When ministers from 196 countries join the climate change summit in Bonn on Monday for the second week of talks, they will get the sour aftertaste of the first week of negotiations. The summit, which aims to discuss the fine print of ensuring that the Paris Agreement is implemented from 2020, began on an acrimonious note on November 6. It has not quite recover from that bad start.

Behind closed doors, the ministers will attempt to break the unexpected impasse, besides resolving some differences that observers had already anticipated.

The negotiations in Bonn are not the end of the road. The implementation arrangements for the Paris Agreement are to be put into place by the end of next year. The ministers have the leeway to postpone decisions on some vexed issues and use this round of talks only to understand what each important block of countries will definitely not cede as a position – what negotiators call redlines.

The ministerial talks will include formal open meetings under the United Nations negotiations, closed-door discussions, meetings of formal groups of countries that negotiate as blocks as well as bilateral meetings between various countries to broker compromises. Observers and members of non-governmental organisations will not be able to attend many of these meetings, which usually makes it difficult for them to assess what each important country or group of countries is really aiming to do

A senior negotiator from a developing country said that the best result that could be hoped for in Bonn would be that the participants are able to submit their differing points of views on various steps that have to be taken to implement the Paris Agreement. These submissions will become the basis for understanding the range of options countries are looking at to resolve an issue. “Next year, we will negotiate based on these compiled texts,” the negotiator said. “Only in few minor cases do I expect concrete decisions this year itself.”

But one issue that will need to be resolved at Bonn, this person said, is reintroducing the the pre-2020 agenda into the negotiations and clearly deciding how this agenda will be addressed over the next three years.

What Bonn summit must resolve

The pre-2020 agenda refers to the commitments developed countries have made to cutting their greenhouse gas emission and providing finance to developing country to fight climate change by 2020. But when the talks opened on November 6, developing countries found that a discussion about assessing these commitments was missing from the negotiating table. Some thought it was an inadvertent mistake on the part of Fiji, which is presiding over the negotiations. But soon realised this was being pushed by the developed world wanted. The US and European Union got together to block the attempts of developing countries to put the issue back on the table.

The controversy spiralled as 137 developing countries accused the developed countries of refusing to meet their pre-2020 obligations. Developed countries insisted that they were already doing enough to meet their commitments. So the developing countries made another concrete proposal asking for the rich nations to deliver on their commitments against strict deadlines.

This got the current presidency of the summit, Fiji, and the previous presidency, Morocco, negotiating behind closed door to find a resolution. But none of their solutions included a plan to reintroduce the pre-2020 agenda back into the negotiations.

The tension from this impasse also swept into other negotiating rooms.

“It seems it was a premeditated move to ensure conversations on ratcheting up action against climate change before 2020 dies at Bonn,” a negotiator from the G77+China block of developing countries said on the condition of anonymity. “They have refused to engage on details for issues like transparency of their financial commitments. In parallel developed countries want to advance work on only those post-2020 arrangements that favour them.”

Developing countries think this is a ploy to rewrite the Paris Agreement through the backdoor at the Bonn summit.

US as usual

When US President Donald Trump announced in June that he might walk out of the Paris Agreement by 2020 if the global pact was not rearranged to his satisfaction, the EU expressed its strong disappointment.

At the Bonn summit, the US delegation is smaller than it has been in previous years but it has come prepared and has old hands to guide its positions. From the second day of the summit, it negotiated hard and along the lines that US had done under the Obama administration. It opposed any proposals to differentiate between developing and developed countries when it comes to the nature of their commitments under Paris Agreement to fight climate change after 2020. It blocked discussions on creating a transparent accounting regime that discloses how much funds the developed world provides the rest to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. It halted the idea of creating a mechanism to ratchet up emission reduction targets of countries after 2020 based on the principle of equity.

On many of these fronts, it found the EU supporting it vocally or quietly by letting it take the lead through the Umbrella group.

“As we see it, they are dancing together at Bonn and the Fiji presidency has largely just looked on,” said one negotiator from a developing country. “As the presidency for the first time had gone to a small island country we had expected a more constructive role.”

On its part, Fiji has continued to promise transparency and dialogue. But several senior negotiators from various developing country groups have expressed their disappointment.

“The president of a Conference of Parties plays a critical leadership role,” said one person. “The president needs to not only act as neutral but also be seen acting neutrally. Some parties do not see that happening at Bonn.”

Another said, “It is a tough role to play for Fiji. Each of us have our own geopolitical compulsions as nation states but at these forums we are expected to rise above that.”

Ministerial round

Over the next five days, countries will have to decide on the pre-2020 agenda. This will then help resolve – or entangle – the other big argument at the Bonn summit: the so-called Facilitative Dialogue. This refers to the iron-clad arrangements backed by Fiji to get countries to review and enhance their existing commitments on emissions reduction even before the Paris Agreement kicks off.

Fiji’s first proposal on the dialogue was quiet on the need to link the emission reduction targets of developing world to the developed countries’ commitments to cutting emissions and funding promises before 2020. In resolving the pre-2020 crisis, a proposal has now been offered to link the two, though rather weakly, as far as most developing countries are concerned.

Fiji put its political heft between defining the shape of this dialogue as the big outcome of the Bonn summit. In the first week, not many discussions were held about the shape of this dialogue. This too is likely to take a good chunk of the time ministers will spend behind closed doors in the second week of the climate negotiations.