Bonn meeting: Taking stock of climate action – The Core IAS

Bonn meeting: Taking stock of climate action


  • In different ways, countries have been taking measures to respond to climate change since at least the mid-1990s, though it is only in the last decade or so that these actions have become significant enough for any meaningful impact. But the global response has never kept pace with the worsening of the climate crisis, whose seriousness has increased rapidly in the last few years.
  • Amidst almost daily reminders of this worsening crisis, negotiators from around the world are currently meeting in the German city of Bonn to discuss ways to strengthen their collective response to climate change. This meeting in Bonn, at the headquarters of the UN Climate Change, happens every year. The work done and decisions taken here feed into the year-ending annual climate change conferences.
  • One of the most important tasks to be accomplished at this year’s Bonn meeting is what is known as Global Stocktake, or GST, a term that is expected to come up frequently in climate change conversations this year. Mandated by the 2015 Paris Agreement, GST is an exercise aimed at assessing the progress being made in the fight against climate change, and deciding ways and means to enhance the global effort to bridge the adequacy gap.
  • As things stand today, this stocktake exercise is expected to result in a significant increase in the global response to climate change, not just in terms of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, but also in terms of adaptation, provision for finance and availability of technology.

The Stocktake

  • The current stocktake — it has been going on for more than a year now and is supposed to conclude this year — is the first such exercise and is mandated by the Paris Agreement to happen every five years hereafter. Essentially, it is an opportunity for course correction.
  • There is a wealth of scientific evidence that shows that the current set of actions being taken by the world is woefully inadequate to limit the global temperature rise within 1.5 degree Celsius from pre-industrial times. The most notable of these is the sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published over the last four years. The world needs to cut its emissions by almost half by 2030 from the 2019 levels if it has to retain any realistic chances of achieving the 1.5 degree target. At current levels of climate action, the world is headed to a nearly 3 degree Celsius warmer world by 2100.
  • But as can be expected, course correction is not a straightforward exercise. Under the Paris Agreement, countries are allowed to decide the level of their contribution to the global effort to contain climate change. In effect, every country is free to decide what climate actions it would take. But since the collective effort of every country is now proving inadequate, some amount of imposition seems necessary. And no country is comfortable with that.

Familiar fault lines

  • As a result, the GST discussions are fraught with the same troubles as the rest of the climate negotiations — apportioning responsibility for enhanced climate action. The faultlines are familiar. Rich and developed countries want major emitters like China and India, and others, to do more. Developing countries, mainly China and India, have been reminding the developed countries of their unfulfilled commitments, and continued underperformance.
  • The fault lines were evident during the opening meeting of the third and final round of technical discussions on Tuesday (the two previous rounds of technical discussions were held last year). The United States said bridging the gap was not the sole responsibility of the developed countries, and it would not accept any attempt to include such suggestions in the GST decisions, either explicitly or through references to phrases such as “closing of pre-2020 gaps”.
  • The US was clearly referring to longstanding demands of the developing countries. Climate actions in the pre-2020 period were directed by the Kyoto Protocol, the predecessor to the Paris Agreement. A set of about 40 developed countries, including the United States, had specifically allocated emissions reduction targets, besides other obligations, to be met by 2020.
  • These countries collectively, and most of them individually, did not meet the targets. Developing countries argue that the inability of the developed countries to deliver on their commitments was the main reason for the worsening of the climate crisis in recent years, and therefore it was incumbent on the developed countries to scale up their actions now to compensate for their earlier failure.
  • The United States also said that the next round of climate action plans finalised by countries must have emission reduction contributions from all sectors of the economy. This again was directed at countries like India, whose climate commitments are mainly about increasing renewable energy footprint, improving energy efficiency, and augmenting its forests. In particular, India has not committed to restricting methane emissions from agriculture, a sensitive subject not just for itself but throughout the developing world.
  • Not surprisingly, India reacted strongly to the US suggestion on Tuesday and said it would not accept any “prescriptive messages” from GST on what the content of a country’s climate action plan, called Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs in official terminology, should be. India said it retained its “sovereign right” to determine its climate targets in pursuit of its national goals. It also said that it did not accept the suggestions that NDCs must necessarily be economy-wide, covering all sectors or all greenhouse gases (like methane). It aligned itself with other developing countries in reiterating the demand for the closing of pre-2020 gaps.
  • The most forceful argument on pre-2020 gaps came from China, which said it was disappointed to see that the repeated demands of 134 developing countries had not been captured adequately in GST discussions so far. It said the pre-2020 gaps were an integral part of the global efforts towards fulfilling the Paris Agreement targets, and pointed out that there was now irrefutable scientific evidence to show that a bulk of the carbon dioxide emissions from 1850 to 2018 had been generated before 1990.
  • Several other points of discussion under GST — finance, adaptation, technology transfer — are also heavily contested. Negotiators are expected to finish the technical discussions on GST in Bonn. Its findings would be presented at the annual year-ending climate conference, this time happening in Dubai. The Dubai meeting will, hopefully, take the final decisions on the GST.