Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary

On the Road to Cancún


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The pace of the international climate negotiations has speeded up as the Cancún climate summit approaches. Newswatch editors Mick Kelly and Sarah Granich report on the latest developments.

The second round of this year's Bonn United Nations Climate Change Talks took place in early June. The aim of the negotiations was to pick up on issues that were not resolved at the Copenhagen Climate Summit and pave the way for full implementation of global action on climate change. "The Copenhagen meeting may have postponed an outcome for at least a year, but it did not postpone the impacts of climate change, said Yvo de Boer, outgoing executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat. "The deadline to agree an effective international response to climate change at Copenhagen was set because governments, when launching negotiations in Bali in 2007, recognized the scientific warning on climate for what it was: a siren call to act now, or face the worst," he continued.

The latest draft negotiating text on long-term cooperative action under the UNFCCC was reviewed by a contact group at the meeting and then circulated to delegates to facilitate discussion before the text is considered formally at the following negotiating session in August. While environmental groups welcomed the manner in which the negotiating text was developing, it was clear that a number of issues remained to be resolved.

During the final plenary session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA), the United States noted "unacceptable" elements in the draft text, saying that it moved away from the agreement in Copenhagen, and observed that there is no presumption that the text can be used as a draft going forward. Yemen, for the G-77/China grouping, described the draft text as "unbalanced" due to the removal of the G-77/China's proposals and insisted that it be revised to better reflect developing country concerns before it is discussed formally. Grenada, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States, lamented deletion of references to Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States and Africa. Despite this criticism, many developing countries stressed their support for the AWG-LCA Chair, Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe, acknowledging that she had prepared the advance draft in good faith.

During the meeting, Saudi Arabia blocked a call by the Association of Small Island States for a study into the impact of 1.5 degrees Celsius global warming. "Some small island states could become stateless from sea level rise, which is why they are calling for global temperature rise to be kept below 1.5 degrees C," commented Wendel Trio of Greenpeace. "That Saudi Arabia, a country with such obvious oil interests, exploited the United Nations consensus rule to stop the world's most vulnerable countries from getting a much-needed summary of the latest climate science is breathtaking for its criminal disregard for the human impacts of climate change," he continued.

As the talks ended, de Boer noted that there had been a "positive spirit," with "good progress" over technical issues. Nevertheless, "a number of hot political issues are very much stuck and need to be addressed," he added. In his farewell statement, he accused governments of doing too little on climate change. "To move towards World Cup imagery: we got a yellow card in Copenhagen and the referee's hand will edge towards the red one if we fail to deliver in Cancún and beyond," he said. His expectation of the Cancún climate summit, which starts in late November, is that it can provide an agreed architecture to deliver on adaptation, mitigation, technology, finance, capacity-building and reducing deforestation in developing countries. de Boer was given a standing ovation by the delegates following his address. Christiana Figueres takes over as executive secretary of the UNFCCC Secretariat.

Meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in late July, environment ministers from the BASIC countries of Brazil, South Africa, India and China, concluded that achieving a binding agreement at the negotiations in Mexico at the end of the year will be difficult. "The single most important reason why it is going to be difficult is the inability of the developed countries to bring clarity on the financial commitments which they have undertaken in the Copenhagen Accord," Jairam Ramesh, Indian environment minister, said.

Delays on the part of the United States and Australian governments in implementing climate legislation contributed to the pessimistic assessment. "If by the time we get to Cancún [US senators] still have not completed the legislation then clearly we will get less than a legally binding outcome," commented South African minister Buyelwa Sonjica. No specific proposal regarding emissions reductions emerged from the meeting. The BASIC group will meet again in Beijing in October to determine their position at the talks in Cancún. Though not reflected in the official statement, it is reported that the group may, in light of the difficulties in extending the Kyoto Protocol with regard to emissions from the industrialized nations, work towards a single, global agreement.

"Governments have a responsibility this year to take the next essential step in the battle against climate change," said Christiana Figueres as she opened the August round of climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany. "How governments achieve the next essential step is up to them. But it's politically possible. In Cancún, the job of governments is to turn the politically possible into the politically irreversible," she added.

