Bonn calling

By Pascale Palmer
June 9, 2010

Six months is a long time in international politics. Last December the world (194 countries to be precise) and its media descended on Copenhagen for what was billed as the deal-making opportunity of a generation. But despite the frenzy and an astonishingly high-powered guestlist, the talks ended in qualified failure. Qualified, because it could have been worse - the Copenhagen Accord could have been legally binding - and that would have been a disaster.

And now, here at the mid-year meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, the fight for a fair, ambitious and binding agreement continues in a very different atmosphere. In Copenhagen the press room held more than 1000 journalists, with many spilling into the main halls at the Bella Centre; here there is provision for just over 50. While the Danish summit bubbled with political intrigue and tension, here, there is the hum of subdued industry.

Saleemul Huq, senior researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) was quoted last week saying the mood in Bonn is now one of "realism and accepting incremental changes rather than one 'Big Bang' agreement". And that sounds about right. There is no panacea to the largest crisis faced by man and the planet specifically because mankind is at the heart of it: strategising, self-seeking, short-term-thinking mankind.

I generalise of course, but the fact that the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol runs out next year and they're still not sure who should make the deepest emissions cuts, who should foot the bill for developing country adaptation and mitigation, how the $100 billion-a-year pledged in the Copenhagen Accord for poor nations by 2020 will be raised, or where the promise of $30 billion for developing countries by 2012 is at right now, all seem to point to a power struggle skewed towards the interests of the richest and against the needs of the poorest.

It's the oldest story in the book. We remember that David once slew Goliath, but the potency of the story affects us only because the big guy usually wins in a knock-out scenario. Getting a solid deal on climate change is going to take a hundred small steps of negotiated compromise eked out of an insistence and assertion of what is right. The poor must get a fair deal because they didn't cause the crisis, the planet must get a fair deal because it sustains us, the rich must get a fair deal because they wield the economic might of the world. So progress at each step will hinge on the renegotiation of what is willing to be offered against what is right.

In December last year, people hoped to see the Goliath of developed nations break bread with David, offering the poorest sustenance. It would be too cynical to say the world doesn't work like that - the very fact the UN and NGOs of every hue exist is because we believe that better and best are possible. But perhaps people asked not for too much but expected it all too quickly.

Right now in Bonn, good things are happening as the issues are pulled away from the politics and negotiators start to discuss options. Time, of course, is of the essence, but for a multi-lateral agreement with teeth and credibility we may well have to wait not only until the Cancun meeting this December, but next winter's summit in South Africa.


Pascale Palmer is CAFOD's advocacy media officer.

Keywords:climate change | bonn
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