The US, European Union and other developed countries closed ranks at the Bonn climate summit on Wednesday, opposing formal scrutiny of how they have performed so far against their commitments to combat climate change by 2020.

This runs contrary to the demand of all groups of developing countries, without exception, that the Bonn talks should a include a discussion on assessing what negotiators call the pre-2020 agenda – the commitments of developed countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide finance and green technologies to developing countries by 2020.

The position of the developed countries ensured that a consensus could not be reached on an issue that has roiled the Bonn negotiations from the first day of the conference on Monday, when developing countries found that the issue had been dropped from negotiations at the highest forum at the summit, called the Conference of Parties.

Till Wednesday, developed countries been silent as Fiji, which is presiding over the Bonn talks, had on the inaugural day of the summit swiftly removed the topic from the official agenda.

At the time, Fiji said that there was no agreement among member-countries on whether the issue should feature on the agenda for the summit at all. Consequently, it said, the pre-2020 discussions would be postponed for the week. It asked Morocco, the country that had previously presided over the negotiations, to hold informal conversations on the possibility of including the topic in the second week of the formal talks.

China, India and other members of the Like-Minded Developing Countries protested, asking countries that oppose a discussion on the pre-2020 agenda to come out and say so. But Fiji did not allow this.

Developed countries come out in the open

On Wednesday, when the informal consultations were held, the US shot down the idea of bringing the pre-2020 agenda back to the table. “We don’t see the need for this item,” it said. “We already have a very important and busy schedule. Everyone in the negotiations rooms complaints about lack of time. There has to be a point where we have to stop adding agenda items. We do not see consensus here, simply because it is being taken up and has been taken up for quite some time.”

The European Union initially said it could prove that it had achieved its pre-2020 obligations. But then it added that discussing this under the formal negotiations at the highest level was not acceptable. Canada, Japan, and Norway also opposed the reintroduction of the pre-2020 agenda. Australia, speaking on behalf of the Umbrella group, which also includes US, Japan and Canada, reiterated this.

These blocks said that various elements of their pre-2020 commitments were being discussed at lower and disaggregated levels in the negotiations and that would suffice.

Developing countries unite

China had pointed out on Monday that the assessment and stock-taking at the highest level was essential to understand if developed countries had actually delivered against their promises. It had found support from India and other nations that are also members of the Like-Minded Developing Countries group.

On Wednesday, most developing country groups came together to support this position of the Like-Minded Developing Countries – a rare situation. “If we are to construct the post-2020 bridge, we will need pre-2020 on the agenda,” said Maldives on behalf of Alliance of Small Island States. Also backing the demand were the G77+China group, the Africa group, the Arab group and the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean.

India listed out a series of promises on emission reduction and provision of finance by developed countries that they had failed to live up to. It noted that even the second phase of Kyoto Protocol (which requires developed countries to reduce emissions against fixed targets by 2020) had not even been ratified by enough rich countries to come into force before the due date. It pointed out that developed countries were in fact supposed to enhance their targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions before 2020 and despite many technical exercises that had shown no results.

India warned that if developed countries were not willing to be assessed and come through on their existing commitments for the pre-2020 period, future discussions on enhancing commitments would merely be “talkshops”.

China endorsed India’s arguments. “If we don’t take action now, when are we going to take action and who will take action?” it asked.

The Africa group said that the developed countries had been unable to meet their targets to reduce emissions before 2020 to keep the global temperature rise capped below 2 degree Celsius from the pre-industrial era. It said the pre-2020 agenda was part of the package agreed in France in 2015 when the Paris Agreement was stitched up for the post-2020 period and these and all previous decisions binding developed countries to act before 2020 should be honoured.

Venezuela backed this up. “This Conference of Parties is an opportunity to send a message to the world that we cannot wait until 2020 to act,” it said.

Brazil said it could not understand why any group of countries would resist having the pre-2020 issues up for negotiations when they all said they valued its importance. “Rejecting this item’s inclusion makes us wonder and question what is behind all that and makes us wonder if the ambition post-2020 is all lip service,” it said.

With the breach between the developing and developed countries so wide, Morocco, which was chairing the session, finally closed it at 8 pm. It asked member-countries to try to find a solution and promised to hold another informal meeting soon.