Report from Bonn: Climate Adaptation and Wrangling ’200 Pages of Nonsense’

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Published on August 14th, 2009  |  Discuss This Article  

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Here’s a guest post from Suzy Menazza, a senior policy advisor for The Nature Conservancy for the Asia-Pacific region, from the international climate negotiations just concluded in Bonn:

Suzy Menazza: “What we have is 200 pages of incomprehensible nonsense” — that’s how UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo De Boer commented on the status of the negotiations early this week during a meeting with NGO representatives here in Bonn, which included The Nature Conservancy.

De Boer was referring to the new negotiating text for an international climate agreement, which includes a document drafted by the chair of the proceedings back in spring with additions submitted in June by the 192 countries discussing this new agreement. The result is a 199-page-long (and almost unmanageable) document — a combination of old text, “new paragraphs or subparagraphs,” “alternatives to the original paragraphs” and “special cases” that comprise more than 2,000 brackets and are challenging even the most experienced delegates.

A “Reader’s Guide to the Revised Negotiating Text” was distributed at the beginning of the week, but it did little to help the bewildered participants. Yet as  De Boer explained during the same meeting, this document collects the concerns, hopes and demands of countries as diverse as the Republic of Palau and China, the United States and Burkina Faso, Luxembourg and Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Singapore. All are affected by climate change, each with different needs and priorities.

So bringing together all countries’ positions in one place was a necessary step in the long road to a global agreement to make sure all voices were heard, even if it meant to create an almost incomprehensible document. The next step — the one that delegates came here to Bonn to take — was to turn those 199 pages into something much shorter and clearer while at the same time retaining each country’s contribution.

The week seemed to begin as usual – the delegation meeting at 7:30am, warm greetings to old friends, introductions to new delegates, the familiar three sandwiches at the café in the lobby – yet the atmosphere was somehow different. Inside, the venue felt strangely spacious as attendance was lower than usual.

Outside, Bonn looks quieter, as this is August and Europeans en masse close their businesses and leave the cities to go on vacation. Even the chair picked up on the vibe and encouraged a more casual attire. While just a few took on the offer to remove the tie, others brought some informality into the negotiations, where the usual “Thank you Mr. Chair” was often replaced by “Thank you Michael,” or “Argentina go ahead” used instead of “Argentina, you have the floor.”

Yet countries immediately disagreed on the process and some opposed valuable options, raising concerns that the negotiations were dangerously slowing down. With only three weeks of negotiations left before the parties meet officially in Copenhagen in December, the mood turned gloom. Yet slowly, things began to turn around. In the working group discussing “Enhanced Action on Adaptation” – which I follow for the Conservancy here in Bonn – countries agreed to transform their part of the ‘incomprehensible nonsense’ into a readable new text. The Secretariat’s lawyers magically combined similar paragraphs, deleted duplications and reorganized concepts. Suddenly, the picture became less blurred.

At the next meeting in Bangkok in October, countries will discuss this much clearer consolidate text line by line, concept by concept. Another boring and excruciatingly slow step towards a global agreement, yet a necessary one. I look at the 192 delegations sitting in the plenary room and am often in awe that despite what is at stake – the island nations are sinking, some African lands are turning into deserts, several countries will lose revenues from oil or timber, others will have to pay for their historical responsibilities – they are actually discussing how to solve their differences.

Having worked in peacekeeping operations in the past, I know how easy it is to resolve conflicts through violence, especially when vital resources are at stake. If climate change had hit the planet 70 years ago, armed forces (not loquacious delegates) would have looked for a solution. So if the road to an agreement in Copenhagen is made of tedious debates, endless meetings and annoying statements, I am willing to sit through them. Now, if the café in the lobby could just change the menu…

(Image: Inside the Bonn climate negotiations. Credit: oxfam internationals photostream through a Creative Commons license.)

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One Response to “Report from Bonn: Climate Adaptation and Wrangling ’200 Pages of Nonsense’”

  1. [...] of last week’s UN climate negotiations in Bonn, Yvo de Boer, the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, described the negotiating text as “200 pages of incomprehensible nonsense”. By the end of the [...]

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