After two extremely intense weeks at the Bonn climate talks, the long train ride back home offers a welcomed moment of serenity. As we cross German, Danish and Swedish landscapes, news report and assessment of the past two weeks of negotiations spread over NGOs websites and news agencies. Personally, I cannot help but think about the consequence of these eleven hectic days of negotiations for the generations to come.
The past two weeks of negotiations have been more confusing than usually. A lot of energy and time was spent on solving the procedural issues described in more depth in a previous post: mainly defining the agenda and agreeing on the chairs of the new working body that will take the political discussions forward. Certainly, one should expect more from these negotiations than to remain bogged down and focused on their own process. At the end, the name or nationality of the chair will do very little to address the necessity to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, or to support the adaptation of the most vulnerable communities to the impacts of climate change.
On the other hand, many insiders pointed out that these complicated discussions should be seen as the birth pains inevitably accompanying the creation of a new negotiating body and were thus the normal results of the decisions adopted in Durban. The most optimists highlight that these talks were made complicated by the fact that the parties have decided to discuss how to raise in the coming years the level of ambition of climate policies, rather than to only consider such action in a distant future. Considering that many feared that Durban had overemphasized long-term action over the urgent policies, the fact that negotiators did tackle this crucial issue is certainly not a bad thing. I guess more dynamic talks focused only on what should be done in a decade would not have been a better outcome anyway. Since Durban fixed 2015 as the deadline for a new global pact, negotiators will still have opportunities to make up for this slow start.
On the other hand, I am concerned that climate negotiators might easily be distracted by their own artifacts. What really matters at the end is not whether or not the negotiations can deliver within the timeframe that countries have set for themselves. In this sense, I doubt that future generations will really care whether countries met their own deadline to negotiate a new protocol in 2009 at the Copenhagen conference. Judging the outcome of the UNFCCC negotiations on the basis of the timeframe for a 2015 agreement is also misleading. The relevant element to consider instead is whether or not negotiators create the framework necessary to support the reduction of emissions before we have destabilized the climate beyond any reasonable control.
In this context, the two scientific assessments published over the past two weeks point to the same direction. The International Energy Agency highlighted that we had pumped into the atmosphere more greenhouse gases over the past year than ever before. The Climate Action Tracker report also confirmed that the gap between science (the emissions reductions identified by scientists as necessary to stabilize the climate) and politics (the policies actually implemented to mitigate our impact) was wider than ever.
I guess one can thus assess the results of the past two weeks of negotiations with mixed feelings. The UN climate talks are still on track and have not turned their back to a difficult but crucial discussion just for the sake of simplicity. At the same time, procedural delays only reduces further the time left for the substantial decisions needed, thus requiring more decisive decisions in upcoming UNFCCC sessions.
I wish I could share the following message to the delegates negotiating our future (and those higher up in the hierarchy). Personally, I don’t mind if you prefer to negotiate on a constant pace or start this new round of talks slowly to ensure better substantial discussions later on. You can choose to discuss in one, two or three parallel tracks: fine with me. But I know that there will be a day when people will look back and wonder why decision-makers have ignored science and failed to make the decisions required from them. The window of opportunity for you to choose your legacy is closing rapidly, and I am concerned that you might be choosing a dangerous path compromising the chances for future generations to enjoy the same environmental conditions that we now benefit from.
At present, there is nothing I wish more dearly than to be proven wrong on this conclusion.
ps: Come back to the blog in a couple of days for a more specific assessment focused on the European Union!
About the authorSébastien Duyck
Passionate environmental advocate, PhD student (Human Rights and Environmental Governance). Following particularly UNFCCC, UNEP and Rio+20 processes