UN Bonn pre-COP flops

Road to COP29

UN Bonn pre-COP flops

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What would a UN climate conference be without a scandal?

Editor’s note: Contributing Editor and sustainability pioneer Hunter Lovins has been filing dispatches from UN climate conferences. Here is her latest from Bonn where, as Carbon Brief put it, “Developed and developing countries were locked in a bitter struggle over who should provide the trillions of dollars required to tackle climate change across the global south.” -Barclay Palmer 

True to form, the 60th meeting of the “Subsidiary Bodies” of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) opened in Bonn last month to the revelation — long suspected — that Sultan Dr. Al Jabar, the sitting President of the UN’s annual climate conference called COP, which meets every year to “negotiate solutions” to global warming, had used COP28 in his home country of United Arab Emirates to negotiate oil and gas deals, not solve the climate crisis. 

An investigation by Global Witness documented that Al Jabar’s promise not to use the presence of the world’s nations in his country to line the pocket of ADNOC, the UAE national oil company of which he is the president, was spoken with a certain economy of truth: “The potential $100 billion value of these 20 deals is five times greater than the value of deals it pursued the previous year and 40 per cent higher than that of the previous four years combined, showing a huge spike in business activity in the year UAE hosted COP.” 

Many of the deals struck were with Azerbaijan, yet another petrostate, and host of this year’s COP29 in November.  

As I reported from last year’s COP28, Al Jabar tried to deflect these suspicions by mansplaining to Mary Robinson, Chair of the Elders and about as close as the world has to a living saint,  lecturing her that there is no science saying that we need to phase out fossil fuels.

We’re out of time to quibble over details.

In November 2023, prior to COP28, Al Jabar also brushed away his pay-to-play approach to UN climate action. “Let me ask you a question:  Do you think the UAE or myself will need the COP or the COP presidency to go and establish business deals or commercial relationships? I promise you, never ever did I see these talking points that they refer (to), or that I ever even used such talking points in my discussions.”  

Actually, it now appears that he did.

Related reading: Dispatches from COP28: A personal invitation from a thousand scientists

The recent Bonn meeting also saw the usual crop of protests, with young activists calling for climate justice, as well as payment and debt relief to the nations responsible for just 4% of global warming but now bearing most of the damages. Rich nations have repeatedly promised to pay poor nations billions for the climate change damages brought by their industrialization. So far, the check isn’t in the mail. 

Young climate activists at Bonn. Source: Hunter Lovins

So did the Bonn climate negotiations achieve anything? 

Well, no. There’s really not much left to be negotiated in these meetings: The world agreed at the Earth Summit Rio in 1992, in Kyoto at COP3 in 1997, and again in Paris in 2015 at COP21 to limit global warming to “safe levels.” We’ve failed to do that, as made obvious by recent deadly floods in Kenya, Dubai, China, Germany, Bangladesh, Brazil and many other countries, fires from Canada to Chile, heat domes in Asia, Europe, America, catastrophic weather pretty much everywhere and now the threat of the collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). Indeed, a recent study warns that AMOC could collapse as early as 2025. We’re out of time to quibble over details.

United Nations tourism  

But it is very much in the interest of the hundreds of delegates from every country on earth to get paid to come to Germany, stay in the comfort of the Marriott next door and argue over details. 

Yes, it would be nice to clarify the rules governing how the world will trade carbon offsets, whether the rich nations will indeed pay for the damage they are causing to the majority of the world with their addiction to fossil fuels (they won’t), and whether it is worth worrying about food security in the face of worsening famines (it is).

But here’s a shocker: no agreements were reached. 

On the table, though, were issues that the authoritarians hold dear, such as banning observers. 

So some of the world’s top climate scientists and NGO’s met with representatives from Azerbaijan and Brazil, arguing that the UN’s push to exclude us from the COPs is short-sighted. While it would simplify UNFCCC’s job of issuing passes to the precious Blue Zone, it would doom future COPs, even those not held in petrostates, to continued failure. And it will continue on the path toward turning COPs into Davos: an exclusive deal-making opportunity for the elite.

Related reading: After COP28: Do One Thing

If there is a silver lining to COP, it is the chance for scientists, climate entrepreneurs and activists to work together on non-negotiated solutions. Despite the constant calls to boycott the COPs, this is why I go.

If there is a silver lining to COP, it is the chance for scientists, climate entrepreneurs and activists to work together on non-negotiated solutions.

In Bonn, Natural Capitalism Solutions teamed with NOW Partners, the Future Economy Forum, and many other groups to host side events and dialogues with youth delegates, negotiators, government representatives, business leaders and many others. 

Our “Financing a Just Transition to a Regenerative Food Systems through Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration” side event was co-hosted by Sekem, Imaflora, and EIT Food. We described how regenerative agriculture is actually addressing the climate crisis, and outlined pragmatic initiatives underway to promote regenerative agricultural practices.  

With examples from Egypt, India, the U.S. and Brazil, the panel presented tangible cases demonstrating the strong economic case for combining regenerative agriculture with carbon credits. These include SEKEM’s high integrity whole systems carbon credits now helping thousands of farmers transition from chemical agriculture to regenerative practices, which remove carbon from the atmosphere and return it to the soil, increasing fertility and water holding capacity. 

So no, I was not surprised that the official meetings in Bonn ended in frustration. But I was encouraged by the work of hundreds of climate concerned citizens who were actively engaged to drive climate solutions at scale. This will be on display again at Climate Week in September in New York. 

This all goes to show that the climate problem will not get solved by the UN. It will be solved by you. So join us. Please. 

Featured photo source: UNFCCC

Written by

Hunter Lovins

Hunter Lovins is a pioneer in the global environmental movement. An author of 16 books and hundreds of scientific articles and founder of Natural Capitalism Solutions, she has consulted on sustainability strategies in business, economic development, agriculture, energy, water, security, and climate policies for scores of governments, communities, and companies worldwide, including heads of state and energy, defense, commerce, environment and other agencies. Chief Impact Officer of Change Finance and a Managing Partner of Now Partners, Hunter has won dozens of awards, including the Right Livelihood Award. Time recognized her as a Millennium Hero for the Planet; Newsweek called her a Green Business Icon. Her recent book A Finer Future: Creating an Economy in Service to Life won a Nautilus Award.