UN Climate Talks On Hot Seat
The Bonn Climate Change Conference is a crucial stepping-stone between the 2021 COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland and COP27, to be held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt in fall 2022. (Photo: Unclimatechange, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)
With heat waves, fires and drought raging around the world, UN climate negotiators recently gathered in Bonn, Germany to prepare for the next climate summit this fall in Egypt, but these talks are not moving as fast as climate disruption itself. Alden Meyer, a 30-year veteran of climate conferences, joins Host Steve Curwood to discuss the session, including the hot topic of financial assistance for poor nations.
BASCOMB: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley studios at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, this is Living on Earth. I’m Bobby Bascomb.
CURWOOD: And I’m Steve Curwood. As more record-breaking heat waves, wildfires and drought continue to increase thanks to climate change, U.N. climate negotiators recently gathered in Bonn, Germany to prepare for the next climate summit this fall in Egypt, but these talks are not moving as fast as climate disruption itself. Alden Meyer is a senior associate of E3G who has attended these negotiations for more than 30 years. And while he notes there’s been some progress, there’s still a fundamental divide between rich and poor nations that is keeping climate protections from advancing fast enough to avoid more disasters. Alden Meyer joins us now. Welcome back to Living on Earth!
MEYER: Thanks, Steve, great to be with you again.
CURWOOD: What's the importance of intermediary conferences like what just happened in Bonn, Germany? Why should we be paying attention?
MEYER: Well, these are the working level conferences that prepare for the big annual climate summits. Last annual summit was in Glasgow, the next one will be in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. And this is when countries get together to work out the draft, negotiating text and decisions to forward into that process for adoption at the annual COP. It's essential to make the process work.
CURWOOD: This process helps deal with some of those devilish details?
MEYER: Yeah, that's true. And negotiators are a bit at sea because we're now making the transition from negotiation of the international climate framework, and we're shifting into implementation. How do you live into the commitments that countries have made? Importantly, how do you increase ambition to have any chance of staying below one and a half degrees Celsius temperature rise? How do you move markets? How do you get deployment of clean energy technologies at scale? And in some cases, that's not the skill set that these negotiators have. They have to play a key role in preparing the draft decisions for considerations by ministers at the annual climate summits. Really, we need people coming in, to bring in that real-world perspective, to say what is it that national governments can do to advance the agenda on radical decarbonization as is needed to cut emissions by 45% or so over the next eight years? And then, a major focus of this meeting in Bonn was how do we do a better job of helping the vulnerable countries and communities that are on the front lines of climate change, in most cases through no fault of their own, but they're experiencing horrendous impacts and the system is broken, in terms of giving them support.
CURWOOD: One of the focuses of Bonn was on this question of loss and damage. Vulnerable nations have requested help from developed countries to protect themselves in the face of all the things that climate disruption is bringing. But at the bottom line, there's not a whole lot of money that's been offered. What if anything changed this time around at Bonn?
MEYER: Well, first, to unpack a little bit, there's sort of three pillars of the international regime. The two that we're most familiar with are mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation is doing as much as you can to reduce emissions. Adaptation are the investments you make to make your systems more resilient to climate change. But even if you had the best mitigation and adaptation strategies in place, the fact that we have done much too little over the last 30 years to address the crisis means we are going to experience increasing impacts no matter what we do at this point. So that's where loss and damage comes in. It's saying what can you do to respond to them? There's different kinds of impacts you're talking about. There's what are called sudden impacts such as floods or hurricanes, and typhoons. And there's what is called slow onset impacts, like sea level rise, desertification, drought. The message we got out of the three dialogues on loss and damage in Bonn was an acknowledgment that the system is broken, that these impacts are real, that they're growing. And that vulnerable countries can't really cope with them with the resources they have. And that the current patchwork of humanitarian disaster and climate finance vehicles is not working. It's not generating the quality of finance, in many cases, it's loans rather than grants. And there are huge access issues for countries to jump over. The fight in Bonn was over whether or not there should be a formal agenda item at the climate summit in Sharm el Sheikh to address how do you fix a broken finance system when it comes to loss and damage? And there it was very polarized around North South lines. The developed countries are still resisting having that conversation, although some of them such as Canada and New Zealand and others are acknowledging that we need to find a space to have that discussion.
CURWOOD: Alden, I'm scratching my head. I mean, how do you fix something unless you talk about it and get together and figure it out?
MEYER: Well, this is a long standing faultline in these negotiations. And this is not a new issue, loss and damage has been on the agenda since the original negotiations of the Rio treaty in 1992. And that's because it does involve a fair amount of money, billions, tens of billions, maybe hundreds of billions of dollars to really address and no one wants to be a situation where you divert money from mitigation or adaptation to fund loss and damage. And of course, there's a concern that this could create open ended liability for compensation for the historical emissions. By and large, it's the Western, Northern countries that have been responsible for the bulk of the carbon put into the atmosphere. So that's where the resistance has come from. But I would say there's been an evolution. They're saying we have to talk about this. Now we're acknowledging it's broken. Let's find ways to make the system more responsive to the needs of vulnerable countries without creating a new financial facility.
CURWOOD: Speaking of mitigation, the poorest parts of the world will need large quantities of energy to develop and prosper. But it means that developing countries gotta look to the cheapest stuff, typically coal to meet their energy needs.
MEYER: Yeah, the good news is that with the dramatic reduction in the cost of photovoltaics, wind turbine storage technologies, etc. a clean energy pathway is more affordable than coal or natural gas or fossil fuels. The problem is, it has greater upfront capital costs. The International Energy Agency last year did a report saying that to get developing economies on a path compatible with staying below one and a half degrees Celsius temperature increase, we would need to increase finance for clean energy deployment from the current 150 billion a year to $1 trillion a year by 2030. And actually, the G7 leaders acknowledge that last December when they launched the Partnership for Infrastructure and Investment. And we're now calling on them at their summit in Germany next week to come up with ways to generate that kind of mobilization of resources. There's a lot of work to do there. And of course, the good news is, as I said, the cost is coming down. The bad news is generating that money is not an easy task in the international financial landscape.
CURWOOD: How do you think energies among delegates have changed over the 30 years these negotiations have been going on?
MEYER: I would say, there was a lot of polarization in Bonn on some of these issues like loss and damage, but it was very workman like, I mean, there's collaboration and sort of empathy. They respect each other. Countries come in with negotiating instructions for their delegates, and they really don't have the ability to cross those red lines and make compromise deals. That really is what the ministers have to do. But I would also say on a personal level, just talking to a number of them, they're frustrated. They're frustrated by the big power dynamics. They're frustrated by some of the fossil fuel industry's disinformation. But they roll up their sleeves, and they determined to get the job done.
CURWOOD: How prepared are we? How prepared is the world for COP 27 in November in Sharm el Sheikh?
MEYER: Well, I think there's a lot of work to do. Everyone's waiting to see what the incoming Egyptian presidency of the Conference of the parties intends for their priorities and their agenda. So, I don't expect COP 27 to be the kind of high-profile big bang COP that Glasgow was. But this one has to build on those gains, develop accountability standards to measure how well countries and companies and sub-national actors are doing. And we really need to scale up the work on addressing climate impacts. And I know that's going to be a priority for the Egyptians. And this is seen as sort of the Africa COP and the impacts on the African continent are more severe than in many other regions in the world. So, I'm sure that will be front and center but it’s a very difficult space given the sums of money that are involved to really address it meaningfully.
CURWOOD: Alden Meyer is a senior associate with E3G and a longtime veteran of the U.N. climate negotiations. Alden, thanks so much for taking the time with us today.
MEYER: It was great to talk to you Steve.
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