Progress, however, proved slow. "I came to Bonn hopeful of a deal in Cancún, but at this point I am very concerned as I have seen some countries walking back from progress made in Copenhagen," said United States representative Jonathan Pershing. The draft negotiating text on long-term cooperative action has doubled in length to 34 pages with new proposals added and old ones reinstated. "The mitigation discussion even went backwards and became more polarized," remarked Gordon Shepherd at WWF. There was no resolution of the contentious issue of limits on emissions growth in the major developing nations. There were also signs of deepening rifts over finance for the poorer developing countries. The Copenhagen Accord pledge that US$100 billion a year would be raised by 2020 to assist poor countries adapt to climate change is being questioned. "It sounds very large. For the donor countries it is a lot to ask taxpayers to pay. But you must weigh that against the need" of countries at risk, commented Dessima Williams, delegate from Grenada.

As the meeting ended, Figueres said that the draft negotiating text would not be allowed to grow further. She did feel that some progress had been made on the shape of a future deal. "If you see the bigger picture, we have progress here in Bonn. It is hard to cook a meal without a pot, and governments are much closer to actually making the pot," she said.

Growing support for a "Green Fund" to support developing nations respond to climate change was evident at a meeting of environment ministers in Geneva, Switzerland, in early September. "We are hoping that we can make a very formal decision [at the Cancún summit] regarding the establishment of the fund and at the same time decide on how to make this fund be able to channel resources immediately, because there is this sense of urgency," said Patricia Espinosa, Mexican foreign minister. The fund would dispense the support promised by the Copenhagen Accord.

United States negotiator Todd Stern warned that agreement on other developing country issues - notably, curbs on greenhouse gas emissions and monitoring of national pledges - would be a prerequisite. "This has to be part of a package," he said. "That doesn't mean that you can't negotiate quite far down the road on this... [but] all of those key elements have to move, not just one or two." According to a Reuters overview, it is unclear how much of the US$29.8 billion pledged as climate support for the period 2010-12 to date is "new and additional" money, as specified by the Copenhagen Accord. For example, much of the substantial Japanese commitment of $US15 billion represents funding already committed under the Cool Earth Partnership.

The United States is interpreting the Copenhagen Accord, which it takes as the starting point for the next phase of the negotiations, as a move away from the Kyoto Protocol paradigm of mandatory obligations for the industrialized nations and voluntary commitments for the developing world.

At a briefing following a meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in New York, in September, Stern emphasized that the United States was "perfectly supportive" of discussions stemming from the Copenhagen Accord that were not legally binding. He said, though, that "if we are in a world... where the negotiation on the table is for legally-binding commitments by some, then I would say... if it's going to be legally binding for the United States or Europe or Japan or Australia or whatever, then it would need to be legally binding for China, which at this point is now the world's largest emitter, and India and other major developing countries."

Russia will seek a non-binding agreement in Cancún that will encompass developing nations. "28 per cent of the world cannot change anything," argued climate change adviser, Alexander Bedritsky, noting that the industrialized nations bound by the Kyoto Protocol only account for a limited percentage of global emissions. "We want cooperation in the period after 2012 to be all inclusive," he said.

In contrast, Abubakr al-Qirbi, outgoing G-77 president, has stressed the importance of the continuity of the Kyoto Protocol as an essential element for the future of the climate change regime. "New quantified emission reduction commitments by Annex I parties under the Kyoto Protocol, therefore, must be met to avoid any gap between the first and subsequent commitment periods under the Protocol," he said.

India fears that the richer nations, sceptical of a new global deal being achieved in Cancún, are secretly developing ground rules for the next stage of the negotiations, a Mexico mandate, that could undermine developing country interests and the process established by the Bali Roadmap.

The final negotiating session before the Cancún summit will be held in Tianjin, China, in October, following high-level political meetings in Geneva and New York. All industrialized nations have now submitted pledges under the Copenhagen Accord to reduce emissions by the year 2020 and 38 developing countries have submitted their proposals to limit emissions growth.


The Newswatch archive for 2010 cites news articles and press releases used in preparing this report.

Further information

The Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary provides weekly coverage of climate news. For detailed discussion of all climate negotiating meetings, visit Earth Negotiations Bulletin.

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