Bonn climate protestClimate protesters march in Bonn on June 6.Courtesy Oxfam Germany via Flickr

BONN, Germany — Beethoven’s birthplace stands just a few stops down one of Bonn’s speedy tramlines from the conference center hosting the latest session of the international climate negotiations. A modest yellow-painted house with dark green wooden shutters, it is now a museum of the legendary Ludwig’s life.

Tastefully scattered through its three floors are the composer’s viola, his last grand piano, scores written in his own hand, and a scrawled codicil to his will laboriously committed to paper shortly before his death. But the most poignant of all the exhibits are in a small area devoted to his tragic affliction, the deafness that progressively destroyed his hearing from the early age of 28.

Here you can listen to excerpts of his landmark 5th and 9th symphonies as he would have heard them, dimmed and distorted by his disability. And here, too, you can see some of the increasingly elaborate metal ear trumpets that he used to try to fight it.

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As far as I could see, I was the only one of the 3,000 people at the talks to be visiting the museum when I dropped in on Monday, as they entered their second week. A pity, since the delegates might have found that those primitive hearing aids handy.

For the negotiations, which are supposed to result in a radical new agreement in Copenhagen in just six months time, risk becoming a dialogue of the deaf. An earlier two-week session in this former West German capital achieved little besides enabling the talking to go on. And so far there has been scant progress in this bout either.

True, the representatives of more than 180 nations have a text in front of them for the first time, and accepted it as a basis for the talks when they assembled in Bonn at the start of the month, even though its author, Michael Zammit Cutajar, describes it as “complex” and “messy,” and both rich and poor countries complain that it favors the other side.

True, too, they are laboriously working their way through its 68 pages — assembled from dozens of position papers presented by different delegations — to try to produce something that would provide the basis for serious negotiations by clarifying the main points of contention.

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But there is so far little sign of movement on the contentious issues themselves — such as the more immediate cuts developed countries will need to make in emissions of greenhouse gases, and the amounts of money they will provide to developing countries to help them fight climate change and adapt to its effects, or the means and mechanisms needed to raise it.

Indeed, rich countries have backed away from an agreement, reached 18 months ago in Bali, to achieve reductions in the range of 25 to 40 percent on 1990 emission levels by 2020. Only the countries of the European Union have come anywhere near it, pledging a 20 percent cut that would be increased to 30 percent if other nations joined in. But nowhere else has followed suit. For instance, President Obama, for all the new commitment he has brought, has only proposed getting back to 1990 levels by that date, while a bill that passed its first congressional obstacle last month might only achieve a four percent cut.

Developing countries are holding out for the 25-40 percent commitment. China is insisting that rich nations pledge the full 40 percent while India has dramatically raised the stakes by demanding a staggering 76 percent.

Some interesting ideas are beginning to emerge on how to raise the money needed. Mexico has proposed a Green Fund (PDF) into which all but the poorest countries would pay according to their population, GNP, and past and current carbon emissions. The European Union is examining getting the funds from airlines and shipping, so far exempted from the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol. But they remain just ideas.

“Clearly there are some hard nuts still to crack,” says Yvo de Boer, the laconic executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. And Heherson Alvarez, lead negotiator for the Philippines says: “We are concerned at the slow progress.”

No one is prepared to make the first move, thus preventing serious bargaining getting under way. Three more negotiating sessions have been scheduled — in Bangkok, Barcelona, and back again in Bonn. But many fear that nothing will move until the last minute in Copenhagen.

“Everyone will hold their cards until the very end,” predicts the head of the Mexican delegation, Fernando Tudela. And by then it may be too late.

In an attempt to break the deadlock, seven environmental groups — including WWF and Greenpeace — produced their own painstakingly worked-out blueprint of what could be a realistic agreement on Monday evening. But there was still little sign that anyone was listening, not even through the ear trumpets I had inspected earlier that day.

Check out Grist’s compilation of news from the Bonn climate talks.