, green growth, the debt crisis, and how to tap private sector sources of investment,” the Guardian reports. “Macron believes current systems of development finance, including overseas aid from rich countries and climate finance to help poor countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of extreme weather, are not delivering results.”

“The fight against poverty, the decarbonization of our economy in order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and the protection of biodiversity, are closely intertwined,” Macron said. “We therefore need to agree together on the best means to address these challenges in the poor and emerging countries of the developing world, when it comes to the amount of investment, to comprehensive reform of infrastructure like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and public and private funds, and how to set a new process in motion.”

COP 28 Leadership Vacuum

The Paris meetings come on the heels of mid-year UN climate negotiations in Bonn that nearly collapsed last week, with countries barely able to agree on a meeting agenda and analysts pointing to a “leadership vacuum” on the part of COP 28’s petro-state host, the United Arab Emirates. When it was all over, the UN climate secretariat reported “progress on the issues of financing measures to mitigate climate change; the question of liability for the loss and damage it has caused; and funding for measures to adapt to its effects,” Reuters reports. “But it did not specify what had been decided.”

“Talks on issues like reducing emissions and adapting to climate change have continued, but the Pakistani co-chair of the talks Nabeel Munir warned that all their work could be wasted if the agenda is not officially adopted,” Climate Home News wrote at the seven-day point in the 10-day meeting.

“Towards the end of a two-hour open meeting, Munir told negotiators they were like ‘a class of primary school’ and urged them to ‘please wake up, what is happening around you is unbelievable’. The room of negotiators and campaigners applauded his words.”

The annual mid-year meetings in Bonn are smaller than the COP conferences that take place each fall, but they’re an important opportunity for negotiators to work out technical details and clear the way for political decisions at the larger, higher-profile COP. Climate Home said countries had spent a week debating how prominently climate finance should feature in the conference agenda and trading that question off against a discussion item on efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

One European Union diplomat attributed the impasse to a lack of leadership from COP 28 organizers. “Bridges are not being built,” the diplomat told Politico. “I’m worried that at COP 28, half of the countries will want to talk about funding and half about reducing emissions, as happened here.”

Politico said the disagreement had the EU, several Latin American countries, and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) calling for new efforts on scaled-up emission reductions, with “emerging economy emitters” like China, India, and Saudi Arabia holding out for a new agenda item on climate finance.

The sorry state of negotiations had Zambian lead negotiator Ephraim Mwepya Shitima warning of a “danger” of losing progress, undercutting “the credibility of the process” and “even disrupting some of the critical functions of the [UN climate secretariat] if we leave this place without adopting the agenda.”

Veteran COP observer Alden Meyer, now a senior associate with the E3G climate think tank, told Politico this year’s mid-year meetings were a “missed opportunity” for the UAE to “take the reins politically and provide some guidance.” To resolve the kind of disagreement that broke into the open in Bonn, he added, “we need both sides to move. And you need a presidency to sort of ride herd on that process.”

In the end, writes Climate Home News reporter Joe Lo, the compromise “was the worst of both worlds: no formal emission cut talks and no talks on finance.”

‘Never Satisfied’

When it was all over, UN climate secretary Simon Stiell declared himself dissatisfied with a process that “was moving too slowly given the urgency of the climate crisis,” Reuters says.

“Never satisfied,” Stiell told the news agency. “In terms of whether reasonable progress made. Yes. Was it enough? We will know as we as we enter the COP 28 itself.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres was more blunt, calling on countries to start phasing out oil, gas, and coal and on fossil fuel companies to “cease and desist” practices that are holding back progress. But Stiell said he hadn’t yet heard whether a fossil phaseout would be on the COP 28 agenda, explaining that the UAE “was still crafting its vision” for the talks, Reuters writes.

“Science tells us that what is required in order to reach zero requires phasing out and down of all fossil fuels,” he said. “We’ll see what signals are presented. But the science is very clear.”

He added that a vague outcome on international climate finance last week would ensure the topic dominates discussions at the COP. “For many of the policies we see in the negotiating rooms, if the means of implementation were there, many of the tensions that we currently see would diminish significantly.”

A ‘Far-Fetched’ Emissions Strategy

Leadership toward those forward steps would typically come from the COP presidency, which this year will be held by Sultan al Jaber, CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC). Al Jaber, who dropped in for two out of 10 days of negotiations in Bonn, has distinguished himself so far by striving to separate the urgent need for emission reductions from the corresponding need to phase down fossil fuel production, though he did acknowledge last week that a fossil phasedown is “inevitable”.

His major emphasis, however, has been on positioning fossil fuel industries as an essential part of the solution to the climate emergency. He and his COP 28 team “have argued that they have a ‘game-changing’ plan to fight climate change by welcoming oil and gas companies from around the world to participate more fully in the talks,” the New York Times reports. “In other words, invite the producers of the fuels that cause the majority of global warming as key players in developing a plan to slow the warming.”

“We need to engage the people who have the technical know-how, the skills, the technology—and, by the way, the people who provide jobs—in a conversation about how they transform,” said Emirati diplomat Majid al-Suwaidi.

That notion is far-fetched, Destination Zero Executive Director Catherine Abreu told the Times.

“It’s just like how tobacco lobbyists need to be kept out of conversations about cancer prevention,” she said. But “fossil fuel interests actively work to co-opt our imaginations,” she added. “Governments now can imagine a geo-engineered planet easier than a grow-out of renewables that already exist.”

(Disclosure: The Energy Mix Publisher Mitchell Beer serves on the Destination Zero board, currently as chair.)

One Small Step to Disclose Fossil Lobbying

Even before the UAE appointed an oil and gas CEO to preside over an entire COP, the process has been deeply vulnerable to industry influence. At COP 26 in Glasgow in 2021, the fossil fuel lobby sent more delegates than any single country, Global Witness reported at the time. At COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt last year, the fossil delegation was about 10% larger.

Which is why it was seen as a “victory for transparency” when delegates in Bonn agreed that fossil fuel lobbyists and anyone else attending COP 28 must declare their affiliation when they register, the Guardian reports.

“When young people see the number of fossil fuel lobbyists present at UN Framework Convention on Climate Change conferences, it makes us question the ability this process has to solve the biggest challenge threatening our futures,” said Scott Kirby of Youngo, which represents youth campaigners at the COP. “This is why we welcome the step to increase transparency of observer interests in the talks.”

But many other delegates said the new transparency rule was just a first step.

“We can only meaningfully tackle the climate crisis when we kick big polluters out,” said Hwei Mian Lim, of UN Climate’s Women and Gender Constituency.

“Fortunately, we have the real solutions, including gender-just climate solutions, and have the power in collective feminist movements to prevent untold suffering, in particular among women and girls in the global south,” she added. “This is strengthened with weeding out the undue influence of big polluters that seek to undermine climate action.”

‘Fundamental Overhaul’ of International Finance

One of the catalysts for discussion during the Paris finance summit this week will be Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, whose Bridgetown Agenda is aimed at “massively expanding the funding available to developing countries, particularly those afflicted by the climate crisis,” the Guardian writes.

“The international community’s responses are currently fragmented, partial and insufficient,” Mottley said. “We therefore call for a fundamental overhaul.”

Over the last week, the global finance meeting has prompted calls to phase out fossil fuel financing, scale up private finance for clean energy in developing and emerging economies, impose a wealth tax or a levy on international shipping to fund international climate action, and unlock trillions in clean energy investments by guaranteeing currency rates for international clean energy investors.

This story first appeared in The Energy Mix.

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