Climate Talks Looking Up as Ministers Get Down to Business

9 December 2010

As ministers begin their first formal negotiating sessions in Cancun, Mexico, many observers are cautiously optimistic that parties may be able to achieve consensus on a handful of key issues. However, the possibility of the sudden appearance of an insurmountable obstacle remains. Many now say the positive atmosphere surrounding the UNFCCC's Sixteenth Conference of the Parties is mostly due to the low expectations seen in the lead up to the meeting. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon acknowledged yesterday, as he kicked off the COP's high-level segment in Cancun, that the fanfare surrounding last year's Copenhagen COP likely made goals difficult to achieve. "There was high expectation," he said. "Maybe too high."

Ban praised countries for their engagement thus-far and implored certain countries that were holding up progress to "be flexible and to negotiate in a spirit of compromise and common sense for the good of all the peoples." When pressed by reporters to put a name to said countries, the Secretary General declined. However, in the open, there is little secrecy behind the fact that discussion around the implementation of a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol has been stalling progress.

Kyoto continues to stymie progress

The continued and forceful push by countries including Japan, Russia, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada to end the Kyoto Protocol after its first period expires at the end of 2012 has emerged as a pivotal issue in these talks. Japan set the tone early in the talks, stressing that it will not agree to extending Kyoto even if it finds itself isolated over the issue. Meanwhile, developing countries have repeatedly called on the world not to "kill" Kyoto and several have noted that they will not agree to mitigation action under the long-term cooperative action (LCA) talks unless they see deeper emission cuts by developed countries under Kyoto.

Still, Ban noted that Cancun has already seen progress on deforestation, adaptation, technology, and financing and recommended that countries consolidate agreements in these areas. He also suggested that negotiators refrain from holding out for everything in their discussions. "Perfect should not be the enemy of good," he said.

The United States and others have suggested that any situation in which developing countries - especially industrial countries like India and China - are not required to commit to any mitigation activities would be unacceptable. Canada's Environment Minister John Baird concurred with this position on Wednesday, arguing that it is only "common sense" that China should make far more ambitious commitments to battle climate change.

Canada has been under fire for its hard line stance on many issues and has been accused by some of attempting to torpedo the talks. But at a press conference this morning, Baird suggested that the two year window between now and when Kyoto expires leaves plenty of time to decide how to proceed after 2012. Rumours emerged earlier this week that China may be prepared to agree to some form of legal mitigation commitment, but this has not yet been corroborated.

Calderon calls for new 21st century paradigm

In addition to Ban, yesterday afternoon's high-level plenary was attended by an array of ministers as well as a handful of presidents and other heads of states from countries including Mexico, Palau, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Guatemala. Mexican President Filipe Calderon called on the world to create a new paradigm for the 21st century and asked leaders to close two major gaps: one between nature and humankind and one between poverty and wealth. Calderon has latched onto the issue of forests in these talks and is pushing strongly for a deal.

The issue of financing has seen some progress over the past week, but some developing countries say efforts have not been adequate. Raila Odinga, Kenya's prime minister reprimanded developed countries at the opening plenary for not delivering fast start financing as required under the Copenhagen Accord. Odinga pointed out that only 20 percent of the US$30 billion promised for 2010-2012 has been delivered.

Several sources have said that no "magic bullet" has appeared as a solution to technology transfer, which has been one of the areas targeted for progress in Cancun. The diverse range of needs for developing countries presents an obstacle to creating a one-size-fits-all type of multilateral solution. Several countries have complained that they are having difficulties receiving "policy neutral" advice on the issue as they are regularly confronted by industry lobbyists all advocating for their own technology (wind, solar, etc.) as the best solution to climate mitigation.

Rumours around Cancun suggest that the host country Mexico will announce the creation of a "Copenhagen Group" - a select group of ministers charged with discussing a new text that Mexico will table. The process of this strategy is expected to be "fully transparent" - unlike Copenhagen - however  it will take place behind closed doors.

It is difficult to assess at this point whether the Mexican strategy in  Cancun will get the push it needs to produce consensus on any of the anticipated issues, such as REDD+ and financing. What is clear is that many parties are engaged and appear anxious to leave at the end of the week with some sort of deal. And if the words of Cristiana Figueres, the UNFCCC's executive secretary can be relied upon, "there is deal to be done in Cancun."

ICTSD Reporting.

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