The Talanoa dialogue: sharing stories in Bonn to inspire ambitious climate action

As the spring UN climate change conference in Bonn gets under way, IIED director Andrew Norton offers his thoughts on the Talanoa dialogue – an unprecedented consultation process designed to bring together different voices to strengthen countries’ climate pledges and keep the Paris Agreement on course.

Andrew Norton's picture
Insight by 
Andrew Norton
Andrew Norton was director of IIED from 2015-2022
02 May 2018
Flooding in Fiji. Fiji's prime minister has said the his nation is in "a fight for survival" as climate change brings almost constant cyclones (Photo: TC Evans/Fijian Government)

Flooding in Fiji. Fiji's prime minister has said the his nation is in "a fight for survival" as climate change brings almost constant cyclones (Photo: TC Evans/Fijian Government) 

Launched at last year’s climate negotiations, hosted by Fiji, the dialogue draws on the Fijian tradition of ‘talanoa’, a form of exchange based on story-sharing that seeks to build empathy, trust, and inform collective decision making. The first round of the Talanoa dialogue will take place at the climate conference beginning this week in Bonn.

The dialogue is rooted in principles of inclusivity, transparency and participation, and reminds us that climate action is not the responsibility of national governments alone – achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement requires a multi-level approach and the participation of different leaders and groups who can make a real difference at home.

Open dialogue 

Under this new approach, the conference rooms in Bonn will be opened up to a range of actors including sub-national governments, city mayors, business, NGOs, the scientific community, youth and indigenous groups, among others.

For example, sub-national governments – such as municipalities and governors of provinces – have the power to develop tangible, workable solutions to the climate change problem. These government bodies enjoy high levels of autonomy and can develop their own climate change policies and interventions. Their level of action (or inaction) can heavily influence how far cities and provinces progress in mitigating and adapting to climate change. 

These and other groups will have the opportunity to meet national climate envoys and share their ideas on what’s needed to deliver the Paris Agreement. The dialogue creates a space for exchanging ideas in a non-confrontational and constructive way.

Three guiding questions 

The Talanoa dialogue’s main aim is to take stock of collective progress to reducing emissions in line with the Paris Agreement’s long-term goal – to keep the global temperature increase under 2 degrees Celsius, and as close to 1.5 degrees as possible. This stocktake gives countries the opportunity for honest reflection on the adequacy of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and is the catalyst for countries to ramp up action set out in these national climate plans by 2020.

The dialogue is structured around three guiding questions: 

  • Where are we? 
  • Where do we want to go? 
  • How do we get there? 

The various stakeholder groups have been invited to submit their answers to these three questions via the Talanoa dialogue portal. Responses that were submitted by early April will be discussed during break-out sessions at the Bonn conference, with places reserved specifically for non-state actors. 

When sharing their ‘stories’, participants will be encouraged to relay testimonies of what’s working – and what’s not – in efforts to tackle climate change. Participants will also have the opportunity to share best practice in country-level action, preparations for deploying NDCs, ways to maximise ambition, and lessons learned among other issues.

A year-long process for ratcheting up climate ambition

The Talanoa dialogue, which began in January, will culminate at the climate negotiations at the end of this year in Katowice, Poland. A critical input to the dialogue will be a special report due in October from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report will assess the impacts of global warming exceeding 1.5 degrees and identify emissions pathways to keep warming at this level.  

Beyond highlighting mitigation gaps, the Talanoa dialogue should identify where there are opportunities for discovering the untapped potential for further mitigation action – such as use of low-carbon technologies. 

The dialogue process should also provide clearer guidance on how vulnerable countries can build climate resilience. Delivering solar power to poor, rural communities is just one example of climate action needed to make good on the commitments of the Paris Agreement.

However, financial and technical assistance for deploying renewable energy continues to be a major hurdle for many countries in the global South. This hampers efforts to tackle not only global warming but also the broader challenges of inclusive, sustainable development.     

2017 marked yet another record of extreme weather events such as hurricanes, floods and drought with the poorest, most vulnerable countries bearing the brunt. Limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees will be crucial to prevent extreme climate disasters escalating. The 1.5 degree target is a reference point for ‘where we want to go’, however current NDCs are not enough to keep the temperature increase below 2 degrees and the 1.5 degree goal still remains well out of reach.

Bonn session: an opportunity to energise and inspire

The Talanoa dialogue is a vital process for creating momentum to encourage countries to ramp up the ambition of their NDCs by 2020.  National governments and a range of sub-national and non-state actors are invited to engage and to energise – bringing their stories and ideas, their recommendations and vision to inspire action to reduce emissions and build greater resilience to the impacts of climate change.

This Bonn session marks a crucial opportunity for all participants to use this innovative dialogue process, and keep the Paris Agreement on track.