Q+A: Bonn Climate Conference – 2017

The UN Climate Change Conference, 2017 was held from November 6 to 17, 2017 at Bonn, Germany. It was presided by Government of Fiji. This article provides relevant questions and answers to understand basic issues.

What is United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)?

UNFCCC is an international treaty adapted in 1992 during the Earth summit. It came into force in 1994. It’s a legally non-binding agreement reached with objective to stabilize the greenhouse gas concentrations in atmosphere at such a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

This agreement itself is legally non-binding in the sense that it set out non-binding limits on greenhouse gas emission. It itself did not contain any enforcement mechanism also. Rather, it outlined that after successful negotiations, the specific protocols of this treaty would set legally binding targets for all the parties to this convention. The Kyoto protocol was thus later adopted as a legally binding instrument to this treaty. For Post Kyoto protocol period from 2020 onward, the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015 in earlier conference of parties of UNFCCC.

What are United Nations Climate Change conferences?

The UNFCCC stipulates formal meeting of its parties {Conference of Parties or COP} on annual basis to assess the progress made around climate change issues and to establish and sustain legally binding mechanisms and obligations. First such conference was held in 1995 at Berlin in Germany. So far, 23 meetings have taken place. They key outcomes / landmarks of these conventions are as follows:

  • COP-3 in 1997 at Kyoto Japan resulted in the legally binding Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change
  • COP-7 in 2001 at Marrakech, Morocco resulted in establishment of an Adaptation Fund for financially supporting developing countries better adapt to climate change.
  • COP-16 in 2010 at Cancún, Mexico resulted in an announcement for a 100 billion USD per annum Green Climate Fund for providing financial support to developing countries on their climate change actions. However, later little progress was made towards the funding of the Green Climate Fund.
  • COP-21 in 2015 in Paris resulted in adoption of the Paris Agreement governing climate change reduction measures from 2020.

After the 2005 adoption of Kyoto Protocol, the same convention also serves as meeting of parties to Kyoto protocol.

What are the Key issues on climate change today? Which of them were on agenda of Bonn conference?

The Paris agreement adopted in 2015 had set a target of limiting the global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) or 2° at most by the end of this century. However, how the countries would reach that goal was not decided. So, one of the key agenda of the Bonn conference was to bring out a so called “Rule Book” or “Paris work programme” which countries need to abide by in post 2020 world. Such a rule book would comprise of the international standards on several issues such as – how to measure carbon emissions; how to make sure that one nation’s efforts can be compared with others etc. Making substantial progress on these two issues was thus key agenda of the Bonn Conference.

Paris Agreement

In December 2015, 195 countries adopted the Paris Agreement on climate change, the world’s first universal, legally-binding climate deal. It sets out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C. The Paris Agreement entered into force just over a year ago, on 4 November 2016 − 30 days after ratification by the EU, passing the legal threshold for it to take effect. 195 UNFCCC Parties have signed the Agreement and 169 have now ratified it.

Second major issue was to have a formal discussion on the pre-2020 climate action. This issue was raised by India, China, and other members of the Like Minded Developing Countries group and is one of the major issues between developing and developed countries.

Third major issue was finance and adaptation. Moving the countries, both developed and developing, away from fossils fuels, and making preparations to adapt the climate change would need vast financial resources. Every effort to establish a smooth financial mechanism towards this has been a failure so far.

Fourth major issue was to find if Donald Trump pulling the US out of the Paris agreement would stall the hopes of progress in climate change negotiations.

Further, a major agenda of the meet was to launch as so called “Global Alliance to Power Past Coal”.

What were key outcomes of Bonn Conference?

The key outcomes of the Bonn Conference are discussed below:

What happened on “Rule Book”?

The key agenda of the Bonn conference was to chalk out the Rule Book as mentioned above. We note that if Paris agreement was constitution, the Rule Book would serve as laws and regulations to implement it towards achieving the goal of Paris Agreement i.e. to limit the Earth’s temperature rise to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius.

In the Bonn summit, it was decided that the negotiators will keep working for one year and finalize the rule book by December 2018. It is expected that the Rule Book shall be adopted at COP-24 at Katowice in Poland in December, 2018. To ensure that this happens, future host Poland has decided to work with current host Fiji and past host Morocco. This year long process has been called Talnoa Dialogue.

Thus, Talnoa dialogue is a year long process that allows countries to assess their progress on past climate actions (stocktaking) and define the way forward to implement the legally binding Paris Agreement.

Talanoa is a traditional word used in Fiji and the Pacific to reflect a process of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue.

Talanoa dialogue will be centred around three questions (1) where are we?  (2) where we want to go? (3) how to go there?

What was need and outcome of formal discussion on the pre-2020 climate action?

