Climate Talks Begin in Bonn as Typhoon hits Philippines

Almost at the same time international climate negotiations began in Bonn, Germany, this week, the Philippines was in the middle of being battered by yet another typhoon, this one named Lando (international name Koppu). The stance by developed nations is worrisome, with few, including the United States, willing to commit to hard-and-fast rules to bring down global warming.

The Bonn negotiations are in the hands of an ad-hoc working group to negotiate the final details of an agreement before the major conference in Paris in December. That conclave, under the unwieldy name the Conference of Parties, is a yearly meeting of countries under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which has been working for two decades to attempt to solve the climate crisis.

Observers say the Paris talks will be crucial to hold global warming below 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, a goal many believe is both unachievable and not ambitious enough. The world has already warmed by 0.8C. Countries have already submitted their carbon mitigation commitments through the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions process. Taken together, however, all countries’ commitments are still not enough to reach the sub-2C target.

A new study, released on Oct. 20 by the 34-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – the world’s wealthy nations – confirms that. “Advanced and emerging economies have made progress in addressing climate change, yet most are on a trajectory that would see them fall short of their mitigation goals,” according to the report. “Governments need to significantly accelerate their efforts and strengthen their climate change policies.”

Developing nations are complaining that the final text has been cut from 80 pages to 20 and that the goal of "decarbonizing" the global economy has been cut from the text. There have been other complaints that the conference is listening too much to fossil fuel producers. The current negotiating text also contains only three lines on compensation for loss and damage, an issue that has become a major bone of contention for the developing countries most directly in the path of major weather events.

Vulnerable countries like the Philippines, which have already faced devastating weather events, are calling for a more ambitious target of 1.5C. At 0.8 degrees of warming, many nations have already faced accelerated sea level rises, longer droughts, and extreme weather events that have led to much loss and damage.

The upcoming Paris meeting is not the first time countries have tried to form a legally binding deal that would solve the climate crisis. In 2009, the COP15 in Copenhagen tried but failed to deliver. In the ensuing six years, a growing number of catastrophic events have been attributed by many climatologists to climate change: extreme heat in India and extreme rains in Myanmar and the Philippines, and drought in California.

The Philippines was being devastated by Haiyan during the COP19 Warsaw negotiations. It was then that former climate change commissioner and negotiator Naderev “Yeb” Saño delivered a speech that would make a great impact at the negotiations.

“We can take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where super typhoons are a way of life. Because we refuse, as a nation, to accept a future where super typhoons like Haiyan become a fact of life,” Saño said in his impassioned speech.

But last year, just as COP20 opened in Lima, the Philippines was again faced a typhoon (Ruby, international name Hagupit). This year, with the beginning on Oct. 19 of the last five days of the negotiations, Lando made its presence felt in Luzon, and has just exited the country. The country, the largest in the world to be exposed to continuing typhoons, is usually battered by six to nine a year. These coincidences of typhoons entering the country while climate negotiations are happening should serve as a reminder for world leaders to start acting on the climate crisis. While countries are busy debating the right words to use in the agreement, people are losing their lives and livelihoods – with 23 dead and six missing and presumed dead from Lando in the past week.

The last five days of the Bonn negotiations are very important. They set the tone of whether Paris will be a success or not. They will either set a strong foundation or leave shaky ground for a climate agreement. The last Bonn negotiations, in September, saw a very slow process, frustrating many countries, especially the G77 bloc.

“They keep on talking but nobody wants to compromise. There is no effort to negotiate,” said Tess Vistro of Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWD).

It will be a long and difficult fight for the next five days, especially for developing countries like the Philippines. There are battles to be fought for those most impacted by climate change. But right now, where we want to see a strong climate agreement, other countries like the United States clearly do not want to commit to anything concrete.

Another typhoon has caused devastation in the Philippines. Lives are again lost, crops are again damaged, homes are again swept away. The sympathies of world leaders are nothing but empty words if nothing concrete comes out of this week’s negotiations. There is no more time for rhetoric. There is only time for decisions to be made.

Renee Juliene Karunungan is the Communications Director and climate campaigner of Dakila, an organization that has been working on climate justice since 2009. She is also a climate tracker for Adopt A Negotiator.