After the SBs in Bonn

20 June 2022

World café discussions in Bonn

In Bonn, during the meeting of the UNFCCC subsidiary bodies from 6 to 16 June, parties begun work under some of the mandates adopted at the climate conference in Glasgow last year to implement the Paris Agreement. This included the need for more ambitious climate action, deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, enhanced resilience to adapt to the effects of climate change and financial support for developing countries.

The negotiations in Bonn were characterised by several, for the UNFCCC process, unusually inclusive discussion formats. During the dialogues on finance for loss and damage and the global goal on adaptation civil society observer organisations as well as other stakeholders took the floor and contributed to the discussions. As part of the first technical dialogue to review collective progress towards achieving the Paris Agreement’s goals participants moved between tables “world café style”.

As usual when there is a physical meeting, LRI lawyers were on site and on call to assist delegates from climate vulnerable developing countries and civil society observer organisations. This year they were accompanied by lawyer volunteers from Costa Rica, Chile, Ecuador, Germany and the UK. We are grateful for their engagement and support!

The legal questions raised by delegates broadly reflected the different strands of the discussion in Bonn. They related to raising finance specifically for adaptation purposes, the terminology around loss and damage as well as the role and operational set-up of the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage. Other specific legal questions that have come up concerned, for example, the relationship between different international treaty regimes or whether the UNFCCC and its secretariat can be recognised as an international organisation.

New App version and briefing paper on Article 6

1 June 2022

While climate negotiators are beginning to gather in Bonn for the 56th session of the UNFCCC subsidiary bodies and their pre-conference coordination meetings, we have just released the new version of our App on the Paris Agreement “Paris Agreement A – Z”.

You can download the new version which reflects parties’ decisions adopted in Glasgow from Google Play at and the App Store at We really welcome any feedback!

Following the adoption of guidance on the international transfer of mitigation outcomes, as well as rules and procedures for a centrally governed crediting mechanism to support sustainable development under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, we have also published a briefing paper that summaries the relevant decisions:

We hope these knowledge products will make it easier for climate law and policy makers from around the globe to navigate the ever-growing body of UNFCCC rules and processes.

What to expect at the next UNFCCC meeting in Bonn?

28 April 2022

While the annual global climate conferences (the so called “COPs”) are extensively covered by the world’s media, the meetings of the two technical bodies – the Subsidiary Bodies for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and for Implementation (SBI) – attract a lot less attention. They are, however, the ones where most of the substantive decisions subsequently taken at the COPs are prepared, and take place at the seat of the UNFCCC secretariat in Bonn, Germany. The next, 56th, session of both bodies (the “SBs”) will take place from 6 to 16 June 2022. Some of the important items on the programme of the meetings include:

  • The need to urgently scale up ambition and implementation of mitigation commitments: the Subsidiary Bodies will initiate their consideration of this matter with a view to recommending a draft decision for adoption at the next meeting of the Paris Agreement’s governing body (CMA4) in Egypt in November 2022.
  • At COP26 Parties agreed on a process that will lead to setting a new collective quantified goal on climate finance from a floor of 100 billion USD per year. The first Technical Expert Dialogue under the Ad hoc Work Programme on the New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance took place in South Africa in March. The next expert dialogue will take place in Bonn.
  • SB56 will see the launch of a work programme to operationalise the Global Goal on Adaptation, established under Article 7 of Paris Agreement to ensure an adequate adaptation response to climate change. The first in-session workshop will be conducted under the work programme.
  • Progress on operational modalities and institutional arrangements for the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage, set up at COP25 in Madrid to catalyse technical assistance for loss and damage. The first meeting under the Glasgow Dialogue, established at COP26 to discuss arrangements for the funding of loss and damage, will also take place. The issue is critical for many developing countries which will be pushing for some tangible outcome on this, in the form of a dedicated funding mechanism.
  • While the parties in Glasgow agreed on further rules for the implementation of the Paris Agreement, such as common time frames for Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), reporting under the transparency framework and the establishment of carbon markets, some issues were deferred for further consideration in 2022. This includes options for conducting reviews of the information related to adaptation reported under the transparency framework; further guidance on cooperative approaches under Article 6.2 of the Paris Agreement (e.g. whether internationally transferred mitigation outcomes, “ITMOs”, could include emission avoidance).
  • The first meeting of the technical dialogue under the Global Stocktake established to assess collective progress towards achieving the purpose and long-term goals of the Paris Agreement. This is the start of the second phase of the Stocktake, the technical assessment of information provided by Parties and others, such as constituted bodies, UN agencies and observer organisations.

