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Wednesday, June 12, 2013
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Process and progress at the UNFCCC: A report from SB 38 in Bonn

By Guest Author, Omar Malik, Yale F&ES '13

I was just in Bonn for the mid-year meeting of the advisory bodies of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The purpose of these meetings is to work out the details of the agreements that came out of last year’s Conference of the Parties (COP), and to prepare for the next COP in Warsaw in November. The three groups meeting are the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA), and the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP). Ultimately, the goal of these talks is to help transition from the Kyoto Protocol to a new international agreement on climate change that is supposed to be signed in 2015.

For those who follow climate change talks, many familiar themes emerged from this conference. For instance, the talks were an especially iterative process: meetings are started in a large plenary hall and then move to more focused and smaller contact groups. After that, they move to closed-door meetings, and then—where some argue the real substance of negotiations happens—the delegates go into bilateral discussions before returning to plenary meetings. It’s a cycle of refinement. Another major theme was the UNFCCC process itself. A point of debate that came up at one of last week’s meetings, for instance, was an accusation that Secretariat was speeding the talks along too quickly and perhaps single-handedly steering the process. This is an issue because sovereignty and consensus are both major parts of the negotiations. So while it is in the Secretariat’s interest to move things forward, there’s a catch-22 insofar as the UNFCCC Secretariat can lose credibility by trying too hard to get things done.

This brings up a question: Is progress measured by the process or the product?

To this end, indices are used to gauge various forms of progress in climate change policymaking. One slightly tongue-in-cheek example, above, is contained in the infographic shared by the Climate Action Network (CAN) at the Bonn conference, which shows the correlation between daylight in the conference’s host city and the “level of productivity” achieved. While leaving the future open to success, it implies that the negotiators who attend the conferences are simply subject to the rhythm of the solar-system.

Another—more serious--assessment by CAN along with Germanwatch, a climate change institute, is the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI). The CCPI rates countries on their relative performance on a number of climate change indicators, including sector-specific carbon dioxide emissions levels, energy efficiency, renewables, and national as well as international policies. It’s interesting to note that part of the international policy score comes from surveys done at international conferences such as the SB 38 of the UNFCCC.

On a final note, please check out the accompanying photos of the conference below. During the conference eastern and southern Germany experienced major flooding. This is a reminder that the true measure of climate progress is preventing dangerous on-the-ground impacts, as extreme weather events are one of the underlying drivers for stopping climate change in the first place. 

Posted in: Environmental Performance MeasurementEnvironmental Law & Governance

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