The Slow Crawl Towards Paris

Written by Natalya on .

For a different perspective on the UNFCCC process, this time I am attending the SBSTA 42 and ADP 2-9 UNFCCC conference in Bonn, Germany, which is taking place from the 1-11 of June at the World Conference Center in Bonn. I have been welcomed by sunny skies and warm weather in Germany and the venue is an inspiring center near the bank of the Rhine River, near the UN campus. After attending two Conference of the Parties and participating in a quarter long SIO298 class on the UNFCCC process this quarter, led by John-O Niles and Lisa Levin at Scripps, I am finally seeing through the maze and learning to navigate the UNFCCC meetings.

Delegates negotiating the text of the ADP in the Chamber Hall

A few of the helpful tricks of the trade I’ve learned is that the Negotiators App is a great way to stay on top of the schedule for the day and also has a social media component. This can be downloaded by anyone interested in following along with the meetings. Another trick is to follow along on the UNFCCC main website, where many of the main news items and events relating to the meeting are updated several times a day. I’ve also enjoyed starting off the morning by reading through the Eco Newsletter - a short daily publication by environmental NGOs about the Fossil of the Day and progress (or lack thereof) at the meetings. I’m guessing all of these resources were available at the Warsaw and Lima COPs I attended as well, but those meetings were so large that I was overwhelmed with the people, events, resources, and constant rush that I never noticed them. This meeting contrasts with the COPs in that it is much smaller in size with fewer attendees and represents different tracks of decisions within the UNFCCC. Still, there are observer groups in attendance, some side events, and some booths that are present, but overall it is much more intimate and offers more clarity on the proceedings.

Entrance to the new World Conference Center in Bonn, Germany

SBSTA stands for the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice and it supports the COP meetings through the provision of timely information on scientific and technological matters as they relate to either the Framework Convention (UNFCCC) or the Kyoto Protocol. At this conference, both SBSTA will be meeting as well as the ADP (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform). The ADP is the track within the UNFCCC, which is tasked with developing the language of the Paris Agreement, which (if successfully signed at COP21 in Paris this December) will represent the first global agreement on climate change. Right now the draft text of the ADP is 90 pages long and consists of many options and many brackets. The goal of this ADP meeting as well as two additional intercessional meetings which will take place in early September and in October, is to consolidate and streamline the current ADP draft by COP21 so that it stands a change of being approved by all parties in Paris. Shockingly, even in this incredibly long working version of the ADP, the words “ocean,” “marine”, or “coast” are nowhere to be found. This means that the global agreement on climate change is leaving out 71% of the world. While arguments can be made that it is implicit, given the number of issues on the table and the complexity of the process, anything that is not explicit remains functionally invisible.

ADP negotiations are sometimes interrupted by calls for consultation of all nations within a certain umbrella group or coalition, as can be seen here with the group of negotiators standing in the corner. 

Organizationally, the ADP is broken into several sections, which all seem to be negotiated separately, oddly enough. I had expected that the editing of the material would be carried out in a more linear fashion, from start to end, but that’s not how it seems to be done. So far, I’ve attended an ADP session on mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage, timelines, implementation and compliance, and a facilitated meeting on workstream 2. Overall, my impressions have been that things are moving painfully slow and over the last two days, I haven’t seen a single seemingly meaningful breakthrough. Countries appear to be dragging their feet and exhibiting general unwillingness to compromise on any of the language, focusing instead on talking in circles and cutting out lines of text by stuffing more information into brackets without actually making any decisions on content. I am stumped as to how and when they will decide on the content in time for Paris. The general feeling is that an agreement will be signed in Paris, but it may be soft and somewhat vague if things continue in the same vein. Despite the frustrating nature of the current negotiations, it is still a special time to watch the process evolve as we move closer and closer to Paris 2015.

The sun sets over the Rhine River with little overall progress to show for the day in terms of ADP negotiations 


Contact Information

Ocean Scientists for Informed Policy
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
University of California, San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92083-0202