The Russian aggression and the climate negotiation process

12 March 2022

The military action by the Russian Federation in and against the Ukraine is a flagrant violation of international law. It harms and threatens the lives and security of millions of people and puts in question the stability and functioning of the whole multilateral system created after World War II to maintain peace and solve problems through international cooperation. The international community’s efforts to address climate change will be thrown back at various levels. So how can the parties to UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and/or the Paris Agreement collectively respond?

There is no provision in the UNFCCC or the Paris Agreement that would allow parties to expel Russia, suspend its membership or ban representatives from participating in meetings. This is different under other international treaties such as the 1949 Statute of the Council of Europe. Under Article 8 any member state that has seriously violated its fundamental obligations under the treaty may be suspended from its rights of representation, requested to withdraw and if it does not do so, the Committee of Ministers can decide that it ceases to be a member of the Council from a certain date.1

As there are no specific provisions in the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement the general rules under the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT) apply.2 Here Article 60 paragraph 2 inter alia states that a material breach of a multilateral treaty by one party entitles the other parties to suspend the operation of the treaty (in whole or in part) in relation to the defaulting state by unanimous agreement. To do so the action by the Russian Federation must have violated “a provision essential to the accomplishment of the object or purpose of the treaty” (Article 60 paragraph 3 VCLT).

Relevant provisions in the UNFCCC could be the commitment to protect the climate system for present and future generations (Article 3 para.1), to cooperate to promote a supportive and open international economic system (Art.3.5) or to take measures on the mitigation of climate change (Art.4.2(a)). Because of the rather general and vague nature of these norms, however, legal arguments could swing both ways and parties may, to the extent possible, also have to utilize the dispute settlement procedure in Article 14 as “lex specialis” (Art.60.4 VCLT) first.3 Finally, the decision to suspend the operation of the UNFCCC in relation to the Russian Federation would require unanimity by all other parties.

Under their Draft Rules of Procedure, the Conference of UNFCCC parties (COP) could refuse to accept the credentials of the representatives of the Russian Federation (Draft Rule 21).4 Such a decision could be taken by consensus which, according to the previous practice of the negotiation process, does not require unanimity but only the absence of (significant) stated objections. The accreditation process aims to verify that parties’ representatives at a meeting have been properly authorized by the competent government authorities – namely the Head of State/Government or the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Draft Rule 19).

In the early 1970s the UN Assembly consistently declined to accept South Africa’s credentials and, in this way, sought to exclude the apartheid regime from participating in the work of the UN. Since, however, the formal authorization of the South African representatives was in order, many lawyers held that their exclusion from the General Assembly was illegal. But who knows whether the Russian Federation will even send a delegation to the next climate conferences? And if not, it will be easier to agree on some (compromise) text to condemn the action by the Russian state in a COP decision.

1 A decision to suspend the Russian Federation from its rights of representation in the Committee of Ministers and in the Parliamentary Assembly was adopted on 25 February 2022.
2 Russia acceded the Convention on 29 April 1986. It is generally accepted that the Convention reflects rules of international customary law.
3 The law governing a specific subject matter (lex specialis) overrides a law governing only general matters (lex generalis).
4 The draft rules of procedure were never adopted (because of disagreements about voting) but are consistently applied (with the exception of the contentious provisions) during meetings of the parties.

