SPIA at the Bonn Climate Change Conference: A Student Reflection

Written by
Funke Aderonmu
Michael Chapman
Rohit Gupta
June 18, 2024

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat hosts two primary meetings each year: the Bonn Climate Change Conference typically held in June, and the Conference of Parties (COP) typically held in November. The Bonn Climate Conference centers around sessions of two permanent subsidiary bodies – the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI). These bodies assist the governing bodies of The Convention, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement in tracking progress, reviewing procedural and logistical elements of climate commitments, developing work plans, addressing methodological issues, and more. At Bonn, technical experts and government officials from across the world meet for these formal sessions, while also engaging numerous other stakeholders and observers through side events and networking opportunities.

Marking the 60th sessions of the Subsidiary Bodies (SB 60), this year’s Bonn Climate Conference hosted discussions on various climate matters in preparation for the 29th COP meeting, which will take place in Baku, Azerbaijan in November of 2024. Modest progress was made on issues concerning climate finance, climate adaptation, international carbon markets, and overall transparency with climate action plans and reporting tools, but many items still remain on the table.  

As quoted in a UN press release, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell addressed the up-hill journey that lies ahead during his closing speech at Bonn.  

“We’ve taken modest steps forward here in Bonn,” said Stiell. “[But] too many items are still on the table … We’ve left ourselves with a very steep mountain to climb to achieve ambitious outcomes in Baku.” 

This year, C-PREE sent three students to observe the Bonn discussions. Funke AderonmuMichael Chapman, and Rohit Gupta attended the conference and wrote reflections about the diverse array of climate topics covered at Bonn.




Funke standing in conference room at SB60

Photo Credit: Funke Aderonmu

Funke Aderonmu: Advancing a Just Energy Transition

The side events at the June Climate Meetings in Bonn covered several topics that countries are negotiating on in the lead up to COP 29. I followed sessions concerning the just transition and how it can best be incorporated into countries’ new climate action plans (known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs) to be finalized in 2025. One session highlighted the importance of engaging workers and trade unions as collaborators in developing national strategies for a just transition in NDCs to ensure that climate action plans are effective and have political buy-in for long term durability. 

From this perspective, a just transition is one that secures the future and livelihoods of workers and their communities on the way to curbing global warming. For workers and communities whose livelihoods may be adversely impacted by the phase out of fossil fuels, speakers discussed the need to consider: what are the impacts of workers of a just transition? What labor market policies and social protection schemes are needed as countries transition away from fossil fuels?

The question of how to generate financing and public support for the just transition was explored in another session, against the backdrop of Bonn negotiations on the New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance (NCQG). With a focus on the renewable energy sector, speakers highlighted how benefits from the growth of renewable energy technologies have not been evenly shared both within and among countries. Additionally, clean energy investment has mostly been concentrated in the US and EU countries, leaving regions like sub-Saharan Africa without adequate investments to build renewable energy systems. Key takeaways from the discussion included a call for greater international cooperation to advance a just transition, including cooperation between global south countries which share similar contexts. Such cooperation could involve knowledge sharing, capacity building and technical assistance.



Michael Chapman standing in conference room at SB60

Photo Credit: Michael Chapman

Michael Chapman: Islands on the Frontlines of Climate Change Navigate International Negotiations

While attending SB 60, I focused on the unique challenges of small island developing states (SIDS). SIDS rest at the forefront of climate change and arguably experience its impacts more directly than anyone. Climate change is sometimes discussed in the abstract; meanwhile, island communities see their beaches shrinking and coastal ecosystems collapsing. Through my previous work with the Honolulu City Council, I saw how Hawaii grappled with issues like managed retreat and coastal erosion. Observing SB60, I was curious how SIDS would represent their challenges and needs in the context of international climate negotiations.

SIDS were particularly vocal in the 3rd Glasgow Dialogue. This initiative was launched during COP 26 to discuss loss and damage associated with climate change. This year, most of the conversation surrounded SIDS as they rallied support from the international community. Countries like the Maldives, Vanuatu, Fiji, Timor-Leste, and Palau highlighted damages such as coral bleaching, changing weather patterns, and sea level rise.

Despite being insignificant emitters of greenhouse gases, SIDS shoulder the burdens of larger economies. Since they are by definition small and resource constrained, these challenges are even harder to address. The Maldives – the smallest country in Asia – stressed its lack of capacity to monitor environmental patterns across its nearly 1200 islands. Yet, doing so is vital with its land mass dominated by coasts. The international community can fill these gaps, with SIDS advocating for innovative, easily accessible financing and more robust technical assistance. 

I came away understanding that measurements of the costs of climate change must encompass domino effects and on-the-ground impacts. When sea levels rise, communities not only lose that coastal land; they also lose economic drivers, cultural resources, and social stability. Palau highlighted that forcing coastal communities from ancestral land into cities can lead to stress, marginalization, and even alcoholism and high school dropouts. Climate measurements must internalize downstream consequences and real human costs, and the international community should help SIDS navigate the frontlines of climate change.



Rohit Gupta standing in front of banner at SB60

Photo Credit: Rohit Gupta

Rohit Gupta: The Contentious Issue of Climate Finance

Ever since the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” was established by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the issue of climate finance has been a contentious issue between developed and developing nations. By fixing the spotlight squarely on this issue, COP-29 at Baku admirably aims to take the challenge head-on. 

However, the recently concluded negotiations within the Subsidiary Body of Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) at Bonn show that this challenge is far more formidable than people realize. 

For starters, there is no clear definition of climate finance itself! Do non-concessional loans from the developed world to developing nations qualify as climate finance? What happens if the erstwhile development assistance from the developed countries is re-tagged as climate finance, even if the projects financed have insignificant climate goals? The quality of climate finance is equally important. Do financial goals take gender parity, child rights and human rights explicitly into account?  Or do they end up replicating the exploitative governance structures of fossil-fuel-based economies? These are hard questions which must be deliberated even as the nations negotiate on the quantum of contribution under New Collective Quantifiable Goals (NCQG) for climate finance. 

The world is already reeling under the effects of climate change. Climate researchers in a meeting of the RINGOS (Research and Independent NGOs) constituency presented the ever-growing research on the devastating impacts of cryosphere changes due to global warming. Addressing the financing needs for adaptation and loss and damage among the most vulnerable sections of society is now more urgent than ever. 

Yet, many civil society actors present at the Bonn conference expressed disappointment at the pace of decision-making. COP-29 must reaffirm the trust placed by humanity in multilateralism – a daunting task given the checkered history of climate-change negotiations thus far.