Why do this week’s UN climate talks in Bonn matter?

Ministerial involvement makes Bonn a key opportunity to build relationships ahead of Ban Ki-moon's autumn summit

This week’s climate talks in Bonn look to be just another stage post en route to the pivotal Paris climate conference in 2015, but the meeting is more than just a normal negotiation.

The unusual suspects at the meeting are the result of strong calls by the most vulnerable countries for ministerial engagement to focus on raising ambition from now until 2020.

What this means in practice is two ministerials: one for those who already have existing commitments through the Kyoto Protocol to provide details on how they could increase ambition; and one for everyone to demonstrate what actions they are taking pre-2020.

It is unlikely that this short window of opportunity will result in new announcements to increase pledges before 2020.

After all, the climate summit to be hosted by Ban Ki-moon in September is where heads of state will come with “bold” pledges; they’re not going to let their subordinates steal their thunder by announcing in June.

But we shouldn’t write off Bonn because nothing major will be announced. The trials and tribulations of the Green Climate Fund negotiations demonstrate that concerted diplomatic capability can produce results. Multilateral agreements require reciprocity.

They depend upon relationships, friendships and partnerships. A fundamental condition of strategic diplomacy is to "know the other".

Ministers need to spend more time with each other. But with just 43 ministerial representatives attending out of a possible 196, the opportunity for interaction is minimal.

What needs to happen

Whilst it might seem to those on the outside like another talk shop, ministers must make progress on key elements of the 2015 outcome.

First, they must develop progress on what an outcome on pre-2020 ambition could look like: who it should involve and how it relates to the current commitments.

Secondly, getting clarity on which countries will put forward post-2020 commitments and what those commitments should entail will be essential to securing success at negotiations in Lima later this year.

Thirdly, unravelling the elements of a financial outcome for Paris will be essential to building on the momentum of the discussions under the Green Climate Fund.

And finally, ministers will need to assess how to handle the currently undervalued elements of adaptation and climate risk inside the agreement.

The agreement to develop immediate measures to ratchet up ambition was a significant victory for the vulnerable countries that had fought hard to secure it in Durban.

These countries are crucial to championing a more ambitious climate agreement: without them, the voice of ambition is diluted.

Ministers from across the major economies need to turn out in support of those who are facing an existential threat, show solidarity and send clear signals that, despite political obstacles, they take their plight seriously.

This article was first published by RTCC