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Home » A Look Back at Bonn Climate Talks: “Modest” Steps Made, Much Left Unresolved 

A Look Back at Bonn Climate Talks: “Modest” Steps Made, Much Left Unresolved 

by Madaline Dunn

The Bonn Climate Conference wrapped up this week, marking the midpoint to COP29. Yet little progress was made on key issues, and, in a critical year for climate action and following 12 consecutive months of record-breaking temperatures, the world cannot wait for further delays.

Over the course of two weeks, the climate conference in Germany gathered around 6,000 delegates from across 198 countries to discuss climate policy, proposals and implementation aimed at setting the world on the right path ahead of Baku in November.

However, as Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, noted in his closing speech, only “modest steps forward” were made, too many issues were left “unresolved,” and many items are still on the table. 

ESG Mena takes a look back at some of the key issues and discussions. 

Climate Financing Goals 

With countries set to adopt a New Collective Quantified Goal (NCGQ) on climate finance at COP29, climate finance emerged as one of the hot topics at the conference. Yet, as WWF outlined in a statement, it “lacked the urgency required” for one of the most critical decisions to be finalised in Baku. 

Globally, the climate financing gap stands at around $8 trillion dollars per year, while in developing nations, the UN estimates that $2.4 trillion in investment is needed a year by 2030 to fight climate change. However, the gap is growing, and the decision around who should fill it and who should benefit from it remains contentious.

At Bonn, the Arab Group proposed $1.1 trillion a year from 2025, $441 billion from public grants, with the remainder mobilised from other streams. Along with the G77+China, the Group suggested a 5 per cent sales tax on technology, fashion and defence firms in developing countries to fund green spending. India and the small island states (AOSIS) have also proposed a target of $1.1-1.3tn.

However, the “who pays” question is dividing nations. The list of financing nations hasn’t been changed since 1992, and the EU and US—which proposed a target “from a floor of $100bn”—want to add new nations to the list. This includes China. However, Beijing made it clear that this is not on the cards. Gulf states have also been called to contribute and opposed this idea.

Ultimately, conversations ended in a stalemate. This comes against a backdrop of findings that rich countries have already hit the $100 billion climate finance goal two years late. 

Tracy Carty, Greenpeace International’s Climate Politics Expert, commented: “Rich developed countries talked at length about what they can’t commit to and who else should pay, but failed to assure developing nations on their intent to significantly scale up financial support. Damning silence on what finance might be offered is stymying efforts to raise ambition and is a dereliction of duty to people battling climate-fuelled storms, fires and droughts.”

Another proposed solution is the ​Climate Damages Tax (CDT), a tax levied on the extraction of fossil fuels in developing nations. This tax aims to make the biggest polluters pay for environmental and social destruction and incentivise renewable energy. 

Backed by over 100 NGOs, the CDT would initially be introduced at $5 per tonne of CO2e, increasing by $5 per tonne each year. Implemented in G7 countries alone, the tax could generate $US 700 billion by 2030 and $US 900 billion if applied in all of the 38 OECD countries.

NDCs, ​​NAPs and a “Steep” Mountain to Climb

Ambition on Nationally Determined Contributions needs to be raised, and this has been stressed multiple times in the last year and again at Bonn. 

Indeed, there, Stiell called the national climate plans – NDCs 3.0 – among the “most important policy documents” produced so far this century and launched the NDC 3.0 Navigator aimed at aiding Parties access information to develop new NDCs with a focus on implementation. 

According to a new report from the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC), at present, NDCs will only reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by ~6 GtCO2e of emissions savings per year by 2035. To be aligned with 1.5 degrees, a ~23-30 GtCO2e reduction is required. 

Indeed, during the climate talks, a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) outlined that the world is currently falling behind on its pledge to triple renewable energy by 2030, with just 14 out of a total of 194 including specific targets for this in their NDCs.

The ETC urged that NDCs “can and must” reflect technical potential and reinforce existing progress by setting more ambitious targets with stronger links to national policies. If this were to happen, overall ambition levels could almost triple and achieve ~18 GtCO2e of mitigation per year in 2035, putting the world on a path to limit warming to 2°C.

At Bonn, UN Climate Change also urged countries to develop National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) by the end of 2025 and to make progress in implementing them by 2030. Currently, just 58 developing countries have submitted a NAP. It was shared that it will work directly through countries through Regional Collaboration Centres to raise this. 

Elsewhere, talks under the Mitigation Ambition and Implementation Work Programme (MWP) remained at an impasse. 

