India, China and other members of the Like-Minded Developing Countries group won a big victory at the Bonn climate change summit on Wednesday. After a week of bitter negotiations, they ensured that developed countries will have to report on what they will do by 2020 to protect the world against climate change.

Since the beginning of the negotiations in the German capital, the developed world, led by the US and the European Union, had refused to submit their commitments in this regard to scrutiny under the UN framework Convention on Climate Change.

In 2010 and 2011, the developed world had promised to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by specific levels. Most developed countries, with the exception of some like the US, committed to do so under the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 – a globally agreed-upon set of rules for rich nations to follow to reduce emissions. The developed countries also committed to provide up to $100 billion in funds by 2020 and transfer green technologies to developing counties. This came to be called as the pre-2020 agenda of the climate change talks.

But at the Bonn talks, India and other developing countries found that this pre-2020 agenda had been dropped from the formal UN negotiations. That meant the developed countries would not be held accountable for their commitments up to 2020.

All the developing countries under the G77+China group of 137 countries accused the rich nations of walking away from their existing commitments even as they asked for all countries to shoulder greater responsibility in future to stave off climate change.

The arguments at Bonn over the pre-2020 agenda led to a grid-lock in negotiations about the drawing up a roadmap for the Paris Agreement, which is to be implemented after 2020.

But on Wednesday the developed countries eventually gave in.

Cutting emissions

All countries principally agreed that the developed nations would report about their emission reduction targets for 2020. They would also have to inform the UN climate change forum about the levels of finance they provide to developing countries by 2020.

The developing countries did one better than achieving just this significant concession from the developed world.

The presidency of Bonn climate talks, Fiji had proposed a process to ratchet up the post-2020 emission reduction targets of all countries – developing and developed by 2018. Its proposal did not acknowledge that under the Paris Agreement, the targets of developing countries post-2020 are linked to three conditions – how well the developed countries perform by 2020 against their obligations, how much of the responsibility they shoulder to reduce emissions after 2020 and how much finance they provide to developing world after 2020 to reduce their emissions.

On Wednesday, the developing countries got Fiji and developed countries to redraw these linkages and conditions. The process to deepen emission reduction cuts by developing countries – called the facilitative dialogue – will now have to necessarily consider how effectively developed countries have done so far against their promises.

“The reality is we know the US is not going to do any more to fight climate change by 2020,” said a senior negotiator from the G77+China group who did not want to be identified. “We are not sure if it will do anything after 2020. The EU will hide behind the US and do as little as possible. What we wanted was at least a record be created of how the developed world failed to live by its existing obligations while asking others to do more. I think the decision today shall ensure that when history is written it will record their failure.”

By several measures, the decision taken on Wednesday asking developed country to report their pre-2020 achievements do not go as far as India, China and other developing countries had initially asked for.

“We wanted a clearer and stronger decision that could force developed countries to meet their existing commitments,” the negotiatior said. “What we got today was a lose framework for them to report their pre-2020 achievements. I do not think it requires them to meet their obligations but it should help create a public record of developed world’s hypocrisy. To work constructively and look ahead we compromised and have agreed to the decision today.”

As a formality, this decision will have to be endorsed by ministers of 196 countries by Friday when the summit end.

“There are two ways to see today’s decision,” said another negotiator from the developing countries block. “One way is to imagine that developing countries were cheated of their rights at the onset of Bonn negotiations. They recovered their rights partially today. The other way to see it is that the game is biased against developing countries. Yet, today they scored a significant victory in the face of systemic adversity.”