Blog: Recapping the Bonn Climate Change Conference (SB56)

July 13, 2022

From 6 to 16 June 2022, the Bonn Climate Change Conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in Bonn, Germany. This smaller and more technical pre-conference — officially the fifty-sixth session meeting of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), or SB56 for short — is key to preparing and setting the path towards the Conference of the Parties (COP). This year’s COP27 will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt in November 2022. Important issues to be negotiated at COP27 will be financial support for climate adaptation and just transition and the issue of “Loss and Damage,” which denotes reparations for irreparable harm caused by climate change beyond what communities can (or have the resources to) adapt to. SB56 presented opportunities to set clear expectations and prepare key deliverables related to these issues for Sharm el-Sheikh.

Six months after COP26 in Glasgow, countries have struggled to come forward with the more ambitious targets and climate finance commitments necessary to keep the 1.5°C degree goal alive. COP27 is meant to focus on implementation, indicating that countries need to fulfill climate targets set out in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Thalheimer and Emory delegates outside of conference venue

The Emory and Princeton University delegations (from left to right): Leah Hartung, Eleanor Partington, Ben Levitt, Erin Phillips (Emory University alums) and Dr. Lisa Thalheimer (C-PREE). The delegation from Emory was advised by STEP PhD alum, Prof. Eri Saikawa, now an Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Emory.

Attending week two of the SB56 as a Princeton University observer, I had a chance to witness negotiations and progress first-hand, together with the undergraduate alumni delegation from Emory University.

Some of my key takeaways from SB56 include an impression of a rather reluctant position of developed nations regarding the topics of climate adaptation, Loss & Damage (L&D) and climate finance. Here are some of the main outcomes:

The Santiago Network: One of the expected outcomes was progress on operationalizing the Santiago Network for L&D, a platform for countries and organizations to identify and catalyze opportunities to mobilize technical assistance to address L&D resulting from climate change. However, a critical obstacle to progress has been reaching agreement on the governance function of the network itself and thus, a lot of work remains. Differences in perspectives on governing between developing and developed nations reflects these diverging visions: Whereas developed nations’ vision is restricted by limited resources, the developing nations’ vision is focused around establishing a network that is commensurate with what is needed in communities already impacted by climate change and to address loss and damage on the ground.

Glasgow Dialogue: COP 26 established the Glasgow Dialogue between governments and other stakeholders “to discuss the arrangements for the funding of activities to avert, minimize and address loss and damage associated with the adverse impacts of climate change.” The first dialogue took place at SB56; however, there appeared to be much confusion but also work that needs to be done on the topic of Loss & Damage. Developing countries (especially) demanded the creation of a formal Loss & Damage Finance Facility to address climate-related losses and damages from emissions that have predominantly been produced by developed countries.

Climate Finance: Without adequate, scaled and grant-based finance, the debt burden of countries is likely to further increase, and pushes the ability of developing nations to achieve a just transition into clean energy further out of reach. In various side events and negotiations, SB56 highlighted that finance is integral to climate justice. However, specific finance mechanisms and policy action towards balancing adaptation and mitigation funding remains in question, marking a big question for how countries will handle adaptation finance at COP27.

Twitter screenshot from Emory delegate featuring climate protestors at SB56

Demonstrators advocating for Loss & Damage to be put on the formal COP27 agenda (Tweet from Erin Philipps @erinphillipss_)

Lessons learned from SB56 are relevant for research and science communication. The IPCC 6th Assessment Report (AR6) provided very sobering insights about how losses and damages will only increase with further fossil fuel expansion, and how human and natural systems are already reaching adaptation limits as we keep expanding our dependence on fossil fuels in the height of the Ukraine crisis. Research and knowledge dissemination at these SBs must center on the needs of those hit hardest by the climate crisis – and there is an opportunity to make this a focal point as preparations continue for COP27 to take place on the African continent where climate disasters disproportionately impact populations. The good news is that science, i.e., findings from the IPCC have been a central focus of SB56, clearly showing progress on the effectiveness of the science-policy interface.

But SB56 has also shown that the pre-2030 mitigation work program and COP27 must follow-up on the commitments from Glasgow to phase-out fossil fuels now and to secure a just transition to renewable energy and energy efficiency so that no one is left behind. On the topic of Loss & Damage, Patricia Espinosa, the outgoing executive secretary of the UNFCCC said that “there is no doubt that financial resources are needed… And, yes, a part of those resources need to come from the governments of the developed countries.” In the final plenary, developing countries stood united in their demand for a loss and damage finance facility and reiterated that discussions on loss and damage finance must be on the formal agenda in Sharm el-Sheikh.