15 june 2009

EU, US criticised for low profile in Bonn climate talks Monday 15 June 2009

The EU and the US took a backseat at the negotiating table during the second round of global climate talks in Bonn, while Japan shocked developing countries by announcing a "shameful" emissions reduction target.


The global community is in the midst of negotiations for a new climate treaty, which is expected to be signed in Copenhagen in December (see EurActiv LinksDossier on 'The Road to Copenhagen'). The treaty is to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which sets greenhouse gas limits for its signatories until 2012.

At European level, the European Commission presented proposals in January for approval by the 27 members of the EU. The proposals urged emerging economies such as China and India to take on their fair share of responsibility by agreeing to limit the growth of their emissions by 15-30% below business-as-usual levels by 2020 (EurActiv 29/01/09).

The first United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks in Bonn (29 March–8 April) launched the negotiations for a draft agreement in view of the final conference (EurActiv 09/04/09). The draft negotiating text ahead of this month's Bonn talks revealed a divide between rich and poor countries.

Developing nations are asking their industrialised counterparts to commit to sizeable CO2 reductions and to offer financial aid to help poor nations in their efforts. But developed countries have not made any firm commitments on funding, and only the EU has taken on a firm CO2 reduction target, which nevertheless fails to meet the developing world's demands (EurActiv 29/04/09).

The second round of global climate talks took place in Bonn between 1 and 12 June. The talks were the first to be held on the basis of a negotiating text (EurActiv 02/06/09).

NGO criticism of rich nations' lack of commitment

As the two-week talks drew to a close on Friday (12 June), the negotiating text had swelled to hundreds of pages as all parties raced to add their amendments. There was, however, no movement towards agreement on financing for climate mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries, recognised as a prerequisite for any agreement in Copenhagen next December.

The European Union was criticised for sending the wrong signals, as EU finance ministers at their meeting on 9 June did not put forward any concrete figures but merely agreed on criteria for how developed nations should share the burden of future funding (EurActiv 09/06/09). The US was equally criticised for a lack of leadership.

"The US has been very quiet this time around," said Tim Gore, Oxfam International's climate change adviser, drawing a comparison to the first round of talks two months ago. Back then, the global community broadly welcomed the engagement of President Barack Obama's administration after years of inaction under President Bush.

It is far from certain whether the US will be able to get its climate bill through Congress by the end of the year, which would cement the government's mandate to sign up to emission reduction targets. Concerns are now being raised that the anticipated US leadership on ambitious commitments to reduce emissions will not materialise in the face of domestic realities.

Indeed, rich nations did not come any closer to agreeing a collective emissions reduction goal. They came under heavy criticism on the final day of the Bonn conference, when 40 developing countries of the G-77 specifically called for a 40% below 1990-level emissions reduction target for industrialised nations.

Neither the EU's 30% offer in case other developed nations sign up to comparable efforts, nor the target of returning to 1990 levels in the draft US draft climate bill come anywhere close to this. Moreover, Russia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Belarus and Ukraine refused even to define an initial target.

Japanese target 'pathetic'

The eagerly awaited unveiling of Japan's midterm target for emissions reductions turned into one of the greatest disappointments of the talks. Japan's Prime Minister Taro Aso announced that his country would cut its greenhouse-gas emissions to 15% below 2005 levels by 2020. However, this only translates into an 8% cut from 1990 levels.

"It was essentially a slap in the face of developing countries that called for a 40% target," Gore said.

Aso, however, asserted that the target was ambitious and pointed out that Japan was already the most energy-efficient economy in the world.

But observers were quick to note that the target was only marginally above the 6% commitment that Japan had made under the Kyoto Protocol.

"This is a great shame, and it sets the wrong tone for the negotiations here in Bonn. Aso's decision, influenced by polluters rather than the public, makes reaching a good deal even harder," said Kim Carstensen, who leads WWF's Climate Initiative.

The EU was cautious not to criticise Japan's feeble commitment, and simply "encouraged" Tokyo to take further steps.

Aviation and shipping to contribute

But observers noted that discussions on funding mechanisms had seen some progress, as consensus was building around a Mexican proposal for a climate fund. The idea of the fund - to which all parties, including developing and developed nations, contribute according to their GDP, population and level of emissions - is proving popular due to its universality.

The contribution of the aviation and shipping industries to climate funding was raised, as a group of developing countries proposed a levy on international flight tickets and shipping fuel. This could be used to help them deal with the consequences of climate change, they said.

Australia also proposed a mechanism to cap emissions in the two sectors. But it did not say how the money raised via the mechanism should be spent.

The EU has included the aviation in its emissions trading scheme (EU ETS; see EurActiv LinksDossier), but it has been waiting for the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to come up with a framework for shipping emissions. Nevertheless, it has pledged to address maritime emissions alone in the event that the IMO continues to drag its feet on the issue, and the pressure is now on for it to put its weight behind an international framework within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Call for high-level intervention

With the talks continuing to produce few tangible results, NGOs started calling for intervention at the highest political level.

"It's clear that many of the government officials negotiating in Bonn are in their own little bubble, impervious to both public concern and climate science," said Martin Kaiser, Greenpeace International's climate policy director.

World leaders should step up to the plate at the G8 meeting in July in Italy and start fighting for an ambitious outcome in Copenhagen, green groups said.


Oxfam blamed a lack of political will from industrialised countries for blocking progress and undermining poor countries' confidence in the negotiations. It called for high-level action to save the talks. "Rich-country delegates have spent two weeks talking but have done nothing on the issues that really matter. Rich countries may be kidding themselves they are working towards a deal, but they are not kidding anyone else," said Antonio Hill, Oxfam's policy advisor.

Friends of the Earth Europe (FoEE) accused rich countries of holding the climate negotiations hostage. "The election of President Obama created tremendous hope worldwide that the US would finally play a leadership role in solving the climate crisis that - more than any other nation on earth - it is responsible for causing. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration's position sounds frighteningly similar to that of George Bush, and the EU seems unwilling or unable to show leadership or hold the US to account," said Sonja Meister of FoEE.

The European Federation for Transport and the Environment (T&E) supported Autralia's proposal to address aviation and maritime emissions within the UNFCCC framework. "Reading between the lines of Australia's measured statement, the meaning is clear: industry-dominated ICAO and IMO have manifestly failed to deliver progress in the last twelve years, and now it's time for environment ministers to take over ahead of the Copenhagen climate deal. They should set genuine reduction targets and take real action for these two fast-growing sectors," said Bill Hemmings of Transport and Environment (T&E).

European Greens argued that as bunker fuels used in shipping and aviation are not taxed - in contrast to fuels used for other transport modes - it gives them an unfair competitive advantage. "It also gives them a free ride in terms of their climate impact, which is one factor behind their continuing increase. Ending this unfair subsidisation and making sure that the full environmental cost is taken into account is crucial," they said.

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