7 June - a light-hearted marathon with no end in sight

07 June 2010 | News story

On the first day of week two of the negotiations, John Costenbader, Legal Officer at IUCN's Environmental Law Centre, analyses the subdued atmosphere of what feels more and more like a climate 'marathon'.

This is my seventh UNFCCC negotiation with the IUCN delegation, and the first full two-week round of talks this year since the madness that was COP-15 in Copenhagen. As a lawyer working on climate-related projects and policy with the Environmental Law Centre (ELC) here in Bonn the last year and a half, I probably look forward to these meetings way more than most. Not only do the climate talks inject this sleepy town with a fun mix of negotiators, analysts and the occasional climate-crazies from all over the world, I don’t even have to suffer through the jetlag and weeks of stale hotel life that most here do.

Unlike the rest of my IUCN colleagues following REDD+ and adaptation-related issues in the discussion on long-term cooperative action (LCA) I follow the negotiations which focus on defining targets and modalities for a next commitment period of Kyoto Protocol (KP) starting in 2012. The discussions are extremely technical, but I think there are loads of lessons to be learned from Kyoto that can inform whatever future climate regime might (hopefully) come to fruition. Most likely, whatever agreement(s) finally comes out of the LCA will eventually become as complicated especially if any of the financial mechanisms and forest carbon credits anticipated there are meant to work.

The anticipatory buzz of the ‘lightning round’ of 2009 negotiations has been substituted with more subdued expectations thus far in 2010, as Parties and observers struggle to find a balance of adrenalin and stamina for a marathon rather than a fifty-yard dash. There is also a general understanding that the future of the UNFCCC process largely depends on the United States passing any sort of climate legislation and on China agreeing to any international review of its mitigation pledges.

After a heated three days of Parties struggling to merely decide on work schedules for the year in April, there is a lighter feeling to this round of negotiations. So far, I’ve yet to see any of the red bull-drinking activists stringing up banners and running around in polar bear suits that provided an entertaining side circus at Copenhagen and much of 2009. Their absence might be due to the fact so few expect anything close to a final agreement to happen at Cancun in December, after a deal that left most parties unsatisfied in Copenhagen.

Even though no light is shining at the end of this tunnel just yet, the Parties and NGOs have regained their sense of humor in the interim. Perhaps the highlight of this negotiation for me was a brilliant farewell song  to the tune of ‘My Favorite Things’ sung by hoardes of half-drunk delegates for Yvo de Boer at this Saturday’s perennial NGO party, paying tribute to him for his long tenure as UNFCCC Executive Secretary.