What the World Needs from the Bonn Climate Talks

Forest destroyed by slash-and-burn agriculture in Madagascar. Conversion of forests to farmland is one of the biggest contributers to deforestation worldwide.

Next week CI staff from 10 countries will be traveling to participate in the continuing international climate change talks in Bonn, Germany. These talks have the potential to move forward on the difficult task of trying to limit global climate change below dangerous levels and help those most vulnerable adapt to the impacts like rising sea levels and droughts. Building off of the progress in Cancun just six months ago, the Bonn talks need to hammer out the details of how 194 countries can work together to make a difference on the ground and in the atmosphere.

The decisions countries need to make are not easy ones. They require not only a collaborative effort, but also national commitments from each country — commitments of both action and funding. But proactive decision-making involving cooperation and compromise can steer our climate and our planet back on course. A new report by the International Energy Agency indicating the CO2 emissions reached a record high in 2010 demonstrates how critical international action is if we are to keep climate change below 2 degrees Celsius. The alternative will cost us dearly in terms of lost ecosystems, livelihoods and more. In Bonn, we desperately need our leaders to stop the rhetoric and act. We will especially be looking for strong leadership from Mexico (the current COP president) and South Africa (the incoming president), as well as the largest emitters like the U.S. and China.

I still remember the mixture of relief and euphoria I felt in Cancun last year at 4 a.m. as I joined the standing ovation as nearly 200 countries committed to climate change action under the Cancun Agreements. Now the rubber hits the road as negotiators establish the details that spell out how they will achieve the Cancun Agreements. The Bonn talks provide an opportunity to focus on these technical details.

What will success look like? Here is what we need:

  1. Ratchet up commitments and proposed actions to reduce emissions. Current emission reduction pledges are insufficient and will likely result in average warming of 3 to 4 degrees Celsius. This will, in all likelihood, result in disastrous consequences for people, nature and the planet, with costs — both monetary and otherwise — far beyond the cost of mitigation. We need stronger commitments!
  2. Identify sources of climate finance, including innovative sources. One of the successes of the Cancun Agreements was the establishment of an overarching international fund for climate change action: the Green Climate Fund (GCF). However, sources will need to be committed and mobilized if we want the coffers of the GCF to be full.
  3. Hammer out the details on how countries can reduce emissions from deforestation through a REDD+ framework). In Cancun, nearly 200 countries made a historic agreement to address the 16 percent of global emissions that come from deforestation (more than all the cars, trucks, ships, trains and planes in the world). Technical issues and social safeguard guidelines need to be addressed now so that we can begin to stop the dramatic loss of forests and the accompanying large amounts of emissions. Negotiators will also need to decide where the $15-35 billion per year needed for implementation of these activities will come from.
  4. Increase commitments to support and take climate adaptation action on the ground. The Cancun Agreements include a decision to establish an adaptation committee and a framework for adaptation action. Parties must make progress on defining the form and function of that committee and adaptation action it will support in order to ensure that the needs of vulnerable countries, and the communities and ecosystems within them, are understood and met.

My CI colleagues and I will be among the thousands of people participating in these talks in Bonn, working with government negotiators, NGO and indigenous peoples representatives, scientists and U.N. staff in order to ensure these talks succeed. For us, success means making significant progress to keep climate change below dangerous levels — which we are already well on the way to surpassing — and to enable humans and the ecosystems they depend on to adapt to the climate change that is already happening. This year’s climate talks will culminate at COP 17 in Durban, South Africa at the end of 2011. We have high hopes that Durban will establish a clear way forward; the progress here in Bonn is the first step to a successful year of climate talks and real action on the ground that can make a difference for the people and other species that inhabit our planet.

Check back here soon — we’ll have updates on the talks and analysis in the days to come.

Rebecca Chacko is the director of climate policy in CI’s Center for Conservation and Government. To learn more about CI’s work on climate change mitigation and adaptation, download our latest policy papers from the “Climate Documents” page.

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