Negotiators have been examining which elements of the Copenhagen accord could be salvaged and turned into a binding global deal in Mexico
guardian.co.uk, Monday 12 April 2010 12.24 BST
Over the last three days in Bonn, climate change negotiators from around the world met for the first time since the fiasco of last December's conference in Copenhagen. It wasn't the happiest of reunions.
As representatives of the 192 countries that are party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), they had a messy task.
Copenhagen had ended in chaotic scenes. Two years of intense negotiations were due to end there with a global agreement on how to tackle climate change.
But these talks and the process that ran them were swept aside in the final hours as heads of states from a handful of countries met in secret and cobbled together an alternative text – the Copenhagen accord – which said little and did not legally bind any countries to act.
In the end, the parties to the UNFCCC merely "noted" the existence of the accord, as some were utterly opposed to it.
While almost everyone agreed that Copenhagen was a failure, different countries and negotiating blocks differ on who or what to blame. What is certain is that Copenhagen generated a huge level of mistrust between the developed and developing countries.
The aim of the negotiators who met in Bonn at the weekend was to pick up the broken pieces of the Danish meeting and see what could be salvaged and turned into a proper global agreement at the next UNFCCC conference, in Cancun, Mexico in December.
The United States seems to be the only country that still sees the Copenhagen accord as having a life of its own. Almost all the rest, including countries that have "associated" themselves with the accord have insisted that the UNFCCC remains the only agreed decision-making forum.
Hence the discussions in Bonn revolved around which bits of the accord could be brought into the UNFCCC and how.
The Bonn talks were mainly about procedures - for example, which texts to start with, how many meetings to hold before Cancun, whether to mandate the chair to prepare draft text, and so on - but there was also much informal stocktaking about which pieces could be put together by Cancun.
While some countries continued to call for an all-or-nothing approach, most feel that it is more realistic to aim for a number of less ambitious, partial agreements on several elements. These include ways to transfer climate-friendly technologies and funds for adaptation to climate change from rich to poorer countries, as well as a deal that would compensate countries for keeping their forests intact.
This would mean delaying the more difficult decisions on ambitious targets for countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and an overall legally binding agreement to the conference in South Africa at the end of 2011 or beyond.
But to achieve even the smaller agreements negotiators will need to hold Copenhagen's broken shards together with the "glue" of money.
So throughout 2010 the climate change talks are likely to focus on finance, and particularly the billions that the developed countries pledged to provide to developing nations at the end of the Copenhagen meeting. This includes the so-called "quick start" pledge of US$30bn of "new and additional" funding as well as the longer term financing of US$100bn a year from 2020 onwards.
The deciding factor in whether anything at all can be achieved in Cancun will be the means of monitoring, reporting and verifying who gives how much and how these funds are delivered.
Some developed countries already seem to be double-counting old pledges as well as raiding overseas aid budgets, which are meant for development, not tackling climate change.
This could end up causing more distrust instead of fostering the badly needed restoration of trust between developed and developing countries. Some developed countries seem to think that developing countries will take whatever they are offered on the basis that "beggars can't be choosers".
They do not seem to realise that, unlike overseas aid, any payments pledged under the UNFCCC are treaty obligations. Such payments, especially for adaptation to climate change in poor and vulnerable developing countries, are perceived not as charitable aid but as compensation to the victims of pollution according to the "polluter pays" principle.
They will soon find out that beggars can indeed be choosers.
• Saleemul Huq is senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development