Back at Bonn Climate Change Conference, yet What’s New?

By Antonio La Viña, Joy Reyes, and Jayvy Gamboa

The 58th session of the subsidiary bodies (SB) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is set to be held on 5 to 15 June 2023. Again, it will be held in Bonn, Germany where the UNFCCC is headquartered. Yet, what’s new?

For the Chairs of the SB, Harry Vreuls (SBSTA Chair) and Nabeel Munir (SBI Chair), the Bonn sessions serve as “advance technical work on … operationalizing the institutional arrangements established in Sharm el-Sheikh [in 2022]. Moving forward, the SB is also “critical for shaping meaningful, pragmatic, and impactful outcomes at COP28 [2023].” Much pre-work is needed to be done in Bonn to ensure that Parties are able to adopt decisions in time for COP28 in the United Arab Emirates later this year.

The Chairs identified “the global stocktake, the global goal on adaptation, the just transition to sustainable societies, the mitigation work programme and loss and damage, among others” as major issues which the SB is expected to tackle. For instance, the technical phase of the global stocktake, which is crucial for Parties to identify their progress in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, will end at the SB 58. Further, preparatory work to operationalize the loss and damage fund is key as well.

While there are many significant topics to be discussed in SB 58, two in particular deserve more of our attention. Loss and damage is particularly tied to the interests of developing countries, such as the Philippines, being on the receiving end of adverse effects of climate events. On the other hand, just transition is an emerging topic which is centered on equity, especially considering grassroots and frontline communities, as transition to low emissions are undertaken.

Loss and Damage Fund

On Loss and Damage, the SB 58 intends to operationalize the new loss and damage fund established in COP27 (2022). Such fund will assist developing countries in addressing loss and damage brought by adverse effects of climate change in their communities. A Transitional Committee, composed of technical experts, are working to create the initial model of what such fund would look like and, most importantly, how such fund would be financially sustainable. A crucial negotiating point hoped to be settled is the institution that will host or will act as secretariat of the Santiago Network on loss and damage.

Together with such operationalization is the 2nd Glasgow Dialogue. Decided in COP26 in Glasgow, the Glasgow Dialogue, which will run from 2022-2024, is intended to give space for discourse, including the fund’s stakeholders, on “the arrangements for funding activities for averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse impacts of climate change.” For a country such as the Philippines, which has been at the receiving end of both economic and non-economic loss and damage year in and year out, the need for the financing mechanism sought to be established is the backbone of national climate action.

The Philippine position on Loss and Damage includes a dedicated agenda on loss and damage funding arrangements as aligned with G77&China. Further, the country forwards a predictable system for financial and technical support to address loss and damage. While such positions are in favor of instituting the loss and damage fund, which to be frank would benefit the country, there seems to be a mismatch between the prospective benefits that the loss and damage fund and the serious effort invested by the Philippines in pushing for its institutionalization.

Just Transition Pathways

On Just Transition, a major breakthrough on this crucial aspect of climate action was made in COP27. A work programme on just transition pathways was created as a result of the Parties’ recognition “that sustainable and just solutions to the climate crisis must be founded on meaningful and effective social dialogue and participation of all stakeholders[.]” Just transition further acknowledges “that just and equitable transition encompasses pathways … include social protection so as to mitigate potential impacts associated with the transition[.]” This means that just transition is concerned with instituting not only approaches related to participatory democracy, but also mechanisms to address such negative effects of transition.

The SB 58 has a wide area to create the much needed technical work and agreement about such just transition pathways. As the SB 58 Chairs state, the SB must “start filling the work programme with life and set the parameters for its implementation in a manner that builds on and complements the relevant workstreams under the Convention and the Paris Agreement[.]”

On the other hand, there is no official Philippine position on the works programme on just transition pathways. While it can be argued that the just transition pathways is relatively new compared to the traditional climate change subject matters of mitigation and adaptation, there is much to work on and harvest, especially by a developing country, in the just transition discourse. For instance, the very problem sought to be addressed by just transition is most prevalent in developing countries whose entire communities and villages are heavily reliant on fossil fuel energy sources. Without a just transition, such communities would be left behind as shift to low emissions technologies are made.

In a way, the SB 58 stays true to the purpose of SBs since then, which is to conduct preparatory work for the upcoming COP. While there are many pressing matters that need to be discussed, these two topics on loss and damage and just transition are areas to which more serious attention and action must be dedicated, which makes the SB 58 so crucial in setting the tone of international climate action for the SBs and COPs to come.

Manila Observatory Focus

The Manila Observatory, coming into the SBs as part of the Allied for Climate Transformation by 2025 (ACT2025) consortium as it had since 2021. It carries with it the calls of the consortium in these next months leading up to COP28, namely: to deliver finance to respond to the needs of the climate crisis; advance just and equitable ambition; design fit-for-purpose institutions to address loss and damage; and drive people-centered and livelihood-sustaining adaptation. These are all found in the Call to Action that the consortium – composed of climate and environment think tanks from the Global South – released just before the SBs, found here:

The Manila Observatory as well will hold a side event with the same consortium on the 10th of June, entitled ‘Implementing Climate Justice: Solidarity with Vulnerable Countries on the Road to COP28’. The main goal of the partners is to already drive home the need that if COP28 is to be a successful COP, the shift needs to be on the Global South, with vulnerable countries leading the decisionmaking on climate action.

As usual, the Observatory will assist the Philippine government in its workstreams, and will provide technical assistance, especially with regard to the science, to policy, and to law, to achieve the common goal of pushing for climate action that will assist those who need it most.