Kate Mackenzie The deepest climate rift back on show at post-Copenhagen talks

Three days of climate talks at Bonn, ending in the early hours of Monday morning, did not seem to add to confidence that a binding agreement would be forthcoming by the time the big Cancun meeting is held in November/ December.

Quite the opposite, in fact. The rough near-consensus that was formed around the “Copenhagen accord” struck in the final hours of the Copenhagen climate conference last December has comprehensively fallen apart, with most reports from Bonn talking of “squabbling” and long overnight arguments over procedure, such as this BBC report:

On the final evening of the three-day meeting, delegates took more than four hours to agree apparently simple matters such as how many times to meet over the year, and how the chair should write a draft negotiating text.

This reflected the deeper disagreements highlighted by the Copenhagen accord. Despite some 120 countries signing up for the hastily-agreed accord, many developing countries, including India and China, are now criticising it for not maintaining mandatory targets for developed countries.

Agreement over financial aid, as optimists would point out, could still be considered a major success from the Copenhagen meeting – though there are many questions over that, of course.

But the Bonn meeting showed the persistence of the biggest and thorniest issue of all: what commitments should be made by developed, versus developing, countries. Under the Kyoto protocol, only developed countries made binding commitments.

Developed countries argue that as emerging economies such as China and India are going to be the biggest contributors to emissions growth, they too must be covered by binding emissions targets beyond Kyoto’s 2012 expiry.

Developing countries disagree, using the moral argument in part, and the inadequacy of developed world targets so far. A Xinhua interviewwith Su Wei, China’s top negotiator, shows how much China is focused on US commitments as he pointed out that the country’s own climate bill appeared stalled in the US Senate.

US negotiators, who are pushing hard for the Copenhagen accord to proceed, know that any attempt to limit emissions will be that much harder to sell to Congress if developing countries – particularly China – aren’t seen to be making firm commitments themselves.

Further souring talks was the news that the US had decided to cut climate aid to countries that did not sign up for the accord at all, although the amounts are trivial according to Yvo de Boer, who reportedly said: “Bolivia is losing $2.5m in climate funds. That’s about what the presidential palace pays for toilet paper a year. Bullying is not an effective instrument.”

Mr de Boer, the departing UN climate change chief, reiterated his belief that an agreement would not be struck in Cancun, although the Guardian reported he foresaw the possibility of two different agreements emerging.

The bad-tempered language used in Bonn sometimes threatened to trivialise the issues, according to snippets such as this one from Bloomberg:

When Australian climate ambassador Louise Hand suggested a compromise based on a “threesome” of proposals, commenting that it was “quite a cocktail,” Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad Al Sabban shot back: “In G-77 culture, we don’t like cocktails - or threesomes.”

On the process front there was some progress, at least – two extra meetings were scheduled this year in the lead-up to Cancun.

Related links:

Who snubbed who – and Wen – at Copenhagen? – FT Energy Source
The Copenhagen positioning of China and India – not always what it seems - FT Energy Source