My biggest worry for Cancun concerned an emerging narrative that fully international negotiations on climate change are no longer worth it. I've heard more and more frequently from U.S. and European climate change analysts that a post-Kyoto treaty is hopeless, that so many countries can't possibly agree on how to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Best then that we don't even try.
The United Nations climate change negotiations wrapped up after a late night session Friday that took deliberations into the early hours Saturday morning. John Broder, writing for The New York Times on Saturday, had a pithy description to sum up the Cancun conference: it “began with modest aims and ended early Saturday with modest achievements.”
Indeed, there were modest achievements made with the “Cancun Agreements,” from an agreement to setup a new fund to help the world’s poorest nations adapt to climate change, research centers that will facilitate the transfer of green energy technology, to a framework that will help provide compensation for forest preservation. Of course, one of the most significant achievements perhaps was the fact that there was an outcome at all, a shot in the arm for the UN negotiations process that had been seen as moribund since the failed Copenhagen conference last December. “While the measures adopted here may have scant near-term impact on the warming of the planet,” Broder wrote in the Times on Saturday, “the international process for dealing with the issue got a significant vote of confidence.”
As you know, we have been following the shrewd insights of Alex Stark, formerly of the Natural Security blog, who has been covering the Cancun UN climate negotiations in person as part of the Adopt a Negotiator program, part of the Global Campaign for Climate Action. Alex was in Tianjin, China for the UN negotiations in October, and has been reporting on the Cancun proceedings throughout the week through her blog and via Twitter. Here is Alex’s latest post:
Negotiators have been working feverishly over the past several days trying to prepare an unbracketed negotiating text with several options clearly outlined on the most contentious issues. The text will be turned over to high-level ministers to resolve these remaining issues by Friday. On Monday and Tuesday, negotiators worked behind closed doors in small groups and bilateral discussions on the different issues, passing on a finalized version of their piece of the text to the chairs of the KP (Kyoto Protocol) and LCA (Long-term Cooperative Action) tracks, who worked overnight to pull together two coherent texts to present to the entire Conference of the Parties in an informal stocktaking session this morning. The COP insiders daily Earth Negotiations Bulletin newsletter reports that “the mood remained constructive in some informals groups, while in the others, some parties reported ‘a complete lack of progress.’”
Where do the issues stand now in the LCA text, what contentious problems remain and where is the United States in all of this?
Squeezed in amongst last week’s apocalyptic news reports on the floods, fires and mudslides that Christine mentioned yesterday, the BBC reported that international climate change negotiations are veering even farther of course since Copenhagen (if that’s even possible). Negotiators from both developed and developing countries apparently are in agreement on one issue only: negotiations are moving backwards.
Climate change negotiators have met several times already throughout the year in an attempt to pull together a negotiating text for the upcoming UN climate talks in Cancun this December. Negotiators are also meant to be accomplishing the less tangible task of “rebuilding trust” after the disappointing outcome at the Copenhagen Conference last December.
According to the BBC report, some major developing countries are backing away from the commitments they made to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The chief U.S. negotiator, Jonathan Pershing, is quoted as saying that some countries had “walked away” from the commitments they made in Copenhagen under the non-binding Copenhagen Accord: “at this point, I am very concerned... unfortunately, what we have seen over and over this week is that some countries are walking back from progress made in Copenhagen, and what was agreed there,” Pershing said. On a more technical level, the negotiating text has apparently ballooned from 17 to 34 pages, as countries race to make more additions. The EU’s co-lead negotiator described the changes to the negotiation text as a “tit for tat” exercise.