Here We Go Again

 Bonn, Germany, June 2011

 The view is awesome, the food is great, the historic monuments are impressing, but the delegates are bored – in other words: we are in Bonn, Germany, where 3500 delegates meet for just another UN Climate Change Conference. The meeting is the second in a row of meetings leading to the grand climate conference in Durban, South Africa, where the next Kyoto-styled climate agreement is supposed to be adopted. However, the big news from Bonn is there is no news, despite the earlier announcements of Christiana Figueres that there is “hope” for a second Kyoto treaty and that many governments expressed their interest in promoting a “low carbon economy”. For reasons unknown so far, the UNFCC, the climate body of the UN, of which Ms. Figueres is the Secretary General, was unable to convene the opening plenary session until the evening of the first conference day. Thousands of government and NGO delegates were waiting in the grand meeting room and in the hallways – and nothing happened so far.

There are various theories what is going on behind closed doors. Since Ms. Figueres greatest concern was the “deadlock” of the international climate negotiations as the main result of the Bangkok meeting earlier this year, it must be exactly this “deadlock” that is preventing Ms. Figueres from officially opening the conference. Major nations such as China, India, Russia and Brazil are apparently not at all ready to follow the way to the very restrictive “carbon economy” drafted by UN bureaucrats and green gurus. Meanwhile, some hundred “premium” delegates convene behind closed doors in a room called “G77 and China” since the early morning. The public and NGOs are excluded.

CFACT, that is observing the conference with delegates on the ground, was however able to obtain at least some information: key players behind closed doors – as the group name indicates – are China and the EU under the leadership of the German government. While the former is the strongest opponent of further restricting economic development and “poverty eradication”, the latter has a lot to loose in case the entire project of internationally binding carbon emission targets is falling into pieces. While some British and US delegates were seen waiting in the grand plenary hall, none of the senior German and Chinese officials has been seen. And quoted chief US negotiator Todd Stern arguing that extending Kyoto was “unrealistic”, and “legally binding international obligations to cut emissions are not necessary”. Other features show in the same direction: it is obvious that the numbers of government officials went down dramatically. It is no longer difficult to find accommodation in Bonn during the climate talks – which was unthinkable during the same talks a year ago. Media coverage and the number of accredited journalists went down as well. The most obvious is however the small number and the negligible visibility of green NGOs. What we see is however a shift of the focus and an adjustment of their strategy. Green NGOs are still influencing the governments all over the “western” world big time. From their perspective, anti-carbon policies can be far easier implemented through “like-minded” governments and government agencies such as EPA. Former green street activists have over the years evolved into white collar activists and are much lesser dependent on the output of UN conferences. With close relations to the mainstream media, the UN is also no longer needed to influence the public debate. On the other hand, it isn’t of course totally impossible that some kind of deal eventually leads to another agreement Kyoto-style. A first step in this direction would be an agreement on the continuation of the international climate talks. These so-called commitments of the Annex-1-parties under the Kyoto protocol are discussed by a special ad hoc working group. But it is yet to early for a critical review.


  • Einar Du Rietz is a journalist and communications consultant based in Europe. He has authored several environmental reports for the Electrolux Group and written many blogs for the Center for the New Europe at CNE Environment.