Update from Saleemul Huq at the Bonn climate change talks

An analysis of the state of international negotiations to agree steps to address climate change, from Saleemul Huq, Senior Fellow in IIED's climate change group.

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Insight by 
Saleemul Huq
Saleemul Huq is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) in Bangladesh, and senior associate at IIED
02 June 2009

The international negotiations to agree a global response to climate change are now underway in a serious way. For the first time, we have the text that will form the basis of the final agreement to be negotiated by December 2009 when nations gather in Copenhagen, Denmark.

This draft negotiating text has some positive and negative features. As it is based on submissions by all countries, it is very thorough and covers all of the issues. But this also means that the text contains many contradictory statements.

The negotiations that are underway now in Bonn and which will conclude in Copenhagen must resolve all of these contradictions. Countries have very little time to reach a consensus on the final text. I see a number of problems with the current text.

First, there is no agreement yet about how legally binding what the final agreement will be. One proposal is that it will just be a “decision” that will not be legally binding. Another is that countries will agree a new and legally binding protocol. The final agreement must

Second, there is no solid agreement yet on targets by which rich countries will need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The proposal range from practically nothing to a 45% reduction on 1990 levels by 2020. We urgently need a steep reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to limit the extent of warming and lessen the impacts of climate change.

Third, there is no agreement about what promises the developing nations — including large economies such as Brazil, China, India and South Africa — will need to make in terms of reducing their own emissions, and about how binding these promises would need to be.

Resolving all of these issues will entail hard negotiation and central to this is the final piece of the puzzle — money. This is the glue that will hold the final agreement together but so far it is the weakest part. The rich countries have so far made no serious pledges to provide the funding that will be essential to pay for reducing emissions, for adapting to climate change impacts, for transferring technologies to poorer nations, and for avoiding deforestation.

Until the rich countries make some serious pledges, the rest of the negotiations will suffer as it will be impossible to agree actions without knowing how they will be funded.

A major problem here is that countries take part in the UN climate change negotiations through their environment ministries, but it is the finance ministries that must decide how much money to spend tackling climate change.

We need finance ministers and heads of state, especially those in the industrialised countries, to face the reality of climate change and respond responsibly. European Union finance ministers are meeting this month and the US Treasury is putting together its budget.

The eyes of the world will be on the capitals of these and other wealthy nations, awaiting the signal that the rich world will finally accept its need to step up to the challenge and provide the large sums of money needed to address climate change.

In general, the current meeting in Bonn has had a good start. Everyone is moving in the right direction. The question is, whether they can move fast and far enough to pull us back from the brink of dangerous climate change.

About the author

Saleemul Huq ( [email protected]) is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) in Bangladesh and senior associate at IIED

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