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What is SB50 and Why Does it Matter?

Updated: May 26


SB50. Yet another acronym to add to the UNFCCC’s extensive list. This one, however, refers to the 50th Meeting of the UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Bodies, which convenes every year in Bonn, Germany. These can also be referred to as Intersessionals. Are you confused yet? Just wait, there are many more acronyms heading your way.

So, what are subsidiary bodies, and what do they actually do?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (more simply known as the UNFCCC) is made up of governing bodies, which aid the implementation of frameworks such as the Convention, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement. Subsidiary bodies, however, are permanent structures which aid these governing bodies, as they provide information and advice to Parties, and monitor whether national and international progress is being made. The two permanent, and most notable, of these are the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI).

SBSTA is responsible for all things scientific, often focussing on areas such as the physical impacts of climate change, the development of new, emissions-mitigating technology, and the measuring of greenhouse gas emissions. For example, SBSTA often works closely with the IPCC, to present scientific reports to policy makers, such as the IPCC Report in November 2018. SBI, on the other hand, focuses on ensuring that frameworks, such as the Paris Agreement, are being followed by Parties in their national mitigation strategies, as they help to build momentum, ambition, and transparency in the policy process.

But what exactly will they be doing in Bonn?

Well, in the lead up to COP25, a lot of preparations are needed to ensure much greater progress is made in Chile, in comparison to the complete disappointment that was COP24.

For example, the Arrangement of Intergovernmental Meetings (AIM) will take place next week, facilitating discussions on all things COP25, as well as future COP’s, and the organisation of delegations and observers (like UKYCC). It is this final point which is key to many here at UKYCC, as we attempt to rid the negotiations of those pesky fossil fuel lobbies which always seem to rear their ugly head. This is known as a ‘Conflict of Interest’ and, as negotiations consistently get scuppered by hidden corporate ties, it is a topic enthusiastically supported by delegations from the Global South. Although COI is scheduled to be discussed, this topic is a hard sell to many in the Global North due to the benefit which many delegations reap from this, with nations such as Norway and the US profiting heavily from oil and gas. As a result, it can often find itself removed from the agenda entirely. This requires us to be extra vocal to ensure this is not the case.

Similarly, Parties will be discussing whether Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s), essentially referring to a country’s strategy for cutting emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change, should hold a common time frame. Currently, these are supposed to be decided by the country themselves, as they determine a timeframe within which they wish to act. SBI, however, will discuss whether countries should have a shared timeframe, in an attempt to provide some equality of effort across all nations. Although this will place a greater burden on developing countries, this could also be a chance for us to campaign for greater ambition in NDC’s ahead of the Global Stocktake in 2020, as reviews take place on whether countries are currently doing enough to avert the global temperature from raising over 1.5 °C. Spoiler alert- they are not.

A number of discussions will also be taking place surrounding Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which talks all things mitigation of emissions, both on national and international scales. At COP24, Brazil successfully held up discussions, as they persisted to “double-count” its rainforests as mitigating climate change. Progress has to be made within discussions at COP25 if we are going to have mechanisms that are truly effective in mitigating emissions, without any cutting corners. However, with the likes of Bolsonaro kicking around, we cannot help but be worried…

There is also going to be, however, a whole host of newness this year in Bonn, with meetings such as the Local Communities and Indigenous People’s Platform taking place for the first time, with the aim of enhancing indigenous people’s participation in the COP process. This is a fantastic chance to vie for some much needed diversification within the UNFCCC, and amplify Global South voices within an often predominantly Western space.Moreover, the Committee on the Impacts of Implementation of Response Measures is a brand new body, with aims to look at the way in which emission mitigation efforts can have social, economic, and environmental impacts, most often in developing countries. This is a chance to campaign for a Just Transition, the idea that, if we are going to have systematic overhaul, why not ensure that the resultant society works for everyone?

However, there are many valuable topics which are rather lacking within SB50’s schedule. For example, the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM), taking place on the first day of SB50, is intended to look at the subject of ‘Loss and Damage’. Originally petitioned for by small Island states, Loss and Damage refers to global emitters supporting and compensating nations already feeling the brunt of climate. However, the UNFCCC have failed to even provide a definition for the term, rendering the issue stagnant and without funding, and instead shifting its narrative towards a counter-productive, disaster risk reduction mechanisms. Unless progress is made at SB50, we face these talks merely continuing to follow this flawed direction.

Now, I would not blame you if you were slightly overwhelmed by this assortment of convoluted names and frameworks - I know I certainly am. However, amongst all of them lies the common trend of Global North countries failing to hold themselves accountable, and take meaningful steps towards mitigating climate change. This includes providing the much-needed support for those already facing climate change’s already present and ever-growing effects. UKYCC, therefore, will be as active and vocal as ever at these talks to ensure the issues that we wish to see remain firmly on the table. So no matter what anything is called, or how many terms one has to learn, the one important term is Climate Justice, and we aim to see it through.


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