On the last day of the UN climate talks more than 40 members of the international youth climate movement rapped at the close of plenary one in front of hundreds of government delegates, check out the video below, and then read my wrap of the talks (apologies on the length). Rap – wrap what a wordsmith I am! 😉

The UN climate talks in Bonn officially closed last Friday evening (12/6/09) with the bang of a hammer from the chair. It sure has been a busy two weeks, with endless meetings, interventions, press briefings, plenary sessions and yet more meetings. But what has actually been achieved? While most country delegates will tell you in the hallways that there is a “positive vibe” and “a shared desire for moving forward” I would be pulling the wool over your eyes if I said we’ve moved anywhere over the past fourteen days.

So what have the delegates been busy doing? After two weeks what we have is a negotiating text – more than two hundred pages of ideas on how to address climate change – and don’t get me wrong, it is a necessary place to start and there are some great ideas in the draft text. But, what we haven’t had over the past two weeks is any real agreement on the crucial content of the text. Instead of focusing on what we needed to accomplish together, wealthy polluting nations have focused on what they think they can get away with. Rich nations have danced around any real discussion of:

  • an aggregate emission reduction for developed (Annex 1) countries
  • a commitment to establish a finance mechanism which will generate the huge scale of money needed to support developing countries adapt to the impacts of climate change and reduce their emissions.

This game of dodge ball is not a symptom of the talks themselves, the UN negotiation process has been moving along just fine, it is a symptom of lack of political will in the capital cities in key nations around the world. World leaders are failing to take leadership and this is severely holding up not only the UN climate talks, but our also our chance to avoid runaway climate change.

So at the end of week two, where do we stand?

1. Emission reduction targets: Science tells us that in order to avoid dangerous climate change, we need at least a 40% reduction in emissions by 2020. These emissions reductions need to predominantly come from developed countries. Rich countries are home to less than 5% of the global population, but have caused over 75% of the emissions which cause climate change, and these same nations largely have control of both the wealth and technology needed to address climate change. Despite this, an overall emissions reduction target from developed nations is missing in action, and what they have offered instead is dismal to say the least. Rich nations have refused repeated pleas from developing countries to commit to an aggregate emission reduction target of at least 40% by 2020. Instead, what they have put on the table are inadequate, and in some cases, entirely ridiculous reduction targets.

Overview of the emission reductions for some rich Annex 1 countries:


Emission Reduction Target some rich Annex 1 countries have committed to (based on 1990 levels)

Fair shares of overall Annex I mitigation target (total across all – 40% below 1990 levels by 2020). #


-24% maximum*





European Union

-30% maximum





United State of America

Yet to give confirmed figure


NOTE * 24% – Australia has unfair conditions, and will only commit to this target in the context of an ambitious global agreement, see my earlier blog “Australia says yes to a safe climate future “ for more details.

What’s wrong with this table? The numbers of actual current commitments simply don’t add up. The UN Secretariat added up the pledges that have been made so far by wealthy polluting countries and they came to less than half of what is required to prevent catastrophic climate change. The total cut for rich countries adds up to, at most, 14%. On the current trajectory mapped out by wealthy developed nations we, and our children, would face catastrophic climate change including rising sea levels, massive droughts and subsequent water and food shortages, increasingly severe hurricanes, cyclones and floods.

2. Financing: Of equal import – and even more obvious in absence from these two weeks – is agreement on financing. A crucial part of an agreement at Copenhagen will be ensuring that wealthy polluting nations who have caused the climate change to date, take responsibility for funding developing countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change and provide enough funding for developing countries to reduce their greenhouse emissions. We will all benefit from developing countries reducing emissions but they can’t afford to do it alone. We urgently need rich countries to agree to the scale of funding required – at least $150bn each year – and the mechanism, or method, for delivering the funding. This mechanism MUST be based on an automatic method of generating finance, like the proposal (outlined in earlier blog posts) of selling permits that countries currently receive for free from the UN.

3. Notable policy announcement from Australia during Bonn: On the penultimate day of the Bonn talks, Australia called for bunker fuels – emissions from international aircraft and shipping – to be dealt with under the UNFCCC and for reduction targets for these sectors to be agreed at the Copenhagen climate talks in December. This is a good step in the right direction, for too long, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) – the two peak bodies for bunker fuels – have failed to adequately address the huge emissions that are caused by their industries. Since Kyoto, aviation and shipping emissions have grown rapidly while many other sectors have reduced theirs. Australia’s proposal is positive contribution to moving the UN climate talks along, however unfortunately, their proposal as it currently stands, makes no reference to differentiation (how this proposal will affect countries in different ways, eg remote and vulnerable countries) nor does it make reference to the possibility of raising finance. Any revenue raised from a levy on these fuels should be directed to developing countries to help them adapt to the impacts of climate change. In short, Australia’s proposal is a good start but it must include reference to differentiation and how a levy will be used to generate finance for developing countries for this proposal to be just and equitable and make a real difference in tackling climate change.

4. Looking towards Copenhagen: The oft quoted ‘Road to Copenhagen’ is dotted with international meetings, meaning we still have a few chances to get some real movement on climate change from our political leaders. Australia is in a unique position to take strong action, unlike the European Union we do not need to negotiate within a block of diverse countries and unlike the USA we have ratified Kyoto. The time has come for Rudd to step up to the challenge and seize the opportunity to switch to a clean energy future, one that fuels the economy and protects the climate. Rudd simply will not achieve this without strong support from all sectors of the Australian public. The time has come for creative and powerful activism that will really change the face of the debate, and show our leaders that we want them to act in such a way that will secure a safe climate future for all countries and all peoples.

On a more personal note, I think that many of you know that this was the first time I had ever attended UN climate change meetings – it has been a huge learning curve for me, but also a really valuable experience to be a part of. Although I often felt frustrated by the lack of movement during these talks, I have consistently felt inspired by civil society, the international youth movement and my non-government organisation colleagues amongst others. There is a real sense that although there is a tough battle ahead of us, it’s not an impossible one. Thank you to everyone who has read and contributed to this process so far – I am thankful for your engagement and look forward to this project continuing en route to the Copenhagen meetings in December!! Right now, I am looking forward to a few days off before my long flight back to Sydney.

From your tracker with love,