By pre 2020 efforts, we mean the efforts that were done under Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol is the legally binding update of legally non-binding UNFCCC. It was initially adopted on 11 December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan and entered into force on 16 February 2005. The Kyoto Protocol has currently 192 parties. Canada has withdrawn from Kyoto Protocol in 2012.

This protocol required the industrialized / developed countries to take on quantifiable targets for reducing their green house gas emissions. However, there were no such mandatory targets for developing countries. The mandate of Kyoto Protocol had come to an end in 2012 but then was extended for another eight years till 2020. This extension was adopted at Doha Amendment to Kyoto Protocol in 2012 and is called second mandate period. However, the second mandate period would become operational only after 144 countries ratify the Doha Amendment but so far only 84 countries have done so. Most of the developed countries don’t want to ratify it because according to them, its discriminatory. The developing countries on the other side say – why they should suffer because of sins of developed countries? Further, even if they make voluntary efforts, they would need funds to adopt the measures. These funds would be obviously coming as financial support from developed countries. This is key bone of contention between developing and developed countries.

In the 2010 Cancun Agreements, it was decided that the poor developing countries would take voluntary measures at the promise of financial support of USD 100 billion by 2020 made by rich countries in the form of technology and capacity building assistance as planned in the Bali Action Plan.

Since there was little action on ground in this direction, the developing countries asked for a formal discussion on what was done by the developed countries on pre-2020 climate action. This demand was raised by India, China and other members of the Like Minded Developing Countries group in Bonn Conference. This was opposed by developed countries.

However, at the end of the Bonn Conference, it was formally decided to include and anchor pre-2020 discussions in the next climate talks. This is what has been touted as victory of developing countries in media. Its significance is that as a formal inclusion, it has put immediate pressure on developed countries. They will not only will need to give account of what they have done in so many years but also will need to get them verified in 2018 and 2019. Thus, we can expect some stocktaking events taking place in next two years.

What was outcome on finance and adaptation?

Money has been Achilles heel for the entire climate change negotiations and revolves around a single question – if the world wants to quickly decarbonize, who is going to pay for it. This has two aspects:

  • The wealth of developed countries is because of their past climate sins (i.e. historical high burning of fossils fuels), so they are responsible not only to decarbonize themselves but also rest of the world.
  • The developing countries will be most affected because of a double sword of adaptation and mitigation. They need to not only reduce their carbon emissions (thus going back from whatever development they have done) but also pay the price of climate sins of the rich world in the form of climate change related issues in agriculture, food security and livelihood.

There has been a broad consensus that yes; the rich should pay the poor. This led to establishment of a mechanism called Green Climate Fund. The rich countries will make payments in this fund and it will be given to developing countries for both managing the impacts of climate change as well as transforming their energy systems or other ways to reduce emissions.

But the condition of GCF is very bad. Before COP-23, only USD 10 Billion has been pledged to the fund. The target is to spend USD 100 Billion starting from 2020 by developed countries on developing countries, but no one is ready to pay. This finance gap is threatening to bog down the entire Paris Agreement.

What was done at Bonn was that now the developed countries have named a new sum of $60 billion. But we need to be cautious about this figure also. In the last moment, it was also decided that the Adaptation Fund under Kyoto Protocol (which is worth about $330 million) can also become part of the Paris Agreement.

What happened regarding Donald Trump pulling the US out of the Paris agreement?

The Bonn convention was organized in a different world from 2016. The Obama administration is no more and most countries have wanted to sideline US because of President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw from the deal. Trump held that the deal was not tough enough on India and China; and the Paris Accord was unfair to the United States. Trump was also of the view that the implementation of Paris Accord would adversely impact the paper, cement, iron and steel, coal, and natural gas sectors of the American economy. It would also inflict a loss of $3 trillion in GDP, loss of 6.5 million industrial jobs and $7,000 less in annual income for American households.

The exit of US from Paris Agreement has posed threats on the entire climate change negotiations. Some more reluctant countries may also follow the steps of US in quitting the climate deal. Trump has a favour for coal / fossil based economy and US not being part of any climate change actions may add 0.1 to 0.3 degrees Celsius to global warming by 2100. It was expected that US, China and EU may announce an alliance to take on leadership role to protect Paris Accord.

What is Global Alliance to Power Past Coal?

One of the remarkable things that happened in recent times is return of Canada as a proactive nation pushing climate change agenda. With US taking a backseat, Canada might be looking for a leadership role. In the recent Bonn summit, Canada and United Kingdom have launched the Global Alliance to Power Past Coal. This is a programme to phase out coal usage in energy production. Immediately, more than 20 countries, including France, Finland, and Mexico have become the part of this initiative which brings together a wide range of businesses and civil society organizations that have united for climate protection.


The above discussion has cleared that Bonn Climate Conference was nothing more than a stepping stone for future progress, negotiation and obviously climate change politics. The key discussions revolved around the same contentious issues viz. financial support, mitigation action etc.