Stiell warned that there is now a “very steep mountain to climb” to achieve “ambitious” outcomes in Baku.

Carbon Markets Progress

Carbon markets discussions in Bonn followed failed talks at COP28 and saw delegates discuss technical aspects of Article 6, but again, much was left unresolved. Ahead of November, a workshop will convene delegates for further progress on technical work on Article 6.2 and 6.4 ahead of November. 

Erika Lennon, Senior Attorney, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), said that the discussions on Paris Agreement carbon markets continue to “leave open loopholes” that threaten to repeat harms that have plagued carbon markets for decades. 

“As market proponents press for talks to conclude and activities to begin, this is especially worrying. Carbon markets are being promoted as climate finance, but carbon credits that give a free pass to polluters through offsets cannot be considered true climate finance,” Lennon noted.

Adding: “And they must not be used as an escape hatch or excuse to avoid their financial obligations. Wealthy countries largely responsible for the climate crisis are overdue on their payment and must agree to put real money on the table, amounting to trillions annually. 

Food Systems Transformation 

At COP28, food systems worked its way up the agenda, with more focus given to it than ever before. However, considering that food systems are responsible for one-third of emissions, food insecurity is growing, and 40 per cent of land is now degraded, it was far from enough. At the Bonn climate talks, according to Greenpeace International’s Senior Campaign Strategist Sophie Nodzenski, some progress was made. 

Nodzenski said that the Bonn talks marked an “important breakthrough” for negotiations on agriculture. 

“While work on agriculture and food security had faced several roadblocks since COP27, parties were finally able to agree on a roadmap and several activities, including two workshop themes. 

Adding: “Given that the Sharm el-Sheikh Joint Work on Agriculture and Food Security (SSJWA) – the successor to the Koronivia process – is the only official UNFCCC negotiation connecting climate change to food and agricultural production, parties’ willingness to move forward strongly indicates that food and agriculture will remain a key topic on the agenda for the next COPs.”

Elsewhere, during the event, vegan entrepreneur Heather Mills and climate activists staged a protest urging delegates to go plant-based, for food systems to be better represented in climate conversations, and for a global Plant Based Treaty.

Last year in Dubai, around two-thirds of the food served was vegan or vegetarian. Mills called for the upcoming COP29 to only serve plant-based food. 

Lia Phillips, Plant Based Treaty UK city campaigner, said: “We’ve had almost 30 years of COPs and we are waiting for a global agreement on the food system.”

Phillips outlined that the Plant Based Treaty has presented a pathway that world leaders could attach to the Paris Agreement. 

“The science says that even if we ended fossil fuels we are destined for a climate catastrophe if we don’t transform the food system. We need to do this now. A plant-based food system would be Paris aligned as well as address pressing issues like food insecurity, biodiversity loss, food related disease and the risk of pandemics.”

The Road Ahead

With many disappointed by the outcomes of the Bonn climate talks, many have raised concerns about what this means for the Baku talk in November. 

Gaia Larsen, Director of Climate Finance Access, World Resources Institute, noted that the “sheer number of unresolved issues” sets the stage for a “fraught” two weeks in Baku. 

“We urge countries to use every opportunity in the months ahead of COP29 to lay the ground for an ambitious yet realistic new climate finance goal that responds to the needs of developing countries,” said Larsen, calling for climate negotiators to set aside their differences.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace International’s Climate Politics Expert Tracy Carty said that the Troika of Presidencies, UAE, Azerbaijan and Brazil must “redouble their efforts” in the months ahead. 

“The world needs both upscaled finance and accelerated action, and unlocking funds will pave the way towards a safer climate,” said Carty.

COP29 will run for two weeks beginning on November 11th in Baku, Azerbaijan, and comes amid a tense geopolitical landscape and an ever-intensifying climate crisis. So far, COP29-Designate Mukhtar Babayev has taken more of a backseat. However, the COP Presidencies Troika also held its first informal consultation and an incubator workshop aimed at driving greater ambition in the next round of NDCs.

Indeed, in closing, Stiell called for governments to step up efforts on stronger national climate plans across NDCs, National Adaptation Plans, and Biennial Transparency Reports, noting that social equity, including gender equality, must be “at the heart” of all of these plans.

Momentum must now ramp up and ambition be significantly raised if real progress is to be made and the worst effects of climate change averted. One thing is certain: With only five months to go until COP29, the urgency for action is greater than ever. 

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