2 weeks at the Glasgow climate conference

9 December 2021

The annual international climate conferences – usually referred to as COPs – appear to follow a common and by now predictable script: First, there is general acknowledgement of the crisis, hope and expectations. Then comes a bit of drama with an outcome that is generally portrayed as a compromise and – because parties do not walk out on each other – a kind of “happy ending” with, of course, further important work to start immediately. “After the COP is before the COP.”

This was pretty much the same in Glasgow. Despite the effective exclusion of civil society as well as some smaller developing country parties from parts of the conference and bad logistical arrangements for the average participants, the world media generally succumbed to PR narrative managed well by the hosting UK government. At the beginning of the conference the focus was on the climate emergency. Different groups of countries agreed an unprecedented number of new policy instruments and projects – also involving businesses, funders and other non-government stakeholders. This included a declaration on forests and land use, a pledge to reduce methane emissions, the “Glasgow Breakthrough” on green technology, initiatives on agriculture (“AIM 4 Climate”), aviation (International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition) or access to clean energy (“One Sun One World One Grid” – seriously?) as well as the “Dhaka-Glasgow Declaration” on support for the most vulnerable countries.

Meanwhile in the official inter-governmental negotiations fundamental issues that divide the parties but are key for the success of the Paris Agreement (PA) were either ignored or badly concealed by diplomatic language: Where is the new and predictable finance for climate change adaptation and mitigation in the Global South? If and to what extent does the UNFCCC definition of developed and developing country parties still apply under the PA? When do early industrialized countries accept responsibility for current loss and damage caused by climate change? How can the “global goal on adaption” be relevant in practice? How much longer will fossil fuel companies be allowed to participate in the meetings? Is the ambition in parties’ nationally determined contributions a fair reflection of their capabilities? If some countries cannot be carbon neutral by 2050 who goes carbon negative? And so on and so forth. But despite these substantive differences, after a day of extra time and some nail-biting, ministers from around the globe “hammered” out another deal. Job done, till next time….

Nevertheless, the decisions adopted (or not) in Glasgow – which includes three covering decision by the governing bodies of the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol and the PA termed the “Glasgow Climate Pact” – reflect many of the contentious issues at least “between the lines”. To tackle at least some of them head on could have shown that states are really willing to “do things differently”. Something promised by probably all governments during the global pandemic. For an alternative – but purely fictional – approach in this context see:

So – maybe apart from the extreme visibility of sponsors – the climate conference in Glasgow was business as usual. The US returned to the fold and via a string of senior current and former government officials immediately attracted much of the limelight again. The way, however, John Kerry (the presidential climate envoy) laid into China (without calling it by name) for failing to attend the so called “Leaders Summit” and not taking climate change seriously was simply self-righteous and arrogant. Returning to the process with some humbleness could have been another sign (to do things differently). But for a proper assessment of the geopolitical ins and outs of the conference see:

To the extent possible, we stay clear of the political wrangling and focus on providing independent legal assessments. In connection with the Glasgow climate conference we worked on advice related to, for example, the common timeframes (under Art.4.10 of the Paris Agreement), the overlapping mandates of UNFCCC governance bodies, the functions and institutionalization of the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage, the global goal on adaptation (in Art.7.1), compared the different iterations of the draft decision text on Art.6, and analysed the EU’s proposal for a carbon border adjustment mechanism. The requests for assistance came predominately from African delegates (22), 9 from Asia and 2 from Latin America. In addition, we supported 5 civil society organisation and distributed hundreds of guidebooks on the Paris Agreement.

While we do not promote positions, it can be a little frustrating to see how towards the end of a climate conference the proposals of small, particularly climate vulnerable countries are usually watered down or completely disappear in the final versions of the text. All our advice, however, remains available via the LRI data at And for those still wondering whether the negotiations under Article 6 on market approaches had a “happy ending” – read the article by LRI expert David Rossati in Climate Law: