News | Socio-ecological Transformation - Climate Justice Bonn: A Critical Juncture on the Road to COP28 in Dubai

Recent climate change negotiations revealed a widening gap between Global North and South


Burning kangaroo with the inscription "CLIMATE IS NOT TREATABLE" by Düsseldorf artist Jacques Tilly on the United Nations Square in Bonn, June 7, 2023.
Burning kangaroo with the inscription "CLIMATE IS NOT TREATABLE" by Düsseldorf artist Jacques Tilly on the United Nations Square in Bonn, June 7, 2023. Photo: IMAGO / Marc John

After two weeks of discussions, the intersessional climate change negotiations in Bonn ended on 15 June with disappointing results.

Nadja Charaby is head of the International Politics and North America units at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and an advisor on climate policy.

David Williams directs the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s Climate Justice Programme in New York.

The intersessionals lay the groundwork for the annual UN climate conferences, the Conferences of Parties (COPs), which hold more sway in terms of influence and binding outcomes. However, intersessionals serve as a vital indicator as to how much progress is being made, and what may become sticking points between states negotiating the response to the climate crisis.

This year’s negotiations in Bonn clearly showed that the protracted rift between Global North and Global South countries is once again the common thread running through all the negotiation items.

The Big Question: Who Pays?

A key discussion point amongst negotiators was, who pays? The Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) and Polluter Pays principles enshrined in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from 1992 stipulate that the onus is on developed states to provide finance to developing states, reflecting the unequal current and historical contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the impacts thereof. The extent to which this principle is adhered to is a constant source of conflict, with the fault line running clearly between the Global North and Global South.

At the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009, developed countries committed to providing 100 billion US dollars in climate finance annually by 2020 in accordance with the aforementioned principles. Despite daring calculation models, it is clear that these commitments have not been fulfilled. As the goal in itself has come under criticism from affected countries for not reflecting the needs of those most impacted by the climate crisis, it was agreed upon in Paris in 2015 that a New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance (NCQG) should set a new financial target until 2025 (without reaching the previous goal).

Talks on this NCQG showed clearly that developed countries are again questioning the principles of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Polluter Pays. In clear disregard of historical responsibility, developed country representatives such as those from the EU repeatedly insisted on the need for emerging economies to increase their efforts in reducing greenhouse gases. In fact, it was formulated as a quasi-condition for financing that is actually owed by developed countries, unnecessarily delaying  urgently needed measures against the climate crisis.

Fossil Fuels: Ignorance of the Root Causes

Reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions is a key pillar of climate action, for which the Mitigation Work Programme was introduced in 2021. It has now reached a critical phase, as the two-year technical reporting concludes and the political phase begins in which individual states will need to implement its findings and improve their efforts in reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions.

When negotiating the agenda for COP28 in Dubai, developed states blocked attempts by developing states to dedicate an agenda item to finance for the Mitigation Work Programme at COP28. In the end, disagreement over the topic was so strong that the Mitigation Work Programme was not included in the official intersession’s agenda.

Representatives of civil society clearly raised their concerns through diverse and powerful protests during the intersessionals.

Even more concerning in this regard is the position of developed states that Greenhouse Gas emissions caused before 2020 should not disregarded when determining the phase-out of fossil fuels.

Global South countries argue that state obligations vis-à-vis a necessary rapid and equitable phase-out need to reflect cumulative historic emissions. Trying to muddy the waters, representatives of developed countries argued that cumulative emissions were not unambiguous in conversion to monetary responsibility for the climate crises (although climate scientists take an alternate view). This conflict of positions was also reflected in the agenda item of the Global Stocktake, which is supposed to assess the overall progress being made in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

It remains incomprehensible that the states cannot agree on a complete phase-out of fossil fuels, let alone that the capitalist consumption and growth model as the driver of this fatal development would even be questioned. Instead of addressing the cause, dangerous distractions such as carbon capture and storage or geoengineering have found their way into the climate negotiations, which merely stand to uphold systems of neo-colonial exploitation and injustice.

Responding to Human Suffering Caused by Heatwaves, Droughts, and Floods

There was little progress made on the decision to create a framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation, which is planned to be established by COP28. Adaptation means reducing the impacts of climate change-induced extreme events such as heatwaves, droughts, or floods by better protecting local communities.

At COP27, developing states argued that the urgent need for adaptation in the Global South was not reflected in the lack of progress being made during negotiations. To accelerate actual progress, they proposed the formulation of a framework containing a set of indicators with which the progression of adaptation could be measured over time.

However, Global North countries argued that the formulation of such a framework was premature. Some suggest this resistance to a concrete framework was to avoid opening the door to questions of finance on how to achieve the indicators, linking it to the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities.

Any attempts by developed countries to more closely define the framework and give it more relevance were caught up in procedural wrangling over how to integrate the discussions of the last two weeks into negotiations at COP28, which were only resolved at the final hour after significant diplomatic flexibility on the part of Global South negotiators.

Beyond the Limits of Adaptation

After years of contested negotiations initiated by countries of the Global South, as well as powerful campaigning by Global South activists, a fund was created for Loss and Damage at COP27 in Egypt in November 2022. The term denotes impacts beyond what can be adapted to, causing irreversible harm to affected communities.

The operationalization of the fund, along with key questions of how much would be paid in by whom and who would be potential recipients of those funds, are being discussed by a committee made up of representatives of developing and developed states. During the Glasgow Dialogue on Loss and Damage, developed states put forward concepts such as climate insurance or enabling and increasing investment from the private sector, proposals which again do not adhere to the Common but Differentiated Responsibilities principle. Developing states alternatively call for a standalone fund clearly distinguishable from humanitarian and development aid, and the provision of non-debt-incurring finance to affected communities.

The body initiated to facilitate the transfer of technical assistance to those experiencing harm from climate change impacts is known as the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage. No agreement could be achieved on whether this network should be hosted at the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) and the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) or at the Caribbean Development Bank. Hence, the discussion will be re-opened at COP28.

A Just Transition Away from All Fossil Fuels?

A key milestone of last year’s COP27 was the creation of the Just Transition Work Programme, based on the premise that global transitions to low emissions could be both an opportunity and a challenge for sustainable development and poverty alleviation. Negotiators were given the task of developing a work programme for adoption at COP28, including aspects around energy and workers’ rights, determined by development priorities defined at the national level.

This promises to be a particularly contentious issue considering that COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber is at the same time the head of the largest state-run oil company in the United Arab Emirates. Moreover, some countries argue vehemently that the private sector should play a key role in the just transition, opening the door to even greater influence of fossil fuel companies and other profit-seeking corporations in the negotiations.


As a consistent driver of national climate policy, the UN space remains crucial in calling for a rapid, just, and equitable phasing out of fossil fuels.


The move by the UNFCCC secretariat in announcing new guidelines that fossil fuel lobbyists have to clearly identify themselves in the interest of transparency is to be welcomed. The decision can be seen as a response to civil society pressure and campaigning, which has called attention to the role of private sector interests in climate change negotiations.

Aspects of participation at climate change negotiations were also discussed in the agenda item “Arrangements for Intergovernmental Meetings”. Negotiators from developing countries (Egypt in particular) stressed the need for host countries to provide visas for attendees from the Global South in a timely and efficient manner in the spirit of equity and fairness – referring also to difficulties participants experienced in obtaining the visas necessary to attend the Bonn intersessionals in recent years.

Discussions under this agenda item were also influenced by last year’s experiences with the Egyptian security apparatus’s surveillance of attendees during negotiations, which highlighted the lack of human rights protections. Essential human rights, such as freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, were not safeguarded even under the auspices of the UN. With the upcoming COP in the United Arab Emirates, a country with an equally questionable human rights record and an intimidating surveillance apparatus in place, representatives of civil society clearly raised their concerns through diverse and powerful protests during the intersessionals.

Negotiators and observers following this agenda item also witnessed incredibly powerful and deeply concerning testimony by female delegates of harassment and sexual violence at climate change negotiations. Stringent language was included in the final text on “Arrangements for Intergovernmental Meetings”, calling for host countries to ensure the promotion and protection not only of human rights, but also “against any violations or abuses including harassment and sexual harassment”. And yet, it is still deeply concerning that these additions could only be agreed upon at such personal cost by those affected.

What Do We Want? Climate Justice!

With progress incommensurate to the urgency the climate crisis requires, it is essential for civil society organizations to amplify and fight for the demands of those most affected.

As a consistent driver of national climate policy, the UN space remains crucial in calling for a rapid, just, and equitable phasing out of fossil fuels, and a massive scaling up of finance and technology transfer for renewable energy and the just transition. Polluters need to be forced to take responsibility for their actions, as opposed to giving them a seat at the negotiation table.

Civil society representatives will be fighting for what is right in Dubai.