Public Participation Both Winner and Loser at UN Climate Negotiations in Bonn

By Erika Lennon and Sébastien Duyck

Undeterred by the political posturing of the US government, the United Nations climate negotiations continued to make progress towards the development of practical guidelines to assist governments in translating the Paris Agreement into concrete action. For the past two weeks, nearly 200 governments and hundreds of representatives from civil society gathered in Bonn, Germany, to engage in the technical discussions that will create the so-called “Paris Rulebook” – a set of decisions to be adopted next year that specify how governments will implement the Agreement.

The role of civil society and indigenous peoples in climate policy was a central issue in Bonn. Negotiators and NGOs considered practical approaches to ensure that climate policies are informed by traditional knowledge and that the voices of indigenous peoples is heard adequately in future climate change conferences.

Conference participants also laid the groundwork for the adoption of a Gender Action Plan designed to ensure that future policies address climate change while promoting the rights of women. However, this work will only be meaningful if the governments finalize these discussions at the next climate conference (COP23) in Bonn in six months. Governments also reviewed the role of non-governmental organizations in the negotiation process and acknowledged that they should look for ways to increase opportunities for civil society to interact in the climate negotiations.

Governments did demonstrate a willingness to ensure that future policies consider the social impacts of climate change. A new body established to provide support to developing countries confirmed that it will work with other international organizations to ensure that protecting human rights is the basis for climate action. There was also a request that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change better reflect human impacts when compiling its scientific reports.

However, for every step forward there was at least one step back. Despite the positive progress mentioned above, observer participation took a hit elsewhere in the negotiations. Disappointingly, Parties did not commit to high standards of transparency across the negotiations. Once again, civil society was excluded from rooms during which critical issues, such as the creation of a Sustainable Development Mechanism (a carbon trading mechanism) and agriculture, were discussed. It is disappointing that future technical meetings on key negotiation items, including national climate commitments, adaptation policies, reporting of action and support, and the global stocktake (a review process designed to create momentum for enhanced ambition), continue to be closed to observers who can play a valuable role in this process.

Looking ahead, November’s COP23 is in a unique position to highlight the urgency of climate action; it will be the first time a small island state presides over the negotiations. We hope that Fiji will be able to bring new momentum to this process – in particular in the lead up to the review of collective ambition next year. To stay under 1.5C, urgent action and increased ambition is vital.

Further, we hope that Fiji will refocus attention back to the vision of the world embraced by the Paris Agreement. In it, Parties outlined a joint vision in which the world acts collectively to address climate change in a manner that builds on equity, protects the integrity of ecosystems, promotes the rights of those on the front lines of climate change, and empowers communities. This vision should guide national climate action and international cooperation and aligns closely with Fiji’s inclusive talanoa (storytelling and dialogue) spirit that embraces a respectful and participatory approach. The Fijian presidency has a great opportunity to return these values to the center of the negotiations so that international climate cooperation delivers on all of the promises made in Paris.

Originally posted May 19, 2017