Bonn Climate Talks for Many a Step Backward

Despite the cautiously optimistic tone from the press release issued on Friday by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the conclusion of the latest round of climate talks in Bonn, the tone is more sour come Monday with the U.S. delegation accusing other nations of backpedaling on the agreements made last year with the Copenhagen accord.

Were the Bonn climate talks a step backward?

Jonathan Pershing, the U.S. deputy special climate envoy, made his disappointment at the outcome of the Bonn talks:

While I came to Bonn hopeful that we would make significant strides toward a deal in Cancún, at this point, I'm very concerned," he said, adding, "Unfortunately, what we have seen over and over this week is that some countries are walking back from the progress made in Copenhagen and what was agreed there. Instead, what we need to do is move forward. We need to be ambitious; we need to be pragmatic."

Details vary, but the fundamental divide between the developing and developed world persists, bringing about general distrust in the process and in each other.

The 17-page Copenhagen Accord has now grown to 34, with plenty of bracketed words and phrases indicating areas of dispute.

UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres expressed her concern over the "broadening" of items in the negotiating text in her comments last Friday, but didn't touch on the growing sense expressed by many that countries are moving further away from agreement.

Some, however, are glad to see the negotiating text expand, including Bolivian ambassador to the UN, Pablo Solon:

The problem is, on the one hand, the United States thinks the Copenhagen Accord is already the agreement," Solon said, "and other countries that have associated themselves with the Copenhagen Accord have a more, I would say, open view. They have associated, but it's more a declaration, and many of the paragraphs that are there need more interpretation."

The Senate (speaking of ambition)

Another consistent theme reoccurring in Bonn is doubt in the ability of the U.S. Congress to move forward with climate and energy legislation, reinforced yet again by abandonment of the climate issue by Senate majority leader Harry Reid, likely for at least the rest of this year.

There is a perception that because there is no adequate legislation in the United States," said Dessima Williams of Grenada, a situation that she says "has been taken as a signal by some that nothing can occur, that nothing will result, because the U.S. is not legislatively on board and therefore the pace should be slowed or the process should really wait on the U.S."

Despite Congress' inability to move on the issue, Pershing remains committed to the U.S. pledge of a 17% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over 2005 levels by 2020 (3% over 1990 levels, the benchmark year accepted by most nations) - though it is unclear exactly how that goal will be achieved.

Instead of forward progress toward global consensus for action on climate change, suspicion and accusation may have only intensified in Bonn. A backward step that diminishes hope for an agreement at COP16 in Cancún.

Additional source:
ClimateWire (subscription required)

Image credit: Climate Talks, courtesy Flickr

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