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Reflections from the Bonn Climate Change Conference 2019: Transparency in Climate Actions

I obtained a lofty chance to participate in the Bonn Climate Change Conference 2019 organised by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) thanks to the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS), Finland. The Bonn Climate Change Conference is meant for organizing meetings and negotiating sessions which, as the conference organizing committee informs, ‘will set the stage for raising ambition to curb greenhouse gas emissions, accelerate resilience-building efforts, and ensure that climate policy is built on a solid foundation of the best available science and knowledge’. As an Indian researcher working on climate change, my intention was to learn about the international power dynamics in decision making about the climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives as well as about the ongoing multilateral assessment of climate actions. The developed, industrialized countries are supposed to, on the one hand, do the most to cut emissions on home grounds, and on the other, to support climate change mitigation activities in developing countries by providing financial aids. In return for the monetary aid, the developing countries are expected to report on their climate change mitigation and adaptation actions.

The crucial question is how the developing countries succeed in achieving economic growth while keeping the emissions to the limit. Hence, following three aspects, which were all discussed in the conference, emerge as important. The first one concerns the international assessments by the developed countries’ on how developing countries have made progress in achieving their climate change mitigation aims. The second aspect involves reviewing how the developed countries are providing financial aid to the developing countries and taking stock of their funding. The third aspect deals with how the developing countries balance between economic development and reductions in emissions. The first two aspects were discussed particularly among the party stakeholders i.e. the member countries’ formal representatives while the third one was discussed in depth among the non-party stakeholders i.e. the observer organizations/delegates coming from civil society, NGOs and research organizations. I chose to attend the multilateral assessment event, the workshop on long-term climate finance i.e. the global environmental facility, and two side events that were coordinated by observer organizations beside the official events. These two side events include ‘Taking stock of equity outcomes and policy learning in transnational and jurisdictional REDD+, organized by the University of Helsinki, and ‘Implementing gender- responsive NDC’s from the bottom up, organized by Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF).

The multilateral assessment is a significant part of the international assessment and review where the developed countries are assessed on their progress in meeting their 2020 targets in the presence of all party countries. Thus, the multilateral assessment is a transparency drive in which the developed countries explain their strategies and progress for meeting their 2020 emissions reduction targets in line with the goal of the Paris Climate Change agreement. As a result of this effort, not only can the developed countries learn from each other, but all countries can also get some clues about how the developed countries undertake various initiatives to meet the 2020 target for climate actions. The presentations of the multilateral assessment event revealed a number of excellent ways through which the developed countries particularly Finland, United Kingdom and Sweden had made remarkable achievements towards the 2020 targets, and are set to transform steadily into carbon-neutral countries, if not carbon negative countries. For instance, the total greenhouse gas emissions in Finland in 2017 were 22 percent (16.1 million tonnes) below the 1990 emissions level. Finland has achieved this success by promoting bio-energy. The United Kingdom achieved its success towards greenhouse gas emissions through, on the one hand, public-private initiatives to promote zero- deforestation supply change, and on the other, a sharp fall in coal-fired electric generation and the expansion of renewable energies. Sweden, likewise, proposed a new tax on domestic air travel in order to achieve its success.

But how are developed countries providing financial and technical services to enable the developing countries to undertake climate actions? To get a glimpse into this matter, I had opted to participate in an in-session workshop on ‘Long-term Climate Finance in 2019’. The participants discussed both the scale and scope of climate finance required to reduce the emissions and the elements that enhance the effectiveness of climate finance, as well as the ways to ensure greater predictability of climate finance required to address the needs and priorities of developing countries. It is noteworthy that climate actions nowadays give equal emphasis on both mitigation and adaptation. The session rigorously engaged in these questions by breaking out the participants into four groups, which each discussed separate issues. I participated in a group which discussed the provision of financial and technical support. The participants gave utmost importance on transparency, followed by effectiveness, scale, urgency, holistic approach, target fulfilment, and political will.

Transparency of a process is, as the Collins dictionary defines, ‘its quality of being easily understood or recognized, for example, because there are no secrets connected with it’. The issues of transparency are important, particularly when the powerful countries use global policies for exploiting the uneven climatic regime in the interest of their own benefits. Drawing on data from three case studies in Cambodia, Work, Courtney, Vannrith Rong, Danik Song and Arnim Scheidel (2018: 12) argue that, like the corrupt, patrimonial, and kleptocratic governments in the global south, the international development donors, governments of developed nations, and corporations write laws and policies only to ignore them in practice. Each case study involves partnerships between international institutions and the national government which deploy climate change mitigation and adaptation (CCMA) projects as either a primary or supporting legitimation. All of the partnership initiatives discussed by authors failed to adhere to institutional or internationally recognized standards of justice. The UNFCCC has recognized that the share of greenhouse gas emissions produced by developing nations will grow as economic growth is vital for their development. The economic growth, in turn, leads to an increased level of greenhouse emissions. Borras Jr, Saturnino M. and Jennifer C. Franco (2018) analyse the very essence of the CCMA policies that are undertaken in developing countries. Explaining the dynamic nature of climate-smart agriculture, which has been conceptualised and promoted by various international donor agencies, they argue that climate change actions represent an important ideological milestone which combines the notion of ecological sustainability with the neoliberal notion of economic efficiency. Hence, the neoliberal notion of economic efficiency shapes the idea of ecological sustainability. There is an urgent need to come up with novel understandings of sustainability which do not take for granted the neoliberal reforms.

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