Countries met again at a new climate change meeting, but this time to work out solutions.
The latest round of United Nations (UN) climate talks, held in Bonn from 29 April to 3 May this year, was pervaded — for the first time in years — by a good feeling. A sense of moderate optimism grew among the more than 1,000 participants discussing the efforts to curb emissions and drive green growth that should be mobilized by the international climate treaty expected in 2015. In the words of the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, “Countries discussed concrete solutions to speed up and scale up action”. This is not to say that they converged on the need to set new and more stringent binding national emissions caps in 2015, but they definitely joined the roundtable with a much more cooperative disposition than in the past.
Cooperation, however, did not extend to all of the discussions that took place in Bonn. In fact, the contention between developed and developing countries about sharing the burden of emissions mitigation was still marked. It has long been debated — including at the Conference of the Parties in Doha last December — whether industrialized countries responsible for historical emissions should continue to bear the largest proportion of mitigation costs in the future. The most contested view is that poor and emerging economies are increasing carbon emissions and therefore should intensify their efforts to mitigate. This is certainly opposed by developing countries, such as the Philippines, for example, whose interests were firmly defended in Bonn by its charismatic negotiator Bernaditas de Castro Müller. She made a strong call for rich nations to reduce their carbon footprint when poor countries have very limited resources and struggle with the effects of climate change.
The international community has to support developing nations as poverty undoubtedly increases susceptibility to climate-related risks. But vulnerability to climate change has several dimensions that depend on a combination of economic and social factors. A social condition important in the context of climate risks is gender, another issue tabled at the talks in Bonn. The perspective seemed to be that women are at greater risk from climate change than men because of their role in supporting families, especially in less-developed countries, which often means having to secure water, fuel and food. But women's exposure to climate impacts is not simply a threat to households, as Bangladeshi representative for UN Women (a recent UN initiative for gender equality), Christine Hunter, pointed out at the 7th International Conference on Community-based Adaptation to Climate Change a few days before the talks in Bonn began. She felt that the debate is rarely on women's own rights and that “Rights focus on people...who can drive their own development”. Future climate negotiations should build on these discussions, and will hopefully embrace a rights-based approach to limit the vulnerability of human societies